1958 Link Wray and His Ray Men – Rumble
Link Wray grew up in North Carolina during the Depression. Link’s mother was a Shawnee native American, which led to persecution of his family by the local members of the KKK.
While Link served in the Army during the Korean War, he contracted tuberculosis and had to have part of a lung removed. The operation left him unable to perform as a singer, and that led him to concentrate on instrumentals. He and his two brothers formed Lucky Wray & the Palomino Ranch Hands and began playing country-infused music. The group added a bass player and began recording music in the mid-fifties.
At a local record hop, Link created a new song when the audience asked him to play a stroll. Archie Bleyer had a recording of the song cut for his Cadence Records label. His daughter said the song reminded her of the rumbles in West Side Story, and Cadence issued the single as Rumble by Link Wray and His Ray Men.
The single peaked at #16 on the Hot 100 in 1958. The title led the song to get banned in several major markets (including New York City) or the release might have performed better.
Cadence wanted Link to go to Nashville and record with the producers of the Everly Brothers, but Link did not want any part of that. Instead, he signed with Epic Records and recorded Rawhide. Epic released the single credited to Link Wray and the Wraymen.
The single peaked at #23 on the Hot 100 in 1959.
None of Link’s other releases on Epic reached the charts, and after trying to issue records on his own label, he signed with Swan Records in the early sixties. His only other charting record came on Swan in 1963 when the single Jack The Ripper reached #64 on the Hot 100.
The single may not have bounded up the charts, but they later used the song on the soundtrack of the Richard Gere version of the film Breathless.
It’s easy to underestimate the impact Link’s guitar playing had on future musicians. He popularized the guitar power chord that underlies much of rock music. A diverse list of guitarists who credit Link as an influence includes Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop, and Neil Young.
A quote from Peter Townsend sums it up best: “He is the king; if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar.”
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