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THE THROWBACK: Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ - A Rock N Roll Pioneer
May 2, 2013
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On this day in 1929, a rock 'n roll pioneer was born - a man who influenced a who's who of rock legends.

We're talking Bob Dylan, Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.

That man is Link Wray - one of Rolling Stone's Top 100 Greatest Guitarists and perhaps best known for his 1958 song 'Rumble'.

If you don't know it, check it out in the video at the top. 'Rumble' was a heavy tune and banned from the airwaves - unique in that it was an instrumental.

Radio programmers thought the name promoted juvenile delinquency. Sounds silly by today's standards, but not at the time as 'West Side Story' has just premiered, with its Sharks and Jets gang members.

The song didn't get airplay in big cities at first and Dick Clark on 'American Bandstand', was careful to avoid mentioning the title when he introduced Link Wray and his band.

But Rumble was notable for something else: it was the first tune to use a distorted power chord - a staple for future rock guitarists.

His full name was Fred Lincoln "Link" Wray Jr. When he was eight, he first heard the slide guitar at a traveling carnival being played by a performer known only as 'Hambone'. From there, he was hooked and eventually created his band 'Link Wray and his Ray Men'.


Two cool stories underpin the 'Rumble' legend.

One - Wray apparently improvised the song at a sock hop when the band was asked to play a dance hit called 'The Stroll', which Wray didn't know. The off-the-cuff creation wowed the crowd, which demanded three encores.

Two - When recording the tune, Wray complained that his guitar sound was "too clean, too country."

In his words, he "started experimenting", punching holes in the amplifier speaker, to try to recreate the grungy sound he'd produced on stage. "On the third take, there it was, just like magic."

When Wray's 'Rumble' hit, a 16-year old Bob Dylan was in the front row at a show in Minnesota. Dylan would later call the song "the best instrumental ever."

On 'The Colbert Report', Iggy Pop said Wray's song was instrumental in launching his career: "I heard this music in the student union at university. It was called 'Rumble' and it sounded BAAAADDDD..."

In the documentary, 'It Might Get Loud', Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page had this to say: "When I first heard Rumble it was something with such profound attitude to it".

It's also part of the soundtrack in Quentin Tarantino's hit film 'Pulp Fiction' and in the summer of 2009, the U.S. Library of Congress added "Rumble" to the National Recording Registry.

Link Wray died in late 2005. He was 76.


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