Monday, November 21, 2005

CHORDOBIT: LINK WRAY

The death has been announced of Link Wray, inventor of the power chord.

Considered by many to be the missing link between the blues and rock, Wray stumbled upon the power chord on his 1958 hit Rumble, setting the blueprint for all rock guitar, ever. He'd taken up guitar playing seriously after the aftermath of tuberculosis made it difficult for him to sing with his brother band Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. When the band relocated from their birthplace of North Carolina to DC, Wray started to develop his keynote style which came together on Rumble. The song made the top 20, but not without causing some upset - despite having no vocals, it was interpreted as being about gang violence (some things, it seems, never change) and got itself banned from several radio stations. The Wray brother's label, Cadence, wanted to distance themselves from such allegations, and asked the boys to abandon their leather-and-shades look. The boys refused, and moved on to Epic.

Ironically, despite having signed them up because of their edge, and despite the band delivering another top 30 hit with Rawhide, Epic started to panic. Link was redirected to recording orchestral songs, the sort of Danny Boy bilge which would keep Max Bygraves and Daniel O'Donnell in business.

Frustrated, the Wrays founded their own label, Rumble Records, which managed to produce the Jack the Ripper hit before they fell into the arms of Swan Records - an early example of a US act being signed to a UK label as their primary contract. Swan understood the band better than most, although that meant they gave them space to produce some records best forgotten.

Wray released a solo album in 1971 which set a pattern for 'well received by the critics; poorly received by the general public' which would haunt him for the rest of his career.

In 1978, Wray married a Dane, Olive Julie Povlsen, and relocated to Denmark to raise a son. Around the same time, he was tempted out of semi-retirement by Robert Gordon, former singer with The Tuff Darts for a couple of rock revival projects. He carried on recording into his 70s.

Wray died of a "tired heart" on November 5th. Hie is survived by Olive and his son, Oliver.


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