Link Wray, San Francisco © 1974 Bruce Steinberg
In the beginning, there was Link Wray. The original innovator of both the power chord and guitar distortion, and spiritual godfather of all electric guitarists who would follow him, Link defined new directions for rock ‘n’ roll with his release of the ominous “Rumble” in 1958, and again with the manic “Rawhide” in 1959. He set the tone for -- and bridged the gap between – angry, bad-boy rock and surf music, and inspired the likes of Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen to first pick up a guitar. In recent years, his classic tunes have been used in the soundtracks of such diverse films as “Pulp Fiction” and “Desperado.”
After a prolific period in the early ‘60s working with his brothers as “Link Wray and His Ray Men,” his career was mostly in decline. Through the years he was mismanaged, ripped off, and led in questionable musical directions by various producers and labels.
I’d known him since I was 17 and still in school back east, and unexpectedly hooked up with him again in San Francisco in 1972. He was working on yet another album that didn’t do justice to his core passions and talents, and I made a pledge to him to help get his label to agree to doing a record that would get him back to his hardcore rock ‘n’ roll roots.
We succeeded, and the result was a 1974 LP we simply called “The Link Wray Rumble” after the title tune, which we re-cut for the first time in over 15 years. Link was hesitant to even do it again, but I convinced him to give the classic tune a shot, keeping it as raw and powerful as the original, but with far better recording capabilities than were available in 1958. He finally agreed, and it sounded better than ever.
Besides co-producing the album, I also shot and designed the cover. The photo session started out slowly and gradually built to the crazed, blurred-action shot we eventually used on the front of the package.
This photo, however, one of the preliminary ones, wound up as an out-take since it was just too laid-back for the kind of energy we wanted the cover to portray. But I always thought it nonetheless captured the essential spirit of both Link and real-deal rock ‘n’ roll in general.
Link could sound just like Elvis when he sang, and Elvis could only wish he played guitar like Link. I kidded Link that we’d use the photo for his Elvis-style gospel album that we’d do someday – I could almost see the finger of God reaching down to touch Link on the shoulder -- but it never happened.
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