NC native rumbles his way into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame after years of waiting
Posted for: R_Swift(I’m not dead yet)
BY JOSH SHAFFER
Link Wray, the Dunn-born rocker whose fuzz-toned guitar conjured danger, adrenaline and rebellion for its own sake, will join the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a posthumous inductee — adding a leather-clad swagger covered in Tar Heel grit.
Best known for “Rumble,” the power-chord growl that he created in 1958 by punching holes in his amplifier’s tweeter, Wray died in 2005 at age 76, reportedly of a tired heart.
Much of Link Wray’s influence stems from a single song, “Rumble,” a 1958 hit that has turned up in everything from “The Sopranos” to Quintin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”
Decades removed from his biggest songs, remembered in soundtracks such as “Pulp Fiction” and through the punk, metal and grunge groups he inspired, Wray first appeared on the Hall’s ballot in 2014, a distant candidate whose honor would take another nine years.
He has received the Musical Influence Award along with DJ Kool Herc, often called the Father of Hip-Hop.
In its announcement for Wray, the Hall raved:
“Every young rebel who has donned a leather jacket and slashed away at an electric guitar with loud, distorted abandon owes a significant debt to Wray.”
As if on cue, his hometown of Dunn has unveiled a new Wray mural on Broad Street, featuring the guitarist behind his signature black shades.
Link Wray in 1974 promoting “The Link Wray Rumble” LP in California. Courtesy of LinkWray.com
‘PLAY THAT WEIRD SONG’
Born Frederick Lincoln Wray Jr. in 1929, he came by his talent at age 8 thanks to a traveling circus guitarist named Hambone, who according to folklore, taught young Wray his first few chords.
“Daddy always gave Hambone credit until the day he died,” his oldest daughter Beth Wray told the N&O in 2013.
He told interviewers that he grew up essentially in “mud huts” in Harnett County, contending both with shoeless poverty and ever-present racism aimed at his Shawnee heritage.
Wray frequently described Elvis Presley as “White-man poor,” compared to himself, raised “Shawnee-poor.”
But after a stint in the Korean War, he formed his first band with brothers Vernon and Doug, dubbing themselves Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers, playing sock hops around Washington, D.C., wrote Cary O’Dell in a Library of Congress biography.
One night in Fredericksburg, Va., the dance hall DJ told Wray and the band to play something suitable for “The Stroll,” a new dance craze that involved boys in one line, girls in the other, stepping sideways and clapping to a slow beat. Wray didn’t know the hit that inspired the dance, so he improvised a few chords.
“Then,” O’Dell wrote, “when someone grabbed one of the mikes and stuck it up to one of the amps, creating the tune’s signature distortion, a modern classic was born. ‘The kids just went ape,’” according to Wray.
“That night, Wray and his band played their new tune four times in a row to appease the suddenly feverish, interested listeners. ‘Play that weird song! Play that weird song!’ chanted the crowd.”
The song found its way into a new generation of rock guitarists interested in fusing their blues roots with an electronic explosion and anti-establishment mood of the 1960s.
From left, Jerry Garcia and Link Wray at Wally Heider’s studio in San Francisco in 1973 during the recording of “Be What You Want To” LP. Courtesy of Bruce Steinberg via LinkWray.com
In the 2008 documentary “It Might Get Loud,” Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is shown swaying to “Rumble” as he plays it for an interviewer, grinning devilishly as if he were still a teenage boy.
“That was something that had so much profound attitude to it,” he says, “It really does.”
“Rumble” would be joined by a few more hits, including 1959’s “Rawhide” and 1963’s “Jack The Ripper.” But the song survives as his inimitable creation and a one-song greatest hits collection, played over and over.
“He played everything his way and lived that, too,” his daughter said. “He played music the way he wanted and continued rocking and rolling through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, up until the day he died.”
As news of his induction broke Wednesday, the reaction online all took the same tone:
Link Wray didn’t receive an honor. Rather, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just got a lot more legitimate.
ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME 2023 INDUCTEES
The inductees will honored at a ceremony Nov. 3, in Brooklyn, New York.
- Performer Category: Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, The Spinners
- Musical Influence Award: DJ Kool Herc, Link Wray
- Musical Excellence Award: Chaka Khan, Al Kooper, Bernie Taupin
- Ahmet Ertegun Award: Don Cornelius