Monday, September 19, 2011

LINK WRAY and THE RAYMEN - HIDDEN CHARMS

Hey! Remember me???

Sorry I haven't been around much in the last month-and-a-half......I moved. Literally five minutes away from where I was. And I'm STILL trying to get all my crap together! At least now my LPs are all in one place and I can access them all easily (thank you, Ikea).....

As for my 45s.....well, that's another story. Right now they're in my parents' basement. Which is one of TWO reasons why I haven't blogged - the other being that my new, upgraded computer (built from scratch by my genius cousin and myself) will NOT recognize my USB turntable!!! So now, every time I want to blog, I have to go to my mom and dad's house and hook up the turntable to their ultra lo-fi, barely running computer!!

Anyway, I'm here to talk about cool records, not whine about my so-called problems! And records don't come ANY cooler than this Link Wray side from 1966. I acquired (did not buy) this record in the none-too-distant past, and was very excited over the fact that I finally owned an original of "Ace Of Spades" by Link Wray on Swan! I breathlessly told my girlfriend about it, and she just shrugged as if to say "who's Link Wray?", but also smiled, as if to say, "if this makes you happy, then I'm happy too."

I played "Ace" a couple of times, quickly realizing that it's just a slight re-write of "Jack The Ripper", Link's hit from 1963 (also on Swan). I got bored, so I turned the single over. And got my ASS KICKED for the next three minutes!!!!

But then again, ass-kickin' was what Link Wray was all about. John Cipollina of Quicksiver Messenger Service once said that "(Link Wray) taught me you could swear without using words" and, boy, was it true. Cub Koda and a lot of other people say that Link invented the power chord - not true, at least to my ears; I think Scotty Moore did with his killer riff on "Jailhouse Rock", predating Link by almost a year. No matter who invented it, one thing is certain - nobody could make a guitar sound like a menacing street gang the way Link Wray could.

Link (born Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. in Dunn, NC on May 2, 1929) started out with his brothers Vernon and Doug playing country music as Lucky Wray and The Lazy Pine Wranglers (later changed to the Palomino Ranch Hands). They got their big break in 1956 when they were asked to step in as the house band for the TV show "Milt Grant's House Party" (a Washington, D. C. version of "American Bandstand", and the basis for John Waters' brilliant "Hairspray" - the one with Ricki Lake, not the oh-so-fabulous-and-aren't-we-so-retro-you-could-puke remake with John Travolta). One day in 1957, ol' Milt asked Link and the boys to come up with an instrumental that the kids on his show could do the Stroll to. The group came up with a tune they called "Oddball", played it live on the show, and the kids went wild. One night in Fredericksburg, VA, the group had to play it four times to satisfy the audience.

From there, Milt Grant stepped in and pitched the song to a friend, Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records, who were riding high in the charts with the Everly Brothers, Andy Williams, and The Chordettes. Archie didn't really like the song, but Milt told him of the reaction Link got whenever he played it, so Archie took a chance. Well, when Link and his group (now called The Raymen) showed up in the studio, he was told that he would have to play through the house amplifiers. Link did, but the sound was too smooth. So Link pulled out his razor and shredded Archie Bleyer's speaker cones! If Archie disliked the song before, he now absolutely HATED it!

Bleyer played "Oddball" for two people - his daughter and Phil Everly. Archie's daughter loved the sound, and Phil was so impressed by the song that he suggested Link change the title to "Rumble" - teen slang for a gang fight. Archie released it, despite his reservations, and he not only saw Milt Grant playing the hell out of it (it didn't hurt that Milt was cut in for half the writers' credit on both sides of the record), but also saw the record get banned in places like Boston for its "suggestive content" - even though it was an instrumental!! To this day, "Rumble" stands as the only instrumental in rock and roll history to be banned for suggestive content!! Swear without using words, indeed....

Link recorded an entire LP for Cadence, but when Archie Bleyer heard the dubs, he kicked Link and his band off the label (and the LP would not see the light of day until 2006, when Sundazed put it out - get it here). No matter. "Rumble" was so big that Epic Records snapped Link and the Raymen right up. They recorded some great singles (and an LP) for Epic until 1961, signed to Mala in '62 (and backed up the legendary Bunker Hill on "Hide & Go Seek" and the immortal "The Girl Can't Dance"), made a few one-offs for Okeh and Rumble (and one on Infinity credited to "The Wray Brothers" called "Ninety-Nine Years To Go" about a guy who shot his girl), and signed with Philadelphia's Swan label in 1963, staying until the label folded in 1967.

"Hidden Charms" shows that Link hadn't lost ANY of his toughness after The Beatles took over the music world. Over a KILLER garage-punk riff, Link yowls the old Willie Dixon tune in a Mick Jagger-meets-Clarence "Frogman" Henry voice (and considering that Link had only ONE lung - a result of tuberculosis contracted when he was fighting in the Korean War - this is a pretty incredible vocal).

Link went on to record for more small labels (doing things like "Rumble '68" and "Rumble '69") and continued to gig in obscurity until Robert Gordon "re-discovered" him and they recorded an LP together (which, if I remember correctly, includes the original version of Brucie Stringbeen's "Fire"). Link finished his days touring incessantly, mostly in Europe, having moved to Denmark in the 1980s. He died in Copenhagen of heart failure on November 5, 2005, at age 76, a rocker till the end.

It's good to be back!

Link Wray and The Raymen - Hidden Charms (Swan 4261) - 1966

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