In 1966, I moved away from the Washington, D.C. area,
never to return. I was a kid so I didn't have much choice when my
parents packed it up and moved to Michigan. I'm not going to talk about
Michigan. I'm going to make an effort to stay on topic.
I left D.C. a rabid Link Wray fan and even though
it seemed I would never hear of him again, I remembered him fondly and often
took out my Peavey Falcon (that's a guitar, okay?) and whacked off a few
crunchy power chords in remembrance. A couple of D's and an E was all
it took and I would be transported back to the old days of acne and sexual
I would not realize that Link was still around and
recording until the 80's when a friend of mine revealed to me that he had
been a Link Wray fan for years (4 to be exact). He had discovered him
in a import bin at some record store and had become a fan, searching through
cut-out bins and at record shows for anything he could find.
He informed me that Link had made something of a
comeback while touring with retro-rocker Robert Gordon (of whom I had never
heard), was living somewhere in Europe (Denmark, I found out later with his
young Danish wife) and was still out there touring the U.S. and Europe and
rocking people's socks off everywhere he went. That's when I started
building my collection of recordings by Link Wray in an effort to satisfy a
Link hits the big time?
Now just about everybody has heard of Link
Wray. While appearances of his music in such popular films as Pulp
Fiction (one of my favorites), Desperado (Robert Rodriguez is a
mensch!) and Independence Day (a film that is not quite bad enough to
be interesting) have not made Link quite a household name, they have alert
quite a few extra people to his music.
It pleases me that Link Wray is finally getting
credit for the legendary rock 'n' roll guitarist he is. It's about damn
But here's the deal: The Link Wray story is
not just about hits from the late 50's or his attempt to flourish in the
local D.C. scene in the 60's. Link at 62 or 67 (depending on who you
believe) is not only still alive, he is still playing the loudest,
raunchiest, crunchiest rock 'n' roll in existence.
Which brings us conveniently enough to the
denouement of my story.
Oh God I can't believe Link
Wray is playing in Kalamazoo!
Thanks to the fact that I don't follow the media at
all, I very nearly missed the fact that Link's latest tour (I didn't even
know he was on tour in the States) would bring him to within 100 miles of me
(80 miles actually). Thanks to a dear friend who had the temerity to
wake me out of much needed nap, I would make it to Club Soda in Kalamazoo,
Michigan on November 1, 1997 to see and hear Link in person for the first
time in over 30 years.
Link wears the years well. His maturity has served
to accentuate his lankiness and with hair down to the middle of his back, to
look like the Cherokee warrior he is. He looks much more distinguished
than the old rockabilly punk I remember from the Glen Echo days. The
sneer is still there, in his face and in the way he plays the guitar.
It is not really possible to describe what it was
like to hear him in that small club in Kalamazoo. He has some live
albums out that might give you a taste but there is no way a canned product
can communicate the excitement of one of his shows.
He plays loud, he plays fast, and he can't be bothered by
taking long breaks between songs. The pace is supersonic and the volume
punishing as Link feeds off the excitement of the crowd to keep himself
and everybody else going. It's an intense feedback loop that produces
energy levels that no modern rocker I know of can achieve. He
started the set with a deafening rendition of Rumble played with such
force and energy that he broke two strings before the end of the song.
He played all the songs we wanted to hear: Rumble
(of course), Raw Hide, Ace of Spades, The Swag, Comanche,
and the insane Run Chicken Run that used to cause riots back when it
was first performed. He even managed to get through a couple of ballads
(a bad habit with these old rockabilly cats) without allowing the energy
level to dip a single erg. The set ended with an extended version
of Rumble, with Link jamming with the bassist and drummer and showing no
signs of fatique. Afterwards, he signed autographs and CD's like the
hero he is!
There is no one on the planet like Link Wray.
I believe in God and Link Wray is one of Her finest creations.