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Digital Subscriptions > Vintage Rock > Nov/Dec 18 > Classic Album

Classic Album

Back in 1958, no other six-stringer sounded anything like Link Wray. Building on the template of his youth-quaking Rumble, Wray went on to record a debut album that remains an unholy classic of raunch’n’roll guitar…

LINK WRAY & THE WRAYMEN

The stance – feet far apart with shoulders hunched, ready for action – anticipating violence or come what may, Link Wray was a man not to be messed with. Dressed all in black except for the white highlights on his collar, pockets, and two-tone shoes, one might expect a switchblade or perhaps the proverbial $2 pistol in his right hand. Instead, an electric guitar was Link’s weapon of choice.

Framed by a white star, highlighted by a zig-zag slash of bright yellow, and set against a stark, black background that snapshot of musical menace filled the upper left hand corner of Link Wray’s 1960 debut album. The record’s eponymous title, “LINK WRAY & THE WRAYMEN”, was scrawled in frenzied white letters, echoing the titles of contemporary cinematic thrillers from Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger, promising tales of crime, menace and suspense. This was clearly not an album of mushy pop songs about teen heartbreak — this was rock’n’roll at its most primal and powerful, dangerous and exciting.

Link Wray was no fresh-faced teen star by the time of his first album’s release. He was already 30, and had spent six years struggling his way up in the music biz – playing all-nighters in rough and rowdy hillbilly bars and honky tonks in both his native North Carolina and around the naval yards surrounding Washington DC. With his two brothers, Vernon and Doug, and bass player, Brantley ‘Shorty’ Horton, they bashed out country tunes and dodged flying beer bottles and fists – gradually making the hillbilly cat leap from twang to rock in the wake of Elvis Presley’s ascension. A bout of tuberculosis left Link with only one lung and doctor’s orders to limit his singing, so the young musician focused on guitar, pushing his sound into dangerous and uncharted territory.

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