Gibson Tribute Link Wray Following Rock Hall Nomination
After all, nasty sawtooth waves weren't a staple of rock until Wray came along with his 1958 instrumental wonder "Rumble" – a song so profound it propelled his career for the duration of his life. And while there were lean years, once he was embraced by the punk rock movement of the 1970s as one of its granddaddies, his status and gigging schedule were assured. He also became part of the rockabilly revival of the '80s, sharing bills with post-modern greaser god Robert Gordon and headlining festivals in Europe.
Wray – who favored Gibson Les Paul Gold Tops early on and moved on to lighter Gibson SGs often decked out with whammy bars – was born on May 2, 1929 as Fred Lincoln Wray in Dunn, North Carolina. He caught guitar fever at age eight when he heard a bluesman called simply "Hambone" playing slide at a carnival.
Nonetheless, he didn't attempt to play in a serious way until he was in his 20s and had returned home to Virginia – where his father had moved the Wrays a decade earlier to find shipyard work – from the Korean War with enough money in his pocket to buy an axe. Initially the plan was to write songs and accompany himself on guitar, but he'd contracted tuberculosis in the jungles of Asia and eventually it crept up on him and destroyed one of his lungs. Doctors told Wray he'd not be able to sing with just one lung – this was before Willie Nelson put the lie to that – so he decided to concentrate on his picking.
Strictly speaking, Wray was a rockabilly artist, and like so many rockabilly cats, his entry point was country music. His first band was Link Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers. After a few years playing gigs in the Washington, D.C., area, the group got a slot as the band on a TV show called Milt Grant's House Party. By 1956 they were recording for the Starday label.
Wray, who was self-taught, was never the sharpest technician on the instrument, but had a great sense of melody and understood the power conveyed by hanging chords. From those two strengths he created "Rumble" in 1958. From its surfy vibrato to its descending single note riff, "Rumble" sounds like a Dick Dale tune, but the fact of the
Nonetheless, Wray's song was an attempt to emulate another group: the Diamonds, whose hit "The Stroll" kept the dancers at the live House Party broadcasts on the floor. Essentially it's a dark 11-and-a-half bar blues. When Wray and his band debuted the tune on the show, the audience made them perform it three more times. Archie Beyer, the owner of Cadence Records, decided to sign the group and release the tune, then called "Oddball," as a single. He hated the name, so turned to another Cadence artist, Phil Everly, for a suggestion, and thus it was renamed "Rumble" for its ominous tones and moody vibe. more on this story
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