Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
Link Wray and his Raymen - Mr. Guitardotdotdotdot
artworkLast week, I actually talked to someone who didn't know who Link Wray is/was. I had played "Jack The Ripper" on my show, the version from his 1974 live session at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, a session played live to 2 track and broadcast live on KSAN. It was recorded during Link's meanest and leanest period, musically. He was touring to support his "Bull Shot" album. Anyway, this guy wanted to know if it was new and if this guy had any other records out. When I told him the recording was from '75, he almost choked. When I told him Link had been recording since the fifties, he further balked, and when I told him he had just played in the area at the age of '73, he was incredulous.

Link Wray is a rock 'n roll original! There's no doubt that Link Wray influence one hell of a lot of surf guitarists, and others too. Norton Records' 2 CD set of the complete Swan recordings is nothing if not essential. It contains some nice surfisms, and some of the raspiest dirtiest nastiest guitar ever. What instrumental collection can hold it's head up without Link's "Rumble" or "Jack The Ripper"? But, wait, there's a whole slew of tracks (63 if you count 'em), and hardly a bozo in the crowd. Link was one of the early players to adopt Bo Diddley's trick of slitting his speaker cones with his pocket knife to get a raspy pre-fuzztone sound. He nearly invented the garage genre with his raw delivery, which was completely out of step with most of his instro contemporaries like Duane Eddy & Dave Yorko. But, to the surf stuff. Link didn't use reverb much, but when he did... oh mama don't you cry! Just feel the salt water in "My Beth" or "Cross Ties." Yum Yum!
Picks: Jack The Ripper, Bo Diddley, Ace Of Spades, The Sweeper, Alone, Run Chicken Run, Deuces Wild, The Shadow Knows, The Black Widow, Hound Dog, Law Of The Jungle, Cross Ties, Deacon Jones, My Beth, Branded, Ruby Baby, Zip Code, Heartbreak Hotel, Batman Theme, Sorrento, Mr. Guitar, Scatter, My Alberta, Rumble, Fat Back, The Fuzz, Mustang, Honky Tonk, Turnpike U. S. A., Steel Trap, Return Of The Birdland, Ace Of Spades, Frenchy, Dinosaur, Hang On, Peggy Sue, Summer Dream, Big Ben, Run Chicken Run, Autumn Leaves, Week End, Ace Of Spades, That'll Be The Day, Tammy, Run Boy Run, Blueberry Hill, Begin The Beguine, Rumble

Track by Track Review

Jack The Ripper dotdotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Is there another instro up to the power or importance of "Jack The Ripper?" I don't think so. I still vividly remember the chill I felt (there it is again) the first time I heard this record. Even on cruddy little table radio, this stood the hairs on the back of my neck on end. This is a powerful and ominous recording, with its rolling rhythm and tom tom cadence, and intense guitar tone. It dominates you as you listen. It is as essential as it gets. Issued in 1961, it has inspired and been covered by countless guitarists. It is dark, brooding, mysterious, and the vibrato is superb. This timeless melody personifies the ability of voiceless rock to convey an image, even more than "Rumble" does. It is simply superb.

Bo Diddley dotdotdotdotdot
Double Picked Primal Surf Rock (Instrumental)

Super fast double picked guitar assault on Bo Diddley's namesake song. Talk about your chunky fast guitar rages, this is a monstrous number made available for the first time in the US on this CD. What Link would have done to a surf band is anyone's guess, but this track suggest that he would have redefined the genre. What a pummeling track! Also called "What Happened To The Waltz."

Ace Of Spades dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

A "Rumble" inspired song that doesn't quite have the same ominousness or infectious sound. It's a bit to progression oriented for my tastes. "Ace Of Spades" appeared in Pulp Fiction. This often covered tune is slow and evil, and is essentially Deacon Jones and Fat Back combined. Groovin' R&B rumble rock. Grindy and damp.

The Sweeper dotdotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Deep twang and edge, rolling drums, and a fast progression on the low-E combine for a fifties primal twang monster. It has a big sound, and lots of energy.

Alone dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Beautiful guitar twang, moody island imagery, and plinking piano over a slow dance backtrack create a finer romantic number. Very pretty, and oozing sensuality.

Run Chicken Run dotdotdotdot
Original Chicken Bop (Instrumental)

If this isn't the first chicken scratch record, it's damn close to it. If any record defined the Planet Rockers-Los Straitjackets-Eddie Angel sound-to-be, this is it. Fast, chicken pickin' cluckery, grindy edge, and intensely hot guitar magic in a simple structure that just plain grabs you. remember, this is 35 years old.

Deuces Wild dotdotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

The rolling tribal drums are very cool, organically grown jungle rhythms under the grodie Link Wray long note guitar voicing. A very fine track.

The Shadow Knows dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Opening with the classic instro lines from the old time radio show, this dark brooding Rumble like number uses big ringing chords, sustained and distorted, and a thundering tribal backtrack, with evil laughs interspersed. A very slow pained and evil number. The lumbering pace gives it more darkness, as do the rhythm sections relentless runway grind. Quite nice.

The Black Widow dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

This is a fine track. It lends itself to interpretation, as was demonstrated by the Nobles when they covered it. This original rendering is full and grodie. It's based on a simple progression, but it has a certain magnetism about it.

Hound Dog dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Instrumentally delivered, this is a strange amalgam of Presleyisms, pre-surfisms, and vocal chorus with handclaps. The thundering drums add a coolness. Interesting bit of history malformed by the Linkster.

Law Of The Jungle dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Thuddy guitar with organ carrying the melody line. It's quite grodie, but mostly a jam-like track.

Cross Ties dotdotdotdot
Bouncing Rock (Instrumental)

This is one moody number. The organ mourns some unseen loss while Link's reverbed guitar lightly damps out a surf rhythm at a galloping meter. This is one of those really simple tunes that makes you realize what it takes to create really effective instro rock. Haunting and powerfully distant images of sadness. The organ is so eerie, and the guitar is pure surf - damped reverb and double picked. This is a rhythmic and infectious track.

Deacon Jones dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

This is a bluesy number, mostly a jam with cries of "Deacon Jones." An R&B progression, this could have been aired by the black stations of the day, and would have fit right in. Cool track. The guitar break is very chicken bop sounding. Southern fried soul.

My Beth dotdotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Another surf track from the Linkster, this is melodic and shimmering, using vibrato and reverb for a rich tone. It is very pretty, as well as full. A great track.

Branded dotdotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

The surf rhythm guitar under the Link Wray raw slit-speaker sound is very cool. It's a basic progression, dark and gloomy, with tons of ugly beauty, accented by stinging whammy cords, and warbling tremoloed fuzz. What a bizarre sound.

Ruby Baby dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

This seems to me to be an unfinished backtrack. It is unsupported by a melody, features chorus vocals, and a guitar hook break. It doesn't quite work as is, though it certainly hints of greatness unfinished.

Zip Code dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Vibrato rawness, cheesy organ beneath, and a basic beat. The melody line is minimal, but the idea is interesting. The tribal drums are cool too.

Heartbreak Hotel dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Round smooth guitar tones fill out this instrumental Presleyism. It almost shimmers like surf, but not quite. The effect is a fifties sock hop lady's choice number, with great tinkling piano. Cool track.

Batman Theme dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

The Neil Hefty television theme song chunka chunka'd to a certain relentless grind. Too repetitious for me.

Sorrento dotdotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

The Gold Finger chords introduce a fine near surf almost Italian portrayal of this Mediterranean track. This is a glorious number, with nice changes and varied elements that work really well together. A fine track.

Mr. Guitar dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

A fine cowboy number with a great melody and rolling drums. It brings up images of Gunsmoke on a good day. It's chunky and spunky and fun. Mr. Guitar is a rocking fifties guitar track, with pumpin' infectious drums and a spiffy little riff line. The damped mid section is way cool. damn fine party playtime music, and it even sports a few swimming whammies. This'll carry you down the road with the top down in that old Chevy Nomad.

Scatter dotdotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

The intro chords to "Telstar" precede a cheesy organ number supported by a rhythmic chunka chunka guitar and a rolling rhythm track. A cool variation of the "Telstar" theme without being too derivative. Nice fodder for the surf mill.

My Alberta dotdotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

This is a very pretty ballad, with pristine guitar tones and a romantic feel. The span of styles that Link could play is astounding. His trademark raw guitar could transition right into gorgeous clean work like this. Great song.

Rumble dotdotdotdot
Classic Dark Rock (Instrumental)

The LP version of rumble employs ringing chords instead of grinding ones, and has a dominant rhythm guitar that is different than the single version. It is much less ominous and much more relentless.

Fat Back dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Slow and methodical, "Rumble" inspired, cool club backtrack, and just like "Ace Of Spades" without the "Treat Her Right" rhythm section. Ominous and so-cool this way.

The Fuzz dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

A cool driving song, found in your rear view mirror, with touches of "My Beth," but without the reverb. A developing song with some really cool stinging playing.

Mustang dotdotdot
Fifties Instro (Instrumental)

Another average Link Wray track.

Honky Tonk dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

A strait cover of this Bill Dogget classic.

Turnpike U. S. A. dotdotdot
Essential Rock (Instrumental)

Acoustic rhythm guitar and a fifties backtrack, with a light weight electric lead and not much melody. It's an infectious fifties progression thing.

Steel Trap dotdotdot
Bouncing Rock (Instrumental)

With a guitar line that hints of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine or A Taste Of Honey, this bouncing rocker plays happily in the sandbox out back of the sock hop. A funky almost Travis Wammack meets a surf band track, not very interesting. Fun and infectious.

Return Of The Birdland dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Plucky guitar, droney organ, thumpy drums, and a semi-surfy lead. The melody line is a funny progression, almost too happy despite it's low-E origin. A nice Dixie sorta tune. The double picked break is cool.

Ace Of Spades dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

Tape delayed guitar, and a more spatial sound, this is more ringing that the earlier versions, almost surfy in texture. Grindy and damp.

Frenchy dotdotdot
MOR (Instrumental)

"Alueta... " It's that song, not unusual, but odd.

Dinosaur dotdotdot
Jurassic (Instrumental)

This was a good idea, but it doesn't have the magic of other Link Wray tunes. It's low down and growly, but not quite spooky, and not large enough for the title. Still, the dark sax and lumbering pace do create a certain lizardry.

Hang On dotdotdot
Fifties B-side (Instrumental)

A fifties B-side sorta thing, progression in search of a melody.

Peggy Sue dotdotdot
Rockabilly (Instrumental)

Low-E guitar lead version of the Buddy Holly classic. Very rockabilly oriented, and pretty fun.

Summer Dream dotdotdot
Near MOR (Instrumental)

An almost MOR Three Suns kinda feel, echoed drums simulating a brushed performance. The guitar is smooth, but the track is unremarkable.

Big Ben dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

No ringing bells, not British themes, just ringing chords and a very fine bass line. This sneaks up on you, being easy to dismiss in the first few bars, but at some point around the third verse, you find yourself sucked in. Fine throbbing rockin' stuff. The bass melody is really nice.

Run Chicken Run dotdotdot
Poultry Rock (Instrumental)

Smoother more polished barnyard rave up, feathers flying and eggs breaking everywhere. Buzzy good fun.

Autumn Leaves dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

Some double picking and some Les Paul, all very pretty. This traditionally recorded instro gains a lot under Link's artful pluckage. very nice track. I wonder why the surf bands didn't pick this up?

Week End dotdotdot
Fifties R&B (Instrumental)

A "Honky Tonk" wanna be.

Ace Of Spades dotdotdot
Raw Rock (Instrumental)

A different more edgy guitar sound, and harmonica, deliver yet another version of this classic.

That'll Be The Day dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Instrumentally yours, but not very special.

Tammy dotdotdot
MOR (Instrumental)

Tastefully played version of this film theme. It's quite pretty, and so very melodic is a sappy fifties love song kinda way.

Run Boy Run dotdotdotdot
Cowboy (Instrumental)

A Texas cowboy kinda song, dripping chuck wagon aromas and western guitar tones, over a rolling C&W backtrack. It almost cries Buck Owens, but has more guts, of course. A fine track.

Blueberry Hill dotdotdot
Rockabilly (Instrumental)

Instrumentally, this is an OK melody, but the arrangement is nothing special. The performance is fine.

Begin The Beguine dotdotdot
MOR (Instrumental)

So-o smooth MOR guitarology, just crying out for the soul of Buddy Merrill. Actually, Buddy never had this much soul. It's quite nice, just not very inspiring.

Rumble dotdotdot
Classic Dark Rock (Instrumental)

A horn overdubbed - and isn't it out of tune with the rest of the track? Really strange sounding. Can't say I wanna hear it again. It's like a high school marching band... nope, not for me.