It was almost five years ago to the day that I finally got a chance to see the late, great Link Wray perform. He blistered a small club in town despite being seventy-six years old, and just six months later he would be gone forever.
Last Sunday would have been his eighty-first birthday, and if you heard thunder from above it was probably Link showing God how to play that barre chord properly. Rumble, baby! I’ll spare you my summation of the opening act that night, but below are my thoughts on seeing the master five years ago that were etched into the ether that was Cosmik Debris…
Link Wray’s “Rumble” ripped through the air in 1958, so my first inclination was to think how fifty years could not have passed by so quickly. One sight of the frail Wray being helped up onto a two-foot stage not only reversed that thought but also made me appreciate the fact that the two of us were there at all. Him to rock me…and me to be rocked.
Once the guitar was draped over his shoulders and that immortal “D” chord was struck, it was a totally different story. Backed by an almost three-piece band (energetic jungle drummer, bass player who needed a much smaller cabinet and a woman – Link’s wife? – playing tambourine), Wray planted himself front and center and let his fingers do the talking. With his leather jacket, wrap around shades and fiery rhythms, he looked like the world’s oldest Ramone.
Nimbly bashing out every surf/punk/rock riff in the book with his textbook swagger and grin, with the occasional shimmy of the hips and/or guitar, it was a textbook lesson in the simple power of rock and roll that is still well-taught by the seventy-six year old legend. Sometimes it was hard to tell where one song ended and another began (my friend Bill quipped that the set list was comprised of two songs; “Rumble” and “not Rumble”) but it was one hell of a ride.
After almost an hour of non-stop tornado activity (the exception being an Elvis cover that featured his surprisingly sweet singing voice), he was helped back off the stage and into the dressing room where I imagine a stiff drink and a towel soaked in Ben Gay was waiting. I was torn between the desire to see more and the realization that I just witnessed a man older than my father kick my musical ass and I should be grateful for what I got. I settled on the latter, an emotion that a lethargic music industry should also sign on to. Here, indeed, is a living legend. Appreciate him before it’s too late.
Of course, it’s too late now…
But apply that same lesson to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King or whatever trailblazing genuine icon crosses your path. Get your ass out to a show. Hell, go see the Stones and Macca and Springsteen. Don’t expect they’ll always be there for you, and be thankful you were fortunate to have shared time with them on this mortal coil.
Link Wray wiki