LINK WRAY

GUITAR PREACHER: THE POLYDOR YEARS
Published: Mojo, October 1995

“He’s not serious, is he?” Play a Link Wray record for your friends and expect an answer like this. Rediscovered every ten years or so, the one-lunged, ‘Red Indian Hendrix’ of the Elvis era has been responsible for some truly bizarre recordings – the billion m.p.h. ‘Bo Diddly’ from ‘64, the out-dooming-Lou Reed ‘Genocide’ from ‘69, the made-on-a-walkman live album full of apparently straight Presley impersonations and heavy metal guitar solos from ‘85, the increasingly ludicrous remakes of his reputation-making 1958 million seller Rumble, culminating in 1989’s ‘The Rumble Man’, with its drum machine and a bass line from a patently different song. It’s all quite inexplicable but, somewhere in the middle, in a pastoral chicken shack in Maryland, converted into a three track studio, he made something brilliant.

Namechecked incessantantly at the time by the greatest of rock’s surname brigade – Beck, Townsend, Hendrix, Page, Dylan, McCartney – Polydor took a risk with some of these primitive sounding gems and released the 1971 album Link Wray (included here in full) – the man’s finest hour, brimming with atmosphere and conjuring up the sort of backwoods, bluesy-folky-gospel-country-rocky organic old America beloved of CCR and The Band. In true spirit of early ‘70s marketing, Polydor followed it up with Mordecai Jones – material from the same goldmine but credited to Bobby Howard, Wray sidekick and a stunning unknown in the Terry Reid/Robert Plant vein. Virgin grabbed the rights to more of the same and issued Beans And Fatback in 1973 (six tracks included). Another collection, Interstate 10, allegedly appeared somewhere else, and in the meantime Polydor had the man signed up, packed off to San Francisco and surrounded by the likes of Jerry Garcia and The Tower Of Power horns. Two albums of technically sparkling continuing adventures followed – the best of which is sampled here – and, inevitably, he cut another ‘Rumble’. Remastered with a 22 page booklet included, this is fascinating, remarkable and utterly unique stuff. He’s ‘65 this year, but he’s still out there – the loudest, the best and the last of his generation. Happy birthday, Link.

Colin Harper