Guitar maestro Deke Dickerson pays homage to ‘the Godfather of the Power Chord’ and shames the Hall of Fame in the process
Most of you reading this are probably already aware that Link Wray—godfather of the power chord, progenitor of distorted rock and roll guitar, he of “Rumble” and “Ace Of Spades” fame—was denied entry to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame yet again this year.
Were any of us surprised? After years of watching the RRHOF induct mind-numbingly inappropriate artists, and (strangely enough, cough cough) artists that happened to be on the same record labels as the RRHOF’s biggest donors, or the ones who would guarantee a bigger house at the induction dinner, none of it was a surprise at all. Truly the oddest thing about the RRHOF induction process is that each artist must go through a ‘fan voting’ process, then through a governing board made up of hippie geezers and a bevy of millennial music biz sycophants who barely remember Vanilla Ice, let alone a neglected artist from the 1950s.
Because Link Wray (1929-2005) had his biggest hit 60 years ago, almost none of the people involved in the process were around when “Rumble” was released. So what do we have instead? Dinosaurs from the 1980s like Bon Jovi and Hall & Oates, shoveled in through a sleazy layer of cocaine-infused industry ceremony and the short memories of the remaining baby boomer rocker fan base. Look at the fan voting from this last year—Bon Jovi got 1.1 million votes, Link Wray, less than a tenth that much (he was right at the bottom of the list).
Where’s the love for a Native American Shawnee Indian Rock and Roll pioneer? Where’s the love for a guy who lost a lung fighting for our country in Korea and sang his guts out every year for the rest of his life, like Iggy Pop with a mouth full of puke and two lit cigarettes dangling out of his mouth? No love for you, says the RRHOF. We need to sell tickets, says the RRHOF. What the hell can you say about an institution that goes out of its way to convince you how artists of other genres other than Rock and Roll should be inducted because of their real or imagined “rock and roll-ness,” when a guy whose middle goddamn name was Rock And Roll is left out in the cold?
My position on Link Wray is simple—this man should not have to go through the current induction process. He’s too important! When they built the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Link Wray should have been in the damn thing as an easy no-brainer before they ever opened the doors.
At this point, if the induction process stays the same, you can count on the only inductees being the most popular ones from the shortest time ago. Those 1950s and 1960s rockers who didn’t get inducted in the first few seasons when the Hall first opened are invited to go out to pasture and die, or if they’re like Link and already dead, invited to remain unheralded in their homeless shelter of cult obscurity.
Consider this—if Rosa Parks, elderly, feeble Civil Rights icon, had to enter a beauty pageant with a bunch of hot, busty, leggy, young African-American women, twerking at the audience for louder cheers, who do you think a general ticket audience would vote for? Luckily for us, those who choose awards and put civil rights icons in museums aren’t thrown to the wolves the way our old-timer rock and roll legends are. There are actual adults in charge of such things. Fan votes, ok, I get it—but please, put an adult in charge of at least one RRHOF inductee each year, is that too much to ask?
My position on Link Wray is simple—this man should not have to go through the current induction process. He’s too important! When they built the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Link Wray should have been in the damn thing as an easy no-brainer before they ever opened the doors. The fact that Link Wray is not in the Hall of Fame is an ugly stain on its very existence. Imagine Rosa Parks outside the National Civil Rights Museum, begging for change on the sidewalk. Would you be okay with that? There is zero difference in Link Wray being shut out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I can say that I played “Rumble” with Link Wray—a sentence I may have etched on my tombstone.
Under a microscope, it’s easy to see why Link has been ignored—poor management, no current record label, no publicists, songs about chickens and switchblades, a career of left turns and mishaps without any legacy end game. Link came up in a time where he and his band had to lay pistols on top of their amps to keep the tough guys from messing with them. Link came up in a time where he and his brothers played music because it was easier than working in the fields—this was not an era where a street fighting man like Link Wray could afford a goddamn publicist. Just getting home alive at the end of the night was a measure of success. Jon Bon Jovi’s personal stylist probably makes more in a year than Link did his entire career. Make no mistake, though—there is literally no human being, alive or dead, who embodies rock and roll more than Link Wray.
I might as well tell you why Link’s exclusion hits me where it hurts. Mine is not the tale of a casual listener. When I was 13 years old, we had a school project where we were supposed to write to an influential person. Most of the kids wrote letters to the President, of course, some wrote letters to sports stars or actors. I was a weird kid. Enamored with a reissue album called Rockabilly Stars that featured Link, I wrote my letter to Link Wray, care of Epic Records, New York. I got a polite reply from an office schlub—Link had moved to Denmark and left no forwarding address.
Make no mistake, though—there is literally no human being, alive or dead, who embodies rock and roll more than Link Wray.
Years later and thousands of gigs under my belt, I got to open for Link on a tour in Spain. It was a mixture of ‘holy shit’ and ‘horror show.’ There was Link, aged but tough as nails, playing through a Marshall full stack set on eleven and telling the sound man to turn it up (no one ever had to complain about hearing Link’s guitar, so there is that). There was Link’s completely unhinged Danish wife, on stage with him playing offbeat tambourine, poorly, and twirling Link’s ponytail as he played. There was a backing band that kinda-sorta knew his tunes, who only stuck around long enough to get sick of Link’s wife’s interminable madness (one of them told me, “Link goes back to the hotel room every night and turns up the TV as loud as it’ll go, and she yells at him over the TV until he passes out from exhaustion.” Chew on THAT for a bit). But dammit, there was Link Wray, rock and roll guitar hero, the man himself, live in the flesh. It was way better than meeting the president.
Link had a regular schtick where he would get the opening band’s guitarist out on stage to join him for the encore, so I can say that I played “Rumble” with Link Wray—a sentence I may have etched on my tombstone.
The last time I saw Link Wray, he was too weak to walk to the stage at the Hootenanny Festival in California, so two of his band members carried him, his limp legs dragging behind him, guitar slung around his back. Link died soon after. I always think about that when they induct somebody like Hall & Oates. Oh, really, these guys paid their dues? Perhaps one night in Kansas they forgot the green room cheese tray for Mr. Oates. Oh dear! Link Wray, 77 years old, playing some dingy biker bar, one lung, too weak to go on, legs dragging behind him and he went on anyway. That’s Rock and Roll, Mr. Oates.
After Link passed, I bought a 1958 Danelectro longhorn guitar from a man in Maryland who claimed it was Link’s. The story made sense—he said he got it from former Wraymen guitarist Bobby Howard, who traded it to him for a stack of albums in 1962. I’ve spent the better part of ten years doing research to prove the details that this was indeed Link Wray’s iconic Danelectro longhorn guitar, and if you want to read the whole story, there’s a whole chapter on it in my first book, Strat In The Attic.
Sometimes, I’ll put that guitar on my table and look at it for a couple days. Battered, beaten, broken—there isn’t an inch on that guitar that hasn’t been brutalized over the years. The headstock has been snapped off and reglued. When I got it, the bridge had been boogered with and re-installed wrong, and when the bridge was removed to fix it, two matchbook covers fell out from underneath—one from a bank in Virginia not far from where Link lived in the late 1950s, and one from a pizza place in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where Link toured on the 1959 ‘Spring Dance Party’ caravan. One can imagine Link deflecting beer bottles with the guitar, or using it to straighten out a mean drunk. The scars on that guitar remind me of everything that Link went through in his long, twisted, up-and-down career. Like Link Wray himself, the Danelectro guitar is pure, 100% no bullshit rock and roll.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—Link Wray is your Rosa Parks. You carry the shame. Do the right thing.
LinkWray.com – Greg Laxton’s excellent Link Wray site