Sunday 31 May 2020



this is a curious year
who knows how it will end?
every year is a curious year
no-one ever knows how they will end,
this will be a pivotal year of change
every year is a turning point into new strangeness,
after this year, nothing will ever be the same,
every year shifts lives into new shapes,
this is a chance for new beginnings,
we can change for the better,
we always could, we still can,
my melancholy returns,
this time it has goose-bumps



Album Review of: 
 Produced by Jack White 
(Nonesuch TMR031, January 2011)

Bob Dylan’s track “Thunder On The Mountain” on his ‘Modern Times’ (2006) album includes the enigmatic reference to ‘thinkin’ ‘bout Alicia Keys’. Why Alicia Keys? What was it about her that drew Dylan’s attention? Had he happened by chance to hear her on the radio, or had her name been nudged into his attention by a third party? Maybe he felt the song needed a contemporary reference, and it was quite by chance that he selected Alicia Keys instead of, say BoyoncĂ© or Rihanna. Maybe Alicia’s name just fitted the rhyme scheme? Whatever, when Wanda Jackson reinterprets the song for this album she alters the reference to a more logical Jerry Lee Lewis. Wanda knew Jerry Lee. ‘When he was born in Ferriday, I was living down the line,’ she sings truthfully. She’d toured with the Killer. When she reconfigures the lyric it becomes autobiographical in a way that the Dylan original is not.

Now, when Rock has more past than it has future, most record-buyers know Wanda Jackson for her hit “Let’s Have A Party”, which reached a UK no.32 in September 1960 (no.37 in US Billboard that same October). The song, written by Jessie Mae Robinson, was lifted from the soundtrack of Elvis Presley’s second movie, ‘Lovin’ You’, and is referenced in the title of this current album. As a kid I misheard her sing the lyric ‘send to the store’ as ‘sin to the soul’, and although wrong in the literal sense, the way she belts out the line suggests that in another sense, I was absolutely right. For a couple of years she was ‘Queen Of Rockabilly’, although prior to that and across the period afterwards, she worked in country music with considerable success. Born Wanda Jean Goodman* in Maud, Oklahoma (20 October 1937) she started young, joined radio station KLPR after winning a talent competition, scored a Decca contract and sang with Hank Thompson’s western-swing band.

But it was when she switched labels in 1956 that Ken Nelson, producer at Capitol, saw in her energetic vocal wildness a female version of their star Rocker Gene Vincent. For her Capitol sessions she even recorded with Bluecaps guitarist Roy Clark, as well as with boogie-pianist Merril E Moore, Merle Travis, and a young Buck Owens playing rhythm. She subsequently achieved a primitive ‘Sun’-records echo on “Honey Bop”, inserted odd tempo-changes from Country dirge to jumpy Rocker into “I Gotta Know”, and cut the proto-Feminist “Hot Dog, That Made Him Mad” – offering advice on how to deal with your errant man. To promote her subsequent hits “Mean Mean Man” (a gender-switched re-write of “Mean Woman Blues”), “In The Middle Of A Heartache” and “Fujiyama Mama” she toured with other early Rockers, including Elvis, who dated her and encouraged her Rock ‘n’ Roll ambitions. So much so that journalist Mat Snow considered Wanda ‘had moments when she was not only Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll – but King too!’ (in ‘NME’ 10 May 1986). Maybe it was the onset of Brenda Lee, with a similar raw-power vocal attack, but served by better songwriters, that prompted Wanda’s return to Country. Whatever, the sides she cut with Capitol, including her album ‘Rockin’ With Wanda’ (1960) only increased in value to avid collectors across the decades since.

It would be interesting to have sat in with Wanda and Jack White when the song-selection for ‘The Party Ain’t Over’ was being planned. Did Wanda draw up her own list? Did Jack White have his own programme of songs in preparation? Did one choice predominate over the other, or did they compare and contrast, working on the track listing together, arguing the final selection out by compromise and trading titles one against the other? When Wanda appeared on the Jools Holland New Year ‘Hootenanny’ it would have been helpful if there’d been at least a brief interview, sufficient to iron out such details. But there wasn’t. In her white fringed top, black stretch-slacks and boots she allowed the songs to stand, opening with “Rip It Up”. The ‘Bumps’ Blackwell and John Marascalco song was most perfectly recorded by Little Richard – but also by Bill Haley, Elvis, the Everly Brothers and later by John Lennon. She treats it to the same curiously clipped diction she uses for the whole album. Whether an evolving style-affectation, or something that advancing years has invested, it works to staccato effect on this classic Rocker.

The White Stripes have an authenticity that few Rock bands have achieved in decades. Jack White did this by, rather than learning from his immediate contemporaries, rehearsing Rock, Blues and Americana by studying bands who had copied bands who copied bands all the way back to the originals, Eric Clapton or the Stones – with each generation-copy losing some of the original sharpness like copying and recopying video-tapes, Jack White took his inputs direct from their root sources. He knows his music, and once he’d achieved sufficient visibility he furthered that by seeking out and working with surviving practitioners. Much as Rick Rubin championed and resuscitated the moribund career of Johnny Cash. This elevates his credibility, certainly. But there’s something else that suggests it’s an exercise in genuine dues-paying.

The progenitor prototype for the Wanda Jackson project was self-evidently Jack’s Grammy-winning collaboration with Loretta Lynn on the 2004 album ‘Van Lear Rose’. Unlike the Lynn project, which was worked up from newly-written songs, Wanda ranges far and wide for material. And faced with two options for the album, either recreating the simple Rockabilly sounds of the fifties, or slotting her raw vocal style into current technology, he chooses neither. Cut at Jack’s analogue Third Man Studios in Nashville, the third way is to step sideways into a timeless arrangement of near-Burlesque horn-flourishes which work best on the jaunty Caribbean sway of “Rum And Coca Cola” – about local island-girls dubiously ‘working for the Yankee dollar’, which picked up heavy Radio Two airplay as a result. Another focal point is Wanda’s interpretation of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”, with Jack White’s dirty raunch back-up erupting into a swaggering Dixieland break. The years of weary experience Wanda draws into the lyric gives it an unexpected dimension distanced from the more fecund Winehouse original.

Elsewhere she delves back to 1930 for Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel no.6”, then adds electro-quivers to Johnny Kidd And The Pirates “Shakin’ All Over”, going from Ray Charles’ “Busted” to Eddie Cochran’s early flat-out Rocker “Nervous Breakdown” – not only a dry-run for the three CF-and-G riff-chords of “C’Mon Everybody” but the ‘no more cruisin’ for a week or two, no more runnin’ round with the usual crew’ lyric too. There’s also Jessie Stone’s “Like A Baby”, maybe most familiar as one of the King’s most powerful Blues-performances on the ‘Elvis Is Back’ (1960) album. But the question of song selection is brought most perfectly into focus by Kitty Wells’ “Dust On The Bible” (also done by Hank Williams) about the dire consequences of neglecting the gospels. What Jack White might consider quaintly ironic, there’s just a sneaking suspicion that Wanda – who drifted into the dubious Christian-Rock zone in the seventies, might actually take these lyrics seriously. Perhaps, for her, the opportunity to chide a corrupt world about the need for godliness, is her motivation for participating in the project at all? While, returning to the Dylan song, although she cuts and rearranges the lyrics of “Thunder On The Mountain” to her evident satisfaction, the line ‘for the love of god, you ought to take pity on yourself’ is left intact.

*There’s some variation to these details across a range of sources. The born ‘Wanda Goodman’ is as it appears in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock Vol.1’ by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing (Panther 1976)

This review first featured on website:
‘SOUNDCHECKS’ (UK – January 2011)



Book Review of: 
(Headpress/ Critical Vision
£12.99/ $17.95, ISBN 1900486202) 

In 1951 John Wyndham wrote a short story referring to ‘a fellow called Fort who was the arch collector of the improbable’. Jimmy, his character from “Pawley’s Peepholes” (‘Science Fantasy’ no.3) ‘revered this Fort as the savant of the era’. Other, less generous writers, have called that same Fort a crank. Or the World’s first UFO-ologist. Damon Knight calls him ‘The Prophet of the Unexplained’, while to Frederick Clouser he is the ‘Apostle of the Impossible’. Nevertheless, Wyndham’s Jimmy explains, ‘...this Fort guy’s method was to labour mightily with scissors and paste, present the resulting collation, and leave it to a largely indifferent world to judge whether nearly everybody wasn’t wrong about most everything.’ Colin Bennet, and John Keel who contributes a well-informed Foreword, are far from indifferent about that legacy, and are more than convinced that Fort was onto something.

In fact the real-life Charles Hoy Fort (1874 to 1932), after a failed attempt at writing novels, spent twenty-six years – the best part of half his lifetime researching and cut-and-pasting odd stories from newspapers, technical magazines and specialist journals from the N.Y. Public Library to the British Museum. He amassed some 40,000 clippings in the process, divided into 1,300 sections written in pencil on minute scraps of paper in a stenographic language of his own invention. An archive documenting such meteorological, astronomical, human and animal phenomena as lost planets, Flat-Earthism, lights in the sky, spontaneous human combustion, coloured rain, falls of frogs, teleportation, sea serpents, vanishing ships, vanishing people, poltergeists and much much more (just as the ‘Fortean Times’ continues to do today - in his name). From this huge miscellanea Fort compiled just four data-crammed books of apparently unrelated yet obsessively-documented ideas – ‘The Book Of The Damned’ (1919), ‘New Lands’ (1923), ‘Lo’ (1931), and his take on ESP-potential in ‘Wild Talent’ (1932), each of them largely arranged in a Ripley’s ‘Believe It Or Not’-style.

But to Colin Bennett, in his authoritative overview, the iconoclastic Charles Fort is more than just an endearing and occasionally provocative eccentric. He’s a virtual Hacker subverting the global edifice of the scientific consensus. He’s a man boldly margin-walking the periphery of the known, gnawing at the interface into inexplicable otherness, opening up the ‘cracks and fissures in the mundane world’. He’s an ‘Anti-Scientist’, even though Fort himself thought of his mission as primarily attacking the dogmatisation of the ‘Scientific Priestcraft’ – ‘scientific absolutism’, rather than science itself. And - oddly, this book offers more analysis, and draws more conclusions about our bland assumptions about the nature of reality and the limits of knowing than Fort ever did. ‘Science’ – it accuses, ‘is as much about active concealment as discovery’. It is a form of ‘imagination control’. Whereas Fort’s extreme scepticism consciensciously led to him doubting even his own conclusions.

To me it seems obvious that the logical analytical scientific process has taken us higher and further in two short centuries than the irrational-superstitious intuitive-religious impulses took us over the previous dark ten thousand. We live longer and healthier, travel faster, use neural cyber-systems that interconnect the planet into a single electro-organism – produce books like this one. All this, through science, allied to technology. But science is procedure based on methodical investigation, tested through meticulous replication, developed, modified or rejected through the accumulation of additional evidence. It is not a faith. Sure, the ‘disinterested objectivity’ of science is compromised by – and subject to, market interests, corporate investment, military-industrial sponsorship – a tool of globalisation and probable instigator of eco-catastrophe, while rigidly enforcing its own orthodoxy against inconveniently non-conforming ideas. But to reject it is to deny our species’ greatest adventure.

This book points out that ‘Fort warns us that the idea of ‘fact’ itself is a late and rather callow arrival on the historical scene’, and that ‘the factual is a limiting psychological device’. And if science’s theoretical edge occasionally seems to be advancing into the ‘Alice In Wonderland’ conundrums of Black Hole physical, the Heisenberg dance of sub-atomic particles, and the post Big-Bang nano-seconds of Super-String theory where all reason appears to break down into quantum absurdity – well, perhaps there are limits. As the moralist warns the Movie ‘Mad Scientist’, there may well be areas where science can’t go. Perhaps, despite the best applications of research-and-development we’ll never accelerate Captain Kirk-style beyond light speed? Or find a cure for HIV. Or perhaps we will. That’s what’s cool about science too. It offers us the potential to evolve. What Byrd Roger McGuinn derides as this ‘scientific delirium madness’ has got us this far. That’s no small achievement.

Meanwhile, Charles Fort’s ‘Lo’ got itself experimentally serialised in eight parts - from April to November 1934 in John W. Campbell Jrn’s ‘Astounding Stories’. From there the ideas were swiftly assimilated and creatively pilfered by Sci-Fi writers – Damon Knight, Edmond Hamilton, Eric Frank Russell’s ‘Sinister Barrier’ (drawing on Fort’s ‘we are property’ idea of Earth as an ‘asylum-world’ for galactic delinquents)... and at least one John Wyndham short story. Unfortunately it also became first-base for more commercially astute wilful absurdists such as Erich Von Daniken and an entire flotilla of New Age Mystics, phoney mediums and neon anti-rationalist Life-Style Gurus. Colin Bennet’s valuable and well-written book performs the vital service of rescuing what is worthy about Charles Fort, circumventing all that nonsense-accumulation, and taking it all back to its origins for reappraisal. So that we are free to question science. Point out its contradictions. Its inadequacies. The nagging ‘X-Filed’ inconsistencies that don’t quite fit and are consequently airbrushed out. But then… but then, just perhaps they should be part of science too, and investigated through scientific processes? But even if John Wyndham’s ‘arch-collector of the improbable’ only makes us ‘realise that despite the protestations of science and all commonsense, we still in a world of incredible magic,’ that’s still a perception well worth making.

For further details contact:

This review published in:
‘BUSSWARBLE no.75’ (June 2003 – Australia)
‘THIS WAY UP no.8’ (Nov 2003 – UK)
‘CHAOTIC ORDER no.16’ (December 2003 – UK)
+ on Web-site (Nov 2003)



Book Review of: 
ISBN 978-1478-006619 Softback. 180pp

When Lenny Henry played ‘Othello’ he was doing what had already been done by Paul Robeson, with Peggy Ashcroft in 1930… although before him, there had been black actor Ira Aldridge. Robeson was a powerful part of the continuity of equality and the struggle against intolerance. Not only with rhetoric, but through an assertion of his own artistic integrity. As a bass baritone his legacy of recordings, Spirituals and Folk Songs, are still there to be heard and streamed. When Bruce Springsteen does “No More Auction Block”, he’s following Odetta, and before her, Paul Robeson’s deep resonant recording. When Joan Baez sings – and Bob Dylan adapts the labour-song “Joe Hill”, they follow Paul Robeson’s movingly intense version. While, although not the first version of the ‘Show Boat’ song “Ol’ Man River” – there had been a 1928 hit version by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra with Bing Crosby vocals and a concise Bix Beiderbecke cornet solo, Robeson’s is the definitive one, revised in performance across his forty-year career. Yet the aching work-song lyrics are by Jerome Kern set to an Oscar Hammerstein melody, in much the same way that the very white Leiber and Stoller wrote hits for the Coasters, or Phil Spector did his best work with the Crystals or Ike And Tina Turner. The politics of race is never simple.

Robeson’s profile in movies such as Korda’s ‘Sanders Of The River’ (1935) gave him a visibility he used effectively on behalf of left-wing causes. Yet – a generation from ‘auction block’ slavery, his anger against injustice never lay along strictly racial lines, his sympathy was with the dispossessed, the unemployed underclass, with Australian aboriginals as well as his curious affinity with striking Welsh miners, which was reciprocated clear down to the tribute-song the Manic Street Preacher’s dedicated to him.

Among the anomalies of twentieth-century American history is the Prohibition era, which unwittingly enabled the growth of organised crime, establishing the distribution-network that allowed the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ to flourish. The other is the ‘Red Scare’ paranoia of McCarthyism, which victimised and penalised those with suspected left-wing sympathies – which blacklisted Paul Robeson and persecuted him by denying him a passport and the right to travel. At a post-war time when the USA was involved in an ideological Cold War with the Soviet Union, he was called before the ‘House Un-American Activities Committee’ in May 1956, where he not only offered an eloquent defence but used the hearing as a platform from which to articulate his position, ‘because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country.’ Protesting that, as if standing up against official inaction over lynching’s, and campaigning for civil rights was in some way ‘un-American’. If his support for Stalin was ill-advised, it was an illusion he shared with many other to the left-liberal end of the spectrum.

This book is less a crash-course item-by-item retelling of his eventful life – as though Wikipedia exists for such details, on the assumption that Robeson’s life and significance is still familiar. Which is not necessarily the case, even with the twenty-first-century Americans to whom socialism is such anathema that even President Obama’s very modest attempts at a health-care system were resisted by precisely the people it would have benefitted. That – born 9 April 1898, Paul Robeson was the son of a runaway slave who nevertheless became only the third African-American student to graduate from Rutgers University in 1919. He continued to Columbia University Law School before venturing into a luminous career as an actor, artist and activist. With the restoration of his passport, he embarked on a successful 1958 Come-Back World tour finding himself the inspiration for a whole new generation. Including Harry Belafonte, staunch supporter of the Civil Rights movement and one of Martin Luther King’s confidants, to whom Robeson was both friend and mentor.

This book is more an examination of his ideas, and the long-term effects of his art. Shana L Redmond is an academic in African American studies, and her book carries all the contextual expertise and weighty significance you’d expect from such qualifications. Robeson – what she calls ‘a shape-shifting scientist possessed of innumerable talents and visions’ was a man whose sympathies lay with the common people of the Earth. At a time of migration and rising right-wing sentiment his message of the international solidarity of peoples is more essential than ever. Yet this book reclaims Paul Robeson for academe.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Rock Pioneer: LINK WRAY


 2 May 1929 - 22 November 2005 

Punk-rock, Grunge, Garage, Heavy Metal and ‘rock guitar’ in general… 
 they can all trace their roots back to Shawnee Rocker Link Wray… 
 in 1958 you could buy “Rumble” on a 78rpm record. In 2005 
 you can buy the Link documentary ‘The Rumble Man’ on DVD


Link Wray perpetrated the classic “Rumble” – the original master-blaster of Rock ‘n’ Roll guitar, a huge 1958 hit he was never able to follow. There are myths and legends attached to the ‘Rumble’-man. How could there not be? – we’re talking about events half-a-century ago. Did they really blow the Diamonds off-stage with their spontaneously improvised ‘Oddball’ which they then perform a straight four times in succession? Was it a Shawnee hunting knife or – as in another telling of the tale, just a sharpened pencil-point he uses to sonically perforate his amps? Was Archie Bleyer really intent on junking the demo tape before overhearing his teenage daughter’s rave-response? And how exactly do you record on three-track… in a converted chicken-shack?

Who knows. Who cares. This is the stuff of legend. His talent may have been narrow-band, but in his ability to employ quivering distortion and shove the electric guitar into places it had never gone before, he is assured his place as an innovator. His finest tracks retain their original menace and raw power. While his influence can’t be overestimated – Pete Towshend was an early champion, ‘he is the king, if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and “Rumble”, I would have never picked up a guitar.’ John Peel also makes a point of highlighting “Rumble” on his Radio One show. Even Bob Dylan writes – in his ‘Chronicles’, of being ‘hypnotized by the tone’ of Link’s ‘classic’.

Frederick Lincoln ‘Link’ Wray Jr was born of Shawnee Native American stock in Dunn, Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1930, to impoverished semi-literate parents. His father suffered shell-shock resulting from his experiences in World War I. And the family live an itinerant life, often sleeping rough, picking up casual farm work, augmented by his mother’s street ‘brush’ preaching, while evading the Ku Klux Klan threat. ‘Elvis, he grew up white-man poor. I was growing up Shawnee poor’ Link once told an interviewer, ‘Elvis came from welfare, I came from below welfare’.

He began playing ‘geetar’ as an seven-year old kid, tutored in bottleneck-slide by black blues-man Hambone, ‘I was brought up on the blues’ he told ‘Melody Maker’, ‘– the painful music’. At age thirteen the family migrates to Portsmouth in Virginia, where - as the ‘Ranch Gang’, they play the local circuit, with his brothers Doug (drums) and vocalist ‘Lucky’ Vernon, a line-up completed by Brantley ‘Shorty’ Horton (bass) and Dixie Neale. They specialise in Western swing – ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll before it was Rock ‘n’ Roll’, doing Bob Wills and Hank Thompson songs, touring bars, whore-houses, rodeos and clubs. They name-change to ‘Lucky Wray And The Lazy Pine Wranglers’ for some AM radio, and to play back-up for visiting C&W stars. They cut some country songs too, as ‘Lucky Wray And The Palomino Ranch Hands’ in 1955, and older brother Vernon cuts some sides as ‘Ray Vernon’. Then, while doing his two-year military service in the Korean War, Link contracts tuberculosis, he’s coughing up blood. In the resulting surgery he loses a lung and doctors confidently predict he’ll never be able to sing again. What the hell do they know?

With Link home again, the group name-switches to the Ray-Men for a family move to Washington DC, and to neatly jump the Rock ‘n’ Roll juggernaut, supporting the likes of Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Ricky Nelson… and Crash Craddock! Link’s a big man, with a monumental greaser Brylcreem slick-back quiff – although his later sleeve-shots will show him tanned and deeply-lined with gaunt Indian cheekbones and long raven-black hair. With typical ingenuity he confides it’s his lack of musical ability that forces him to contrive and invent sounds. Ripping holes in his amps’ tweeters with his knife and grinding smouldering slugs of sound up and down the fretboard, creating thundering breaks later to be known as the power-chord. ‘I was looking for something Chet Atkins wasn’t doing, that all the jazz kings wasn’t doing. I was looking for my own sound.’ To journalist Max Bell the resulting discord was ‘that near fatal collision between metal and rockabilly’ (‘Vox’ May 1993).

One night, as house-band for TV’s ‘The Milt Grant Show’ (on WTTG, Channel 5) and its spin-off live ‘Record Hops’, the Ray-Men find themselves backing Doo-Wop hit-makers The Diamond (“Little Darlin’”). They’re instructed to play the headliners’ single “The Stroll” – ‘I don’t know no stroll’ protests Link, but picks up on Doug’s improvised drum-beat, and what spontaneously emerges shimmers it way into Rock ‘n’ Roll history. This is what will become “Rumble”. Cadence is a small indie label formed in Washington DC in 1953 by Archie Bleyer, best known for its seven Nashville-based million-sellers by the Everly Brothers. The story is, Archie at first declines to issue the tape they’ve made of what they originally call “Oddball”, until he overhears his teenage daughter raving about the instrumental demo. She says its harsh jagged malevolence reminds her of the ‘rumble’ gang-fight sequence in ‘West Side Story’ (1957 Broadway musical) so Archie retitles it “Rumble”. Those ‘rumble’ associations, with switch-blade juvenile delinquency as disreputable then as Hip-Hop’s ‘Gangsta’ notoriety is now, results in some disapproving radio bans on the grounds of inciting teenage violence, but it also propels it high into the chart. Entering the US Hot Hundred 12 May 1958 on a big brittle pizza-size 78rpm, it peaks at no.16 and stays listed for ten weeks.

This first Rock ‘n’ Roll wave sees itself as a music for the generationally dispossessed. The outcasts, no-goodniks and social misfits. And its ingredients are as ethnically diverse as the American ‘melting pot’ can devise. Black ‘Race Records’, Jump and R&B obviously. Fused to the music of the hillbilly ‘trailer trash’ and rural ‘poor white’. Plus the Italian-American hoodlums and Doo-Wop street-gang delinquents. And Hispanics like Ritchie Valens. But there can be no ethnic group more dispossessed than the Native Americans. And they are there too. Marvin Rainwater, a full-blooded Cherokee from Wichita, Kansas might peak no higher than no.60 on the US ‘Billboard’ chart, but his devastatingly echo-drenched “Whole Lotta Woman” takes it all the way to the UK no.1 slot 25 April 1958, and he hangs around long enough to leave an indelible mark on the rocking decade. It’s said that in amongst Link’s poorly-documented session-work there were studio cross-overs, a likelihood improved by the fact that Link’s brother takes production-credits for Marvin’s follow-up “Hey Good Looking”.

If post-war jazz is all about startling dexterity and virtuoso improvisational skills, Rock ‘n’ Roll – the bastard offspring of R&B and C&W, has got to be its polar opposite. Instinctively it’s suspicious of basic proficiency, never mind virtuosity, which is why seventies Prog-Rock strains the limits of what’s considered acceptable, why Dire Straits are suspect, not despite but because of their abilities and articulate ambition. Rock has always been more a Folk-thing valuing pick-up musical illiteracy and the inspired three-chord accident. But that’s only half the story. From explosive energy and undisciplined spontaneity can come a purity undiluted by premeditation, unhampered by intellect. An earthy visceral howl. An unfiltered connection from urge to expression, by-passing language and preconception. By bursting through frustration and incoherence, at rare moments, it can achieve levels of pure expression. A sonic assault on all that’s inexpressible. It happens rarely. An unstable combination of unpredictable elements. But when it does, its effects can be seismic.

All its classic statements, from Elvis and Gene Vincent, through the Sex Pistols and Ramones, via the Who are about that mysterious alchemy of the moment that things come unexpectedly together. Link Wray stumbles into one of its purest expressions, summoning spectres and talking in tongues. He does it once. But that’s enough. Such moments are quintessential. It’s not so much that he broke the rules, as that he didn’t know the rules were there in the first place. There’s no real logic in gouging and busting open your 40-watt speaker cabinets, it’s more a kind of raw intuition. The resulting burn of kicked-in Les Paul fuzztone distortion, fretboard scrape and wang-bar overload sounds right. Strings resonate and squeal over floorboard-stomping rhythms, with a tin-full of nails to add cymbal-FX. And it’s indefinably right. No way to quantify or rationalise it down. He certainly never did. But once it comes roaring out from what’s left of the battered amp he knows he’s found whatever it is he needs. An exact analogue of Dave Davies’ galvanic amp-demolition for the neolithic “You Really Got Me” riff. To Pete Townshend’s frustrated auto-destruction. Or Jimi Hendrix triggering squalls of techno-primitive feedback. Chances are you don’t know what you’re looking for, until you find it. It can be hoodlum dumb. But it is also egalitarian. It doesn’t have to be dumb. It also has gene-traces of both Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie. So it can be smart and cunning. Bob Dylan or Ray Davies. But “Rumble” heads more for the heart than the head, it is primal wordless expression, so crude it hurts. And – by accident or intuitive design, it is a decade ahead of its time.


When Archie Bleyer unwisely advises Link to ‘clean up his act’, Link – never less than restlessly unpredictable, ups and signs to Epic. But, despite a further hit with “Rawhide” – which enters the US chart 16 March 1959, peaking at no.23 and spending just three weeks listed, they also try neutering his style by steering him towards recording mainstream standards, when his real genius lies in creating some of the rawest crudest ear-trembling sounds ever recorded – “Ace Of Spades”, “Comanche” or “Run Chicken Run”. After leaving Epic, Link and his brothers set to converting their family chicken-coop out back of their trailer-home in arid Accokeek, twelve miles from Tucson Arizona, into a rudimentary recording studio from which they can unleash more wild instrumentals, with the background sound of croaking bullfrogs occasionally audible way back in the Ampex mix.

They briefly form their own ‘Rumble Records’ to issue three singles – including the instrumental “Jack The Ripper” (1963). Allegedly recorded on a hotel staircase to achieve the correct echo, it gets picked up by Bernie Bennink and Tony Mamarella of Philadelphia’s Swan Records, and goes on to provide the Ray-Men with final chart hit. Swan encourages a relative studio freedom Link’s other major-label encounters have denied, and his years with them prove innovative (until the label goes into liquidation in 1965). He formulates tremolo effects activated by turning a knob on his Premier amp, with occasional vocal-shots too against medical advice – sometimes modulated by hooking it through his garden hose. But despite touring the East Coast, doing TV’s legendary ‘Dick Clark Show’, while recording a wealth of low-fi material over the next five years for other labels, including Alpine, there will be no more hits. Lack of funds and poor health conspire against him. Yet despite barely scraping a living he continues as an obscurely prolific one-man social disturbance, in his own niche corner, across every decade since. Creating music that is subject to no pressures other than the need to play. He, and the Ray-Men, who at various times number Doug, Ed Cynar – who replaces Shorty Horton in 1964, Elwood Brown, Johnny Sneed and Chuck Bennett. With Link self-producing his brooding reverberating screwball excursions up the fretboard in scorching blasts of adrenalin.

His mainstream success had always been slight and frequently-interrupted, and then – for the greater part of the next decade, Wray drops from the major label scene entirely. First overtaken by the cleaner distortion-free guitar sound of the Ventures, and by the Duane Eddy ‘Twang’, then by the English vocal-group invasion that overnight renders the Ray-Men’s style obsolete. Ironically so, as it’s John Lennon, the Who, Jeff Beck, and Marc Bolan who are among his staunchest and most verbal admirers. Yet it’s precisely Link’s dogged adherence to his primal garage sound, despite changing trends, that guarantees him the minor but secure cult following that keeps him working, until it eventually full-circles back into currency. And it’s this underground word-of-mouth reputation, fuelled by gushing references to his work in interviews by these new Rock gods, that reaches the attention of English record execs, who issue the gutsily uneven ‘Link Wray’ through Polydor in 1971, and the more Country-Rock ‘Be What You Want To’ with its guest superstar sidesmen soon after. Link goes on to tour and cut two well-received albums with retro-rockabilly throwback Robert Gordon, only to resurface with Virgin for the rough-cut country-blues of ‘Beans And Fatback’. Although each of these albums has something to recommend them, it’s also true that – just because big-label money is involved, Link is never tempted to raise his game, and sees no need to alter his working methods. He enjoys his ripple of late-recognition without ever taking it too seriously or feeling he has anything to prove, or live up to. He plays and records as he’s always done, warts and all. But this renewed interest, alongside sporadic rockabilly revivals, and energetic evangelists such as Robert Gordon and the Cramps, creates a ready market for new compilations and CD reissues of rare and previously unavailable recordings from various lost back-catalogues. And Europe opens up a new audience for him, right through his final years. As devotee and website-host Greg Laxton points out ‘Punk-rock, Grunge, Garage, Heavy Metal and ‘rock guitar’ in general… they can all trace their roots to Link Wray… in 1958 you could buy “Rumble” on a 78rpm record. In 2005 you could buy the Link documentary ‘The Rumble Man’ on DVD.’

Meanwhile, brother Vernon moves west to Arizona, slicing off the back-wall of the chicken-shed studio, and taking it with him as a base for a reconstructed ‘Wray’s Shack 3 Tracks’. Kris Kristofferson, among others, record there. Brother Doug stays on in Waldorf Maryland, a businessman by day playing solo gigs in local clubs. While Link himself marries a Danish student of Native American culture – Olive Julie Povlsen, in 1979 (supposedly his third marriage, with some eight or nine children), and the following year they settle on an island off the coast of Copenhagen with their son Oliver. With Olive functioning as his manager, and a blitz of movies cinematically soundtracking his music, such as Richard Gere’s ‘Breathless’ (1983, which included his “Jack The Ripper”), ‘Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind’ (George Clooney’s 2002 movie featuring “The Swag”), ‘Pulp Fiction’ (joining other manic guitar legend Dick Dale on the 1994 soundtrack), ‘Johnny Suede’ (1991, with Brad Pitt), and Sci-Fi blockbuster ‘Independence Day’ (1996). These last fifteen years ensure the man who launched a thousand buzz-saw guitars enjoys a higher profile than at any other time since the birth of “Rumble”. The man who time-warped the guitar by sneaking proto-Heavy Metal into the fifties, tours regularly – and vigorously, across Europe and back in the States. Never less than authentic. Always real. Until he’s finally stopped by heart failure, aged 76. He dies at his home in Copenhagen, on Tuesday 5 November 2005.



May 1958 “Rumble” c/w “The Swag” (Cadence 1347)
March 1959 “Rawhide” c/w “Dixie Doodle” (Epic 9300)
August 1960 “Jack The Ripper” c/w “The Black Widow” (Swan)
Other sought-after Swan singles includes “Branded”/“Hang On”, “Deuces Wild”/“Summer Dream”, “Batman Theme” (with goonish voice-effects)/ “Alone”, “Ace Of Spades”/”Hidden Charms”, “You Hurt Me So”/”Girl From North Country” (Dylan song)
April 1962 “Big City Stomp” c/w “Poppin’ Popeye” (Trans-Atlas label)
January 1964 “The Sweeper” c/w “Weekend” (Swan)
February 1964 “Mr Guitar”, “Dinosaur”, “Rumble”, “Run Chicken Run” (Swan EP)
March 1978 “Batman” c/w “Hidden Charms” (Chiswick) plus “Little Shoes” c/w “Down In The Mine” by The Wray Family (Lawn label)


MISSING LINK SERIES’ compiled from rare acetates by US Indie Norton label ‘Vol.1 Hillbilly Wolf’ (ED210) collecting the Rockabilly roots of ‘Lucky Wray & The Palomino Ranch Gang’ through the earliest Ray-Men, with “Teenage Cutie” ( from US Starday label), “I Sez Baby” (Link’s first recorded vocal, a 1955 Kay label single), “Johnny Bom Bonnie”, “Pancho Villa”, “Hillbilly Wolf”, “Flirty Baby”, “Danger One Way Love Ahead” etc, ‘Vol.2 Big City After Dark’ (ED211) includes six live cuts circa 1961, with “Big City After Dark”, “The Bad & The Good”, “Big City Stomp”, “Rumble Rock”, “Hold It”, “The Stranger” etc, ‘Vol.3 Some Kinda Nut’ (ED212) Link & The Ray-Men with early and mid-60’s rarities, “Baby Doll”, “Run Boy Run”, “Growling Guts”, “Drag Strip”, “Hungry Child”, “Genocide” etc. Their 63-track ‘Mr Guitar’ set compiles material from all four. There’s also a highly collectible single “Vendetta” (early sixties) c/w “Facin All The Same Tomorrows” (1965 vocal demo)(45-003) and mini-LP ‘The Junior Raymen: Rumble 66’ (Norton ED213) by nephew Vern (who died soon after) with his teen combo, produced by Vernon Wray with “I’m Branded”, “Ace Of Spades”, “The Rat Fink”, “Jack The Ripper”, “Rumble ‘66”

WALKIN’ WITH LINK’ (Sony CD4728662) 20-tracks from Epic period with “Slinky”, “Ramble”, “Hand Clapper”, “Rawhide”, “Dixie Doodle”, “Studio Blues”, “Comanche”, “Right Turn”, “Radar”, “Lillian”, “Dance Contest”, “Guitar Cha-Cha”, “Rumble Mambo”, “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” (Jimmy Reed song), “Mary Anne” (Link vocals on Ray Charles song), “Oh Babe Be Mine”, “New Studio Blues”, “Walkin’ With Link” (reissued May 1993 Epic CD)

LINK WRAY AND THE RAYMEN’ (Originally Epic LN 3661 USA – 1959, Edsel ED149 - 1985) tracks drawn from the Epic archive with “Dixie-Doodle” (with Duane Eddy-style ‘rebel yells’), “Ramble”, “Caroline”, “Rawhide”, “Right Turn”, “Golden Strings”, “Comanche”, “Hambone” (tribute to Link’s earliest guitar tutor), “Mary Ann”, “Rumble Mambo”, “Ain’t That Loving You Baby”, “Slinky”, “Hand Clapper”, “Lillian”, “Radar”, “Studio Blues” (also issued under the title ‘Rockin’ And Handclappin’)

GROWLING GUITAR’ (Big Beat/ Ace WIK65 – September 1987) tracks from the Swan catalogue, with “Climbing A High Wall” (‘a one-take monster of a recording’ says ‘Record Collector 168’, using wah-wah pedal), “Genocide”, “The Earth Is Crying”, “Growling Guts”, “Hungry”, “Ace Of Spades ‘69”, “Ruby Baby”, “Hang On”, “Summer Dreams”, “Sorrento”, “Peggy Sue”, “Alone”, “Girl From The North Country”, “You Hurt Me So”, “The Fuzz” (re-issued May 1991 with bonus ‘Live In ‘85’ tracks)

JACK THE RIPPER’ (Swan SLP 510 USA – 1963, reissue Line LLP5187, Germany – 1982, Hangman June 1990) with “Mr Guitar”, “My Beth”, “Deacon Jones”, “Steel Trap”, “Cross Ties”, “Jack The Ripper”, “Ace Of Spades”, “Hidden Charms”, “Fat Back”, “Run Chicken Run”, “Dinosaur”, “Big Ben”, “Mash Potato Party”, “I’ll Do Anything For You”, “Rendez-Vous”, “Slinky”

THERE’S GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT’ (Union Pacific UP002 – August 1973, Ace CH69 - 1982) 17 tracks from Cadence, Epic and Swan from 1957-1965 compiled by Union Pacific label-boss Ian Sippen who died in 1973, with the original “Rumble”, its B-side “The Swag” from Cadence (1958), plus 13 1963/4 sides from Swan Records, “Deuces Wild”, “Mustang”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Law Of The Jungle”, “Blueberry Hill” “Run Boy Run”, “Honky Tonk”, “The Sweeper”, “Hound Dog”, “That’ll Be The Day”, “Zip Code”, “Scatter”, “El Toro”, “Tijuana”, “Rumble Mambo”, “Jack The Ripper”, “Black Widow”, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (vocal version of Roy Brown hit), “Batman Theme”, “I’m Branded”, “Hang On”, “Ace Of Spades”, “Alone”, also re-issued as ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble’ (Charly CR30171 – 1979)

LINK WRAY: THE EARLY RECORDINGS’ (Chiswick/ Ace CH6 - 1978)14 tracks from 1963-’65, with “Batman Theme”, “Ace Of Spades”, “Cross Ties”, “Jack The Ripper”, “Hidden Charms” (vocal version of Willie Dixon song), “I’m Branded”, “The Shadow Knows”, “Fat Back”, “Run Chicken Run”, “Black Widow”, “Scatter”, “Turnpike USA”, “Mr Guitar”, “Rumble”. ‘Apart from Bo Diddley, no contemporary of Wray’s ever coaxed meaner, nastier noises out of a guitar’ writes Charles Shaar Murray (‘NME’ 6 May 1978)

GREAT GUITAR HITS OF LINK WRAY AND THE RAYMEN’ (Vermillion LP1924 USA – 1967) + ‘Link Wray Sings & Plays Guitar’ (Vermillion LP1925 USA – 1968)

YESTERDAY AND TODAY’ (Record Factory LP1929 USA – 1969)

LINK WRAY’ (Polydor 24-4064 – August 1971) produced and part co-written with Steve Verroca, with Billy ‘Juke Box’ Hodges pno, Bobby Howard mandolin, Doug Wray drs, and Link gtr, dobro, bass, vocals, includes the single “Fire & Brimstone” c/w “Juke-Box Mama” plus “Take Me Home Jesus”, “Black River Swamp”, “The Rise & Fall Of Jimmy Stokes”, “La de da”, “Fallin’ Rain”, “Ice People”, “God Out West”, “Crowbar”, “Tail Dragger”. Richard Williams writes ‘this is probably the ultimate down-home album, recorded on the little three-track machinery in Wray’s Shack’ (‘Melody Maker’)

MORDICAI JONES’ (Polydor PD5010 – 1971) Mandolin player on Link’s ‘Beans & Fatback’ solo album, with Link Wray participation

BE WHAT YOU WANT TO’ (Polydor PD5047 – 1973, reissued on CD 2005) in country-Rock style, recorded in California, with Jerry Garcia, Jefferson Airplane’s Peter Kaukonen, Commander Cody and others guesting, produced by Thom Jefferson-Kaye, includes the single “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” c/w “Shine The Light” plus “Be What You Want To”, “All Cried Out”, “Tucson Arizona”, “Riverbed”, “You Walked By”, “Walk Easy Walk Slow”, “All The Love In My Life”, “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, “Morning”

BEANS AND FATBACK’ (Virgin V2006 – October 1973) produced and all co-written with Steve Verroca but for traditional “Georgia Pines” and “Take My Hand”, recorded at ‘The Shack, USA’, includes the single “I’m So Glad” c/w “Shawnee Tribe” plus “Water Boy”, “Beans & Fatback”, “Hobo Man”, “Alabama Circus”, “From Tulsa To North Carolina”, “Right Or Wrong”, “In The Pines”. ‘A fine album… as raw as chapped legs, as grizzly as a brown bear, its spirit is strong, its flesh barely covers its white-hard bone’ (Geoff Brown ‘Melody Maker’)

THE LINK WRAY RUMBLE’ (Polydor 2391128 - 1974) with Pete Townshend liner notes. Tracks later compiled on 1996 ‘Guitar Preacher: The Polydor Years’ (Polydor 527 717-2)

STUCK IN GEAR’ (Virgin V2050, March 1976) Link’s first UK-recorded album, eight tracks including a version of “Jack The Ripper” caught live at the London Lyceum, plus “Southern Lady”, “Tecolote”, “Quicksand”, “I Know You’re Leaving Me Now”, “Did You See The Man”, “Midnight Lover”, “Cottoncandy Apples”, “Bo Jack”

ROBERT GORDON WITH LINK WRAY’ (Private Stock PS2030 – August 1977) one of two album collaborations, features The Wildcats (Billy Cross gtr, Rob Stoner – formerly of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder bass, Howie Wyeth drs, Charlie Messing gtr). Richard Gottehrer – formerly of 60’s Strangeloves pno and production. Recorded at Plaza Sound NY, includes the single “Red Hot” c/w “Sweet Surrender” plus “Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll” (the Billy Lee Riley hit, as is ‘Red Hot’), “I Sure Miss You”, “Lit’s In The Bottle”, “Woman”, “Is This The Way”, “Summertime Blues”, “The Fool”, “Boppin’ The Blues” (Carl Perkins). The other Robert Gordon collaboration is ‘FRESH FISH SPECIAL’ (Private Stock Records PVLP1038 - 1978) includes the singles “Fire” c/w “If This Is Wrong” and “The Way I Walk” c/w “Sea Cruise” plus “Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache”, “Five Days”, “I Want To Be Free”, “Twenty Flight Rock”, “Lonesome Train”, “Blue Eyes”

THE GUITAR ALBUM’ (Polydor 2482382 – 1977) compilation includes Link doing Willie Dixon’s “Tail Dagger”

BULLSHOT’ (Charisma CAR 1143 /Visa Records – June 1979) with Alpha Band stalwarts Rob Stoner bass, Howie Wyeth drs, Billy Cross rhythm, Anton Fig drs, Chris Robinson keys, plus producer Gottehrer, includes single “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” (Dylan song) c/w “Just That Kind Of Switchblade” (instrumental), plus “Fever”, “Good Good Lovin’”, “Rawhide”, “Snag”, “Wild Party”, “Don’t” (originally done as a demo guide-track for Robert Gordon), “The Sky Is Falling”

LIVE AT THE PARADISO’ (Passport PB2014, Canada – 1980, Europe-only CD, Visa 7010 USA – 1980) with Anton Fig drs, Jimmy Lowell bass, including “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Ace Of Spades”, “Walk Away From Love”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Run Chicken Run”, “She’s No Good”, “Rumble”, “Rawhide”, “Subway Blues”, “Money”, “Shake Rattle & Roll”, Bebop A Lula”

LINK WRAY: LIVE IN ‘85’ (Big Beat WIKM42 - 1986) recorded during a US tour through January and February with Keith Lentin bass, Marty Feier drs, including his final gig in the Washington DC area – at the ‘Wax Museum’ with “Rumble”, “It’s Only Words”, “Fire”, “Mystery Train/ I Got A Woman/ Baby Let’s Play House”, “Jack The Ripper”, “Love Me”, “King Creole”, “I’m Counting On You”, “Rawhide”, “Born To Be Wild”, re-issued as 2-for-1 with ‘GROWLING GUITAR’ as Ace CDWIK972

BORN TO BE WILD: LIVE 1987’ (CD - 1987)

LINK WRAY: THE RUMBLE MAN’ (Ace CH266 – 1988) recorded in one night for Ace’s Ted Carroll, with “Draggin’”, “Bull Dawg”, “Aces Wild”, “Street Beat”, “Honest, I Swear Somebody Lied”, “The Rumble Man”, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry”, “Big City Walk”, “I Will Be Home Again”, “Copenhagen Boogie”, “The Thrill Of Your Love”

THE ORIGINAL RUMBLE + 22 OTHER INSTRUMENTALS’ (Ace CDCH924 – 1989) 23 thunderous guitar instrumentals, including “Rumble”, “The Swag”, “Batman (Theme)”, “Ace Of Spades”, “Jack The Ripper”, “I’m Branded”, “Fat Back”, “Run Chicken Run”, “Turnpike USA”, “Deuces Wild”, “Mustang”, “Blueberry Hill”, “Run Boy Run”, “The Sweeper”, “Hound Dog”, “That’ll Be The Day”, “The Fuzz”, “Rawhide”, “Draggin’”, “Aces Wild”, “Bull Dawg”, “The Rumble Man”, “Copenhagen Boogie”

APACHE: WILD SIDE OF THE CITY LIGHTS’ (Ace CDCHD931 - 1989) two complete 1989 albums, + bonus track, includes Link’s raw take on the Jerry Lordan-penned Shadows’ hit, plus vocals “Big Boss Man” and “Beautiful Brown Eyes”, plus “The Wild One”, “Dallas Blues”, “Shawnee”, “The Joker”, “Stars & Stripes Forever”, “Green Hornet”, “Dick Tracy Private Eye”, “Hotel Loneliness”, “Raunchy”, “The Flying Wedge” (a homage to drag-racing), “Don’t Leave Me”, “American Sunset”, “Little Sister”, “Love Me Tender”, “Wild Side Of The City Lights”, “Viva Zapata”, “As Long As I Have You”, “Street Beat” With Bruce Brand (harmonica and drums). Produced by Wray

INDIAN CHILD’ (May 1993 Sony Denmark EPC473100 Europe-only CD/ imported by Ball Products, a Creation affiliate) ten tracks includes two recorded for a 1985 MTV-special, “Rumble” and the vocal “Trying To Find Your Love”, plus others recorded with Danish backing band Shaky Ground (Kim Hyttel keys, Flemming Nilsson percussion, Jan Mols rhythm, Carsten Egholm bass, Erik Lodberg drs), with “It Was Elvis” (vocal, ‘I wrote ‘It Was Elvis’ because the kids only remember the fat Vegas Elvis who died. That’s not Elvis. This is Elvis, the young Elvis, the progressive Elvis, the Sid Vicious Elvis, the boy with guts’ he tells ‘Record Collector’ August 1993), plus “Torture”, “Guitar-Man From New Orleans”, “God’s Little Baby”, “Indian Child”, “Saving All My Love”, “Bring On The Night”, “I Apologise”, “Diamonds & Pearls”. Some lyrics by wife Olive. As ‘Neanderthal as anything that ever crawled out of a swamp’ says ‘Vox’

WALKING DOWN A STREET CALLED LOVE’ (1996 – Cherry Red/ Visionary) live set with tribute-to-Elvis medley, “Jailhouse Rock/ Young And Beautiful”, issued with the video ‘RUMBLEMAN’ 

SHADOWMAN’ (Ace CDCHD638 - 1997) with “Timewarp” (a souped-up version of “Rawhide”), “I Can’t Help It” (vocal on Hank Williams song), plus savage instrumentals

BARBED WIRE’ (Ace Records – 2000 CD) Link ‘unplugged’, acoustic guitar and vocals

SLINKY: THE COMPLETE EPIC SESSIONS’ (2004 double-CD compilation)





Link Wray material can also be heard on the soundtrack of ‘Desperado’, ‘Twelve Monkeys’, ‘This Boy’s Life’, ‘Blow’… and ‘Taco Bell’ TV-ads. While the ‘Wray Collective’, and Link himself were involved in recording “Hide And Go Seek”, a 1962 US Top 40 solo hit for ‘Bunker Hill’ aka David Walker of the Mighty Clouds Of Joy, for 1955 RCA sides by Dick Williams, and some seventy other singles (including ‘Ray Vernon’s 1957 Cameo-label version of “Remember You’re Mine”, covered into the charts by Pat Boone), as well as an A&M album by avant-garde band Eggs Over Easy…

A current TV-ad for uses ‘Rumble’

with discographical thanks to: 

Published on ‘Peace & Freedom’ website ‘booksmusicfilmstv’:
(January 2006)