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Shirekin, Hollerin’, Screamin’, Fallerin!
by Buddy Seigal
There’s nothing you can do to prepare yourself for LINK WRAY, who plays the Coach House on Wednesday and the Foothill on Thursday, May 27, 1999. Spend an hour watching this evil old coot, and you’ll be ready to hack at yourself with a butcher knife, rape the nearest dog, drink a gallon of gasoline, and pledge your soul to Satan.
Wray’s snarling, howling guitar and vocal work are servicemen to malevolence; last year’s Shadowman album may be the scariest piece of work he has ever released. This accomplishment is astonishing when you take into account that Wray is nearly 70 years old and has functioned on one lung since the Korean War—shades of Dorian Gray and a Faustian bargain if there ever was one. The very idea that these ferocious, rebellious sounds emanate from a guy born more than 40 years before the Sex Pistols surfaced is mind-boggling. But then, Wray’s legendary "Rumble," which was recorded in 1954 (but didn’t hit the charts till ’58), was almost inarguably the first punk single, a threatening, snot-nosed summation of bad attitude woven into two and a half minutes of instrumental-guitar mayhem. Wray poked holes in his amp’s speaker to achieve a primordial distortion and attacked his strings like a school of hungry piranha on a bloated carcass. Ward and June did not approve.
Wray followed "Rumble" with even cooler slices of juvenile-delinquent swagger, songs with titles like "Jack the Ripper," "The Black Widow," "Big City After Dark," "Run Chicken Run" and "Switchblade." In recent years, cult directors like John Waters and Quentin Tarantino have used Wray’s music in their films to great effect (who can ever forget the sight of Divine performing all manner of atrocities to Wray’s "The Swag" in Pink Flamingos?). Meanwhile, Wray backed up rockabilly crooner Robert Gordon for a time in the late ’70s and released the occasional solo album before moving to Denmark in the ’80s, disappearing from sight on these shores until only the past few years.
Wray’s return is a homecoming for all lovers of real rock & roll: his music is a reminder to the current crop of punk poseurs that the old man who raised them might be frail-looking, but he can still kick the living shit outta their pea-green asses if they cross him.