Link Ray: Link Wray (1971)

2379
Link Ray: Link Wray: (1971)

by Phil H

2379
Link Ray: Link Wray: (1971)

This was a surprise find on a market stall in Utrecht in Holland in among a box of Euro prog and 1980s synth pop.

I'd first read about this in an interview with Richard Hawley when he was promoting his Lowedges album in 2003 - Hawley obviously related to the idea of the guitarist finally making his way to the microphone a long way into his career. Wray was already 41 when this came out in 1971, and hadn't had a hit single since Jack The Ripper in 1963. He'd gone back to live on the farm in Maryland and 'Link Wray' is very much a family affair. His brothers Vernon and Doug both appear, and Link is proudly pictured with his mother on the back cover, where she also gets thanked for 'hot coffee and good chilli'.

Link had obviously travelled a long way since 1958, when his guitar sound on Rumble was considered such a threat to public decency that it became the only instrumental ever widely banned by radio stations. Moving back to the farm proved inspirational, with all the tracks recorded in a ramshackle barn pictured inside the cover and emblazoned with the badly painted logo 'Wray's 3 Track Shack'. The backwoodsman vibe popularised by The Band lies heavy in the air, with a lack of production clarity more than compensated for by a smoked country atmosphere that just wafts off the vinyl. But then laying it down in the barn still works for Neil Young, and it also paid off handsomely on Neko Case's Middle Cyclone

Link Wray had sung on occasional tracks before, but it's still fascinating to hear his voice (reminiscent of Keith Richards) over a whole album - especially when you know he'd lost a lung to TB while in the army back in the 1950s. Having waited so long to put his voice to the fore, Link gives the impression that it's very much from the heart. He keeps the guitar low key, preferring to let Heath Robinson percussion instruments and the piano playing of Billy Hodges and Bobby Howard dominate on La De Da, Fallin' Rain and Ice People.

The country and the church are central to the lyrics, and Link sounds like he means every word of Take Me Home Jesus, God Out West and Fire And Brimestone. Even when he checks out the girl dancing in the local bar on Juke Box Mama, he goes on to warn her 'you're going to lose your man'. Not that Wray ever sounds too holy, signing off the album with a cover of Willie Dixon's Tail Dragger that hints that his heart and head are probably pulling in different directions.

Polydor was sufficient impressed with the Three Track Shack tapes to give Wray a deal and package the album with a cut-out cover featuring him in an Indian headband, which acknowledged his Shawnee heritage with a little counterculture cool thrown in to boot. A year later, Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to pick up his Oscar for The Godfather and the plight of the Red Indians because the cause du jour. Unfortunately Link seems to have been a little ahead of the game because despite Polydor's efforts to promote the album it sold poorly. Still, anyone who enjoys the murky grooves of Exile On Main Street (which also came out the following year) should find much to enjoy on Link Wray. It's equally slow to reveal its laid-back pleasures but well worth the effort.
Phil H