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Link Wray
Interview by Lee Sobel
(c) Lo-Fi Magazine #8, 1998

Lee Sobel: I just saw you at Tramps. You were great.

Link: I had a blast. Anton Fig came backstage to see me. He was on the last

tour I did with Robert Gordon. He plays drums for David Letterman’s band

now with Paul Shafer. It was a great gig at Tramps, man, l loved it. The kids

were lovely. They were like 17, 18 years old a lot of ‘em, all bangin’ on the stage.

Lee Sobel: You really gave your all at the show.

Link: You could see that my heart and soul was in it. I love rock and roll.

The spirit of rock and roll is like any church. I’m very spiritual. I give all my credit to Jesus God who pulled me out of the death house when all the army doctors said I’d be dead tomorrow. I was in the Korean War, y’know. Before they gave me surgery I was heaving up blood. The fuckin’ army doctors didn’t give me any hope that I would survive. I had tuberculosis. But I didn’t die. They rushed me into the operating room and took one lung out. But I survived it. Then when I came out of the death house God gave me “Rumble.” And I’ve been rumblin’ ever since, man.

                                                                Lee Sobel: How are you liking this tour and how is it different for you?

                                                                Link: I’ve been touring Europe pretty much constantly. I’ve been living in                                                                            Copenhagen practically since Robert and I finished. I lived on Hollywood                                                                          Blvd. in L.A. for about six months after that and met my wife Olive. We got                                                                        married in Las Vegas. She didn’t like Las Vegas so we went back to Denmark                                                                  and got married in a Danish church. We had a son named Oliver Christian,                                                                      who’s now 14 years old. I'm happy to live in Denmark, but I’m also happy to                                                                      be back in America playing over here. This is my first time back since 1985                                                                      when I did a thing called “The Guitar Greats” on MTV with all the great guitar                                                                    players. Then I went back to Denmark. I just toured Europe and in 1988 I did                                                                    a record for Ace Records. Three of the songs went into the movie “Johnny                                                                        Suede.” Now “Rumble” is in “Independence Day,” “Ace of Spades” is in “Pulp                                                                  Fiction,” “Jack the Ripper” is in “Desperado.” I hung out with Robert Rodriguez, director of “Desperado” in Austin. He has a movie coming out on video called “Road Racer” and it's got five Link Wray songs on it.

Lee Sobel: Do you think you were ahead of your time?

Link: I don't know if I was ahead of my time, but I knew I couldn’t be Elvis

or Jerry Lee because I couldn’t sing. So I devoted all of my time and my

energy and my soul into my guitar and sound, like punching holes in my

speaker. Alter I created “Rumble” in ‘56 in Fredricksburg, Virginia, I went

into the studio and couldn’t duplicate the sound. Now I just push my foot

down on a button on a box, y’know. But back in those days I didn’t have

that. So I had to go into the studio and create my own sounds to make it

happen. So I had to punch holes in my speakers. Then when I made “Rawhide” I saw this longhorn Danelectro guitar in a magazine for $60. Now if you try to buy the same guitar it costs you $5-10,000. I used these off brand guitars to try to get a certain sound. When I think up each song I try to find a sound to put around it. I try to have each song have its own personality.

                                                                                        Lee Sobel: Some of your music seemed to be the soundtrack                                                                                            of juvenile delinquency in the late 50’s.

                                                                                        Link: When “Rumble” came out there were all these gang fights                                                                                          going on, so they banned the song on the radio in New York in ‘                                                                                       '58. Even Dick Clark told me he couldn't say the title of the                                                                                                  song because of the gang fights.

                                                                                        Lee Sobel: Had juvenile delinquency entered into your head at                                                                                          all when you wrote the song?

Link: No, not at all. It was a stroll, a dance. In 1957 the Diamonds had a number

one song in Billboard called “The Stroll.” A disc jockey got up on the stage and

said, “Link, give me a stroll.” I said “I don’t know a stroll.” My brother Doug said,

“l know the beat to a stroll,” so he started playing a real hard beat, the “Rumble”

beat. So I started playing “Rumble.” My brother Ray took the microphone that

you sing through and he put it into the speakers of my amplifier. Back in those

days nobody miked amplifiers, so it was really pulsating through this small

speaker. That’s why I had to later punch holes in the speakers to get that sound,

because it was rattling and distortion was coming out of the speakers. There were

about 5,000 kids in the audience that all rushed to the stage, hollerin‘ and screaming

during this wild instrumental I was playing. It was really amazing. l just made it up

on the spot. l just let my emotions carry when he died his daughter sold ‘em. These

were never supposed to be released. But I have to live with that.

Lee Sobel: I understand you worked some pretty tough nightclubs in the D.C. area back in the 50’s.

                                                                                                 Link: There was a place called Vinny’s on 10th Street. I'd                                                                                                     play and some guy would jump up on the stage and do                                                                                                     "Jack the Ripper" with me. Then he'd jump back down in                                                                                                     the audience and start fighting; people would pull out                                                                                                         their knives and cut each other. I'd take a break and go                                                                                                     outside and the police would come and carry 'em all out                                                                                                     and I'd go back in and play again. Ha-ha-ha. It's rock                                                                                                         and roll. I've done the same thing in country bars with                                                                                                         hillbillies fighting each other with knives and bottles. A lot                                                                                                   of country musicians have fishnet over the bandstand so                                                                                                   when a beer bottle would fly it wouldn't hit 'em.

                                                                                                 Lee Sobel: Do you find Europeans more reverent of your                                                                                                     status as an original rock and roller than Americans are?

Link: Europeans look at me as an American playing rock and roll

in Europe as being authentic, because they know Elvis and Jerry

Lee started rock and roll. Then Elvis opened the door for everybody

else. In Europe they give credit to Elvis and people like me from

America as authentic. I first went to England in '75 and I had no

idea my music was so big over there. I met Pete Townsend and

some of the Beatles and they told me how much they loved it.

When I came back here I said to my wife Olive maybe I won't get

the same reception here I get in Europe because I'm just an

American playing to another American. But when I hit the stage

and all these kids yell we love you, I realized it didn't matter where

I was. The kids are the same. With the spirit of rock and roll it

doesn't matter what language they speak.

Lee Sobel: It's been said that you created the power chord, that you somehow started heavy metal.

                                                         Link: That's fine with me. I'm not against it. I guess "Rumble" was the first song that                                                           was distorted. It wasn't Chet Atkins. It wasn't clean. So I guess you'd call my stuff                                                             really dirty and menacing.

                                                         Lee Sobel: Did you have any problem with the studio engineer when you did                                                                   "Rumble"?

                                                         Link: I produced it myself. We did it on a one-track German Grundig machine. I                                                               had the engineer Tom put mikes on everybody. We had a stand-up bass with a                                                                 hole it in from a fight. We put the mic through the hole in the bass. Like I said I                                                                 punched holes in the speakers to get my sound. He got a mix and in three takes it                                                           was done. It became a four million seller. So I never had any fights with the                                                                       engineers in the studios up until I went on the big labels like Polydor and Epic.                                                                 When I went on Epic I gave them "Rawhide" and it was a big hit, but after that they                                                           wanted me to do other kinds of music I didn't want to do. I said, "This is not Link                                                               Wray," so I left them. I went back home and recorded "Jack the Ripper" on my own label in 1960. I put it into all these one-stopper record shops across America. Then in 1963 Swan Records bought it and put it out and it became a million seller.

Lee Sobel: Who were some of the original artists

that inspired you?

Link: I was listening to great country guitar players,

Chet Atkins, Johnny Sith, Barney Ressel, Les Paul,

Hank Garland, Tal Farlow. I don't think of myself as

an old rock and roller.

Lee Sobel: When you closed your show you sang

to the audience, "You're so young and beautiful

and I'm so fuckin' old." But you're not old, not the

way you play. I don't think you know how old you are.

Link: I don't think my music is old.

Lee Sobel: What was it like for you to have a four-million selling hit with "Rumble"?

                                                    Link: I was just a country boy. I didn't even know who having a hit was. Cadence put                                                        it out. They were based in New York. Andy Williams was on the label. Then instead of                                                      just local bars in D.C. and around Maryland and Virginia that knew Link Wray, then it                                                        suddenly seemed like the whole world knew who I was. I was doing interviews and                                                          radio shows and TV shows and my whole life changed. All of a sudden Pandora's                                                            box opened for me.

                                                    Lee Sobel: Your guitar is called "Screamin' Red."

                                                    Link: That's my main guitar. I also just got this silver one my wife bought for me. It's                                                          the first Strat I've ever played because I've always played Gibsons. My main guitar                                                          "Screamin' Red" I've been playing since 1964. I have a '59 Gibson I used to play but                                                        it's too old now and the wood on it has gotten too soft and it cracks easy. It's an                                                                antique so I leave it at home.

                                                    Lee Sobel: You mentioned before that you weren't a good singer, but that's not true                                                          anymore because at the show I saw and on your new record you had a wonderful                                                            singing voice.

Link: Thank you very much.

Lee Sobel: I just interviewed Robert Gordon who you worked with...

Link: I haven't seen him in a long, long time. Not since ur last gig at The Music

Machine in London in '79. Bob Dylan and Sid Vicious came backstage to see

us that night. Robert is a lovely person.

Lee Sobel: How did you like working with Robert Gordon?

Link: I was living in San Francisco at the time; Robert's producer Richard Gottehrer called me and said he has this                                                                here kid who is a Link What fan who saw me play with Little Richard in Maryland                                                              when I had "Jack the Ripper" out in '63. He was just a teenager in the audience. So                                                          I said he’s gotta be black. Richard Gottehrer said, “No, he’s a white Jewish kid.” I                                                            said all I saw was black kids because it was Little Richard and a black audience.                                                            This was at Glen Echo Park. So Robert told his producer he wanted to get me to                                                              play with him on his record. So I said send me a plane ticket. So I listened to                                                                    Robert and I liked him. I thought he sounded like a young Elvis. We got the Rolling                                                          Thunder Revue to back us on rhythm and went to this studio called Plaza Sound at                                                          Radio City Music Hall where Richard Gottehrer had produced Blondie's first album. I didn't ask to be half on the bill with Robert, but that's the way Robert called the record, "Robert Gordon With Link Wray." Going on tour with Robert in Europe brought me to Denmark where I met my wife Olive. 

Lee Sobel: Have you ever thought about moving back to America?

Link: Not really. All of my family passed away, so the only thing that brings me over here is my music.

Lee Sobel: What keeps you so young?

Link: Rock and roll. I’ve got a guardian angel, man.

I’m very spiritual. I don’t take drugs or anything like

that. I drink beer but I don’t mess around with that

drug shit. I never have in my life. That’s not my thing.

Lee Sobel: Has having one lung slowed you down

at all?

Link: Did it look like it to you at the show?

Lo~Fi: No, sir. You look like you’re ready to eat a

steak and kick ass.

Link: Well, I’m a vegetarian. But thank you very much

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