... he died on November 5, 2005.
Frederick Lincoln"Link" Wray, Jr. was noted for pioneering a new sound for electric guitars, as exemplified in his hit 1958 instrumental "Rumble," by Link Wray and his Ray Men, which pioneered an overdriven, distorted electric guitar sound, and also for having "invented the power chord, the major modus operandi of modern rock guitarist," "and in doing so fathering," or making possible, "punk and heavy rock."
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Part Shawnee Indian, Wray frequently spoke of his ancestry in performances and interviews. Three of the songs he performed bear the names of American Indian tribes: "Shawnee," "Apache," and "Comanche."
-----Wray was born in Dunn, North Carolina. He first heard slide guitar at age eight from a traveling carnival worker nicknamed "Hambone."
Wray served in the US Army and was a veteran of the Korean War, where he contracted tuberculosis that ultimately cost him a lung. His doctors told him that he would never sing again, so Link concentrated on his heavy guitar work. Despite this, on his rare vocal numbers he displays a strong voice and a broad range.
After discharge from the Army, Wray and his brothers Doug and Vernon Wray, with friends Shorty Horton and Dixie Neal, formed Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers, later known as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands.
They had been playing country music and Western swing for several years when they took a gig as the house band on the daily live TV show Milt Grant's House Party, a Washington, D.C. version of American Bandstand. The band made their first recordings in 1956 as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands for Starday Records.
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-----For the TV show, they also backed many performers, from Fats Domino to Ricky Nelson. In 1958, at a live gig of the D.C.-based Milt Grant's House Party, attempting—at the urging of the local crowd—to work up a cover sound-alike for The Diamonds' hit, "The Stroll," they came up with an eleven and one half bar blues which they first called "Oddball." The song was an instant hit with the live audience, which demanded four repeats that night.
When the song came to the attention of record producer Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records, (who hated it, particularly after Wray poked holes in his amplifier's speakers to make the recording sound more like the live version.) While searching for a title that would hit home with radio listeners, Bleyer sought the advice of Phil Everly, who listened and suggested that it be called "Rumble," as it had a rough attitude that reminded him of a street gang.
The stalking, menacing sound of "Rumble" (and its title) led to a ban on several radio stations, a rare feat for a song with no lyrics, on the grounds that it glorified juvenile delinquency. Nevertheless it became a huge hit in the U.S. and the U.K. where it has been cited as an influence on The Kinks, The Who, and Jimmy Page. Pete Townshend once said, "He is the king; if it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have never picked up a guitar."
The band had several more hard-rocking instrumental hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including "Rawhide," "Ace of Spades," and "Jack the Ripper," the latter named after a "dirty boogie" dance popular in Baltimore at the time. The dirty boogie dance was among the several dance crazes featured in the 1988 film Hairspray.
After his initial hits, Wray's career had periods of retirement followed by renewed popularity, particularly in Europe. He toured and recorded two albums with retro-rockabilly artist Robert Gordon in the late 1970s.
The 1980s to the present day saw a large number of reissues as well as new material. One member of his band in the 1980s, drummer Anton Fig, later became drummer in the CBS Orchestra on the David Letterman show. He continued to tour up until four months before he died.
His music has been featured in numerous films, including Pulp Fiction, Desperado, Independence Day, Twelve Monkeys, The Warriors, This Boy's Life, Blow, Johnny Suede, The Shadow, Breathless, Roadracers, and Pink Flamingos.
Wray moved to Denmark in the 1980s after meeting and marrying Olive, a Danish student who had been studying Native American culture. He lived his last years with Olive on a Danish island, touring frequently until he died of heart failure at 76 on November 5, 2005 at his home in Copenhagen.
-----In 2003, Link Wray was ranked at number sixty-seven in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the Hundred Greatest Guitarists of all time, but has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is, however, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
A documentary film on Link's life and career titled Be Wild Not Evil: The Link Wray Story is currently in production.