Link Wray’s Rustic Masterpieces

Rock'n'roll guitarist Link Wray (1929 - 2005) performs on stage at The Venue in London, 2nd June 1979. (Photo by David Warner Ellis/Redferns)

Like a musical missing link, guitarist Link Wray played instrumental music that had no antecedent, yet it signaled the end of the old staid pre-WWII America and ushered in rock and roll, metal, and punk rock. His 1958 hit “Rumble” remains his best known song, though not quite a claim to fame. Mention Wray’s name and many people stare blankly at you, even though they’ve likely heard his songs like “Rumble” and “Ace of Spades” in films like Pulp Fiction.

For the Oxford American, John O’Connor writes a much-deserved portrait of Link and the trio of under-appreciated vocal albums he recorded in the early 1970s inside his family’s chicken shack. O’Connor writes the definitive story of what are called the shack sessions, talking with a lone surviving relative and with the man who produced the recordings and has a complete unreleased fourth shack album. So how did these sessions come about?

Verroca was intrigued and, before returning to New York, asking Link to record an album with him. “What attracted me was how pitiful the whole situation was: this guy who did so much for rock & roll and doesn’t know it. It broke my heart.”

Link must’ve felt himself to be at a turning point. The pain and frustration of the years, a desire to be heard again, came bubbling up. Two days later, he phoned Verroca with a list of demands: no more fucking clubs; you pay the expenses (groceries, utilities, all that); and I want an advance. Verroca agreed to the first two. A serious collector of southwest Native American jewelry and artifacts (“It was the sixties,” he explained), Verroca sold most of it off, including a belt that had belonged to Cochise, the Apache leader, to finance the recording.

The notion to record in the Shack was a no-brainer. Link was comfortable there. Verroca thought it might yield something strange and loose. Again, it was the sixties. A return to simplicity was in the air. But the Shack was also an acoustic fish tank: maddeningly percussive and clunky. Link’s guitar was so loud it bled into the drum and piano mics. Verroca came up with an idea of placing Link’s amp out in the yard and miking it from the window, which had the odd result of broadening the guitar’s range while also effecting a sonic down-surge.

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