May 01, 1996

Marshall Arts

Filed under: Archive,Music


Link Wray

The Tivoli

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

It was Plato who said that when the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city crumble. He was talking about Link Wray, of course, and the D chord which in 1958 changed everything. The record was Rumble and with its majestic sweeps and menacing repetitions it secured the electric guitar as the twentieth century’s preferred instrument of hedonism.

With brothers Doug and Vern, Lincoln Wray has played every kind of music since the late Forties -rockabilly, white gospel and then rock and roll. But Rumble was a change in the mode. As a teenager Bob Dylan went to hear Link play in Duluth, Paul McCartney played the hit  single incessantly and Pete Townshend, in a recent program note for the re-release of the Wray oeuvre, credits ol’ Link as the being the reason he took up rock guitar.

Onstage at the Tivoli, Link Wray proves that he is still one of a kind. He is etched in rock history but he’s back on the road. His music is on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and the elite continue to sing his praises but the word is that Wray has been having some hard times lately. It is the sad old broken-record story of copyrights and wrongs, the close encounter with venial practice which made twisted wrecks of everyone from Chuck Berry to Ray Davies. But to his credit, it has not touched the impeturbable spirit of Link Wray.

Dressed in black leather biker’s jacket with slimline shades and his hair pulled back in a long black ponytail, Link Wray is the essence of Cool. The Tiv is shaking with the volume as the Fender bender hits the big notes for his fifties hit Rawhide. The band are already in full throttle. Drummer Rob Louwers’ galloping beat, bass lines from Eric Geevens which, like his moppy haircut, come via the Ramones -and Link, showering high notes like sparks and then sliding into those slow lascivious chords that would have any self-respecting Southern Baptist reaching for the lynch rope.

Fed through a Marshall amp, Wray’s battered red guitar encompasses every idiom from rock and roll through surf music to thrash. The shade of Jimi Hendrix hovers, you hear the Stones and the Who, but only to remind us that Link was there first.  Turning to crooning rockabilly with I Can’t Help It, Wray is  suddenly back  at Sam Phillips’ Sun label where Elvis Presley first made records.

There is a simultaneity about it all- classic rockabilly with all the hard rock trimmings. All effortlessly performed with Wray’s slow laconic smile. He grins encouragement to his hard-working sidesmen, young enough to be his grandsons. He wants the sound up. I’m from the old school, he drawls, I want it loud in the house. Any louder and our faces will melt. And the air traffic controller at the sound desk seems disinclined to shred his speakers as early as  the second number. Link just smiles his elderly smile.

Link breaks a string. His rule: no stops for repairs and there’s no spare instrument. He’s strictly a one Fender guy. So, like a Formula One mechanic, on comes the roadie to change the string while Link keeps grinding his way through the second chorus. It’s not easy changing a guitar string while someone is still pounding sound out of the other five. And adding to the absurdity, Link’s lyrics are particularly hokey and sentimental just when  this hulking roadie is kneeling at his side. It’s a serenade – the very idea has him in stitches.

The early material dominates. The cocky rhythms of Run Chicken Run, the bombast of Jack the Ripper. Bruce Springsteen’s Fire is the first number to post-date the death of JFK and even then it is followed by by an all stops version of Mystery Train, a Presley classic like That’s All Right Mama, the Arthur Crudup standard, which comes next. Wray plays some lacerating riffs then calls on Ian Nancarrow from support band, The Others. Nancarrow, who at the earlier soundcheck brought in his original 1958 single of Rumble for signing, plays a swooping harp solo while the Great Man beams beneficently.

As he swaggers through Jailhouse Rock,  we are reminded that Link Wray is the genuine article. A tiny fellow with pipe cleaner legs he makes the moves from a bygone era. But the sound, especially with his hip young rhythm section, is perpetually, electrically current. He closes the set with Rumble. Of course. A blistering six minutes of his greatest hit -ricocheting in all directions but held steady by the mighty architecture of the D chord. Link grins to the audience, shakes hands with the front row and lowers his guitar down for the punters to have a strum- as if anyone could put the notes together and work the tremolo like Link Wray.

For encore he plays another favourite. Dinnah dinnah dinnah dinnah- Bat-maan. Sixties TV kitsch with Eric Geevens going out on a limb with the Hohner bass and drummer Louwers adding threshing cross rythms to the main beat. The encore threatens to become a second set as Born to Be Wild, the old Steppenwolf hit, gets Link heading on the highway for more and better. Hoarsely belting out the words,  Link Wray is an old rocker with one good lung who, at sixty seven, is old enough to know better.  But he is also a man of great presence and dignity. He played to a few hundred at the Tiv as if we were a first night at Madison Square Garden.  Even when we get our hearing back we won’t forget the night that Link Wray got the motor running.

Coming up in May

May 1 Max Gillies Live at Club Republic at Her Majesty’s

until May 11.

State Theatre’s production of David Williamson’s prescient footydrama The Club opens at the  Playhouse on May 4 . Rosalba Clemente directs. Featuring Don Barker, David Field and Syd Brisbane.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Emmylou Harris plays at Thebarton Theatre, May 4. Have a listen to her new CD Wrecking Ball

Alexei Sayle with good friend Bobby Chariot do their stuff 17 May at Thebarton.

Also on the 17th, The Guinness Celebration of Irish Music returns to Her Majesty’s at 7.30. Featuring, among others, Frances Black, Four Men and a Dog and the wonderful Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey.

Jethro Tull perform at the Entertainment Centre (or another venue to be announced) on the amended date of May 20. Ian Anderson will play all the heavy horses and the new album, Roots to Branches.

May 21 One Man Guy, Loudon Wainwright returns to the Office with more songs, observations and bulletins from the Far Side.

The Adelaide Review, No.152, May, 1996, pp.22-3.

1 Comment »

  1. I saw that roady change that string,
    Few people believe me when i’ve told this story.
    Now i know its true…!

    Comment by fatlittleinsect — June 22, 2014 @ 8:19 pm

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