It’s been nine years since a day like today, 5th November, Fred Lincoln “Link” Wray Jr died at the age of 76 years because of heart failure at his home in Copenhagen, where the guitarist born in May 2, 1929 in the small town of Dunn, North Carolina, used to live since the 80s.
Instrumental guitarist accidentally — due to the surgically remove of one of their lungs after having contracted tuberculosis when he was sent to the Korean War in 1953 — the master of rock and roll guitar, and author of Rumble, is regarded as the first one to introduce the Power Chord (the one that is key in Rock and made possible the emergence of all other styles derived from it, i.e., Punk, Heavy, etc.), despite the fact that there were already other guitarists that had used it as Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Willie Johnson, and Pat Hare. Never the less, Rumble is a pioneer in using new distortion and feedback techniques.
Rumble was born from improvisation of The Stroll, by The Diamonds, during a concert in Fredericksburg, Virginia. During the performance there was a fight between the audience, so Milt Grant, band’s agent at those times, asked Link Wray and his Raymen to play the Diamonds’ hit in order to calm people; his brother Doug began from the drums but Wray did not know how to play it so he started to improvise some chords that would end up being Oddball, and later Rumble. The song sounded so good to the audience that they had to repeat it up to four times at his request. Milt Grant saw something very special and he knew there was something new there, so they went for a demo.
While recording the demo Link Wray wanted to get from his amplifier the same sound he got during the concert, so he started moving amplifiers and microphones and not happy with it, he stabbed his amplifier’s speakers with a pencil, getting the desired sound finally, his peculiar fuzz sound.
Once the demo was ready, Grant contacted with founder of New York label Cadence Records Archie Bleyer. Not without some difficulties — because Bleyer did not like the song at all, he rejected it — they would finish recording it thanks to Bleyer’s daughter, who was charmed by its sound.
The title “Rumble”, which was originally “Oddball”, was suggested by Phil Everly, who upon hearing the song for the first time he said that sounded like a street fight because of its rough sound. What the half of the Everly Brothers (who were already with Cadence Records) was not expecting is that thanks to that title, the song would be banned on some radio stations since Rumble was a slang term used for a gang fight, and some feared that the rough and gritty sound could extol juvenile delinquency.
The single Rumble — and its B-side The Swag – was then launched in 1958 and had a great commercial success. To date it has not stopped having followers, and would open the door to many guitarists like Jimmy Page, Ray Davies or Pete Townshend, who in his own words “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and Rumble, I never would have picked up a guitar.”
Rumble (single), Link Wray and his Raymen, B-side: The Swag. Candence Records, 1958.