Why Isn’t Link Wray in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

It’s that time of year again. Time when such famous rock acts as Lionel Ritchie, Carly Simon and Dolly Parton are up for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While I have nothing against any of the acts up for nomination this year, some are decidedly not rock and roll. And the process of electing people into the HOF has become so absurd that they might as well change it to the National Music Hall of Fame. Otherwise, it’s a museum dedicated to rock and roll that has many glaring omissions (Jethro Tull anyone?) and non-rock members, such as Public Enemy.

Rock and roll is many things. But anyone who has heard Link Wray would agree that he is rock and roll. He absolutely should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Should is a dubious word, but Link Wray should be there. Why isn’t he? Because the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is stupid, that’s why. Chicago? Seriously? Ringo Starr? Wasn’t he in the Beatles? And while I love Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac was already in before she was a member. I might’ve been okay letting her take a bit longer before she entered as a solo artist.

The wheel of justice turns slowly and sometimes not at all. We all have to put up with who knows how many more years of Trump saying stupid, harmful shit. The Yankees being in first place. And Chris Pratt somehow being locked into three major movie franchises. I can put up with such nonsense, if Link can join the Hall of Fame next year.

If you don’t know who Link Wray is, go out now and buy his compilation, Rumble! The Best of Link Wray that was issued by the ever reliable Rhino label. The compilation came out in 1993, and I wonder if Quentin Tarantino bought a copy around that time. QT featured not one but two of Wray’s songs in Pulp Fiction. The 50s themed Jack Rabbit Slims diner scene uses “Rumble” to follow Mia Wallace’s character into the bathroom. For many people, this was probably the first time they heard “Rumble,” even if they didn’t know what it was. Once you hear it, you don’t forget it.

Any rock band, and especially rockabilly band, worth a damn can play “Rumble.” The original is known not for its virtuosity, but its tone, its technique, its raw power. Nervous ‘50s squares even banned the song, despite the fact that it has no lyrics—apparently Eisenhower America was rife with bloody, Sharks and Jets-type encounters.

Oddly, while the song “Rumble” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a single, Wray the man has not. Not yet. That needs to change. Pete Townshend once called Wray “the king,” and the man who inspired him to pick up a guitar. Neil Young has said that were he able to time travel and see one band live, it would be Link and his band the Ray Men.

Later photographs make the pompadoured, sunglass-sporting Wray look like something that landed from outer space. But he originally was a country boy—one of the many odd and original players to emerge from the postwar South. Wray was born in 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina, to parents of Shawnee ancestry. Back then, white people not only created separate bathrooms for white and black folks, the facilities for American Indians were also segregated. So much for southern hospitality.

As was true of so many rockabilly stars, Wray served in the military during the Korean War. Despite the racist culture he grew up in, Link succeeded as a musician in the Jim Crow South—probably because he could pass for white. In 1958 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Wray came up with his unique guitar sound for “Rumble” after accidentally puncturing a speaker.  

“Rumble” was a Top 40 hit for Wray, and he continued to make exciting music long after. I’m no Wray fanatic—not yet anyway—but I’ slowly going deeper into his catalog. It’s not easy. Beyond the compilations, you won’t find Wray’s albums in used CD or record bins—not for cheap anyway. Thankfully, he is seeing a resurgence on vinyl, helped by Record Store Day each spring. Ray is one of the few artists who can get me to pay full price for a new vinyl copy of his music.

My Link Wray collection is modest, but it has seen considerable use. Link Wray & the Wraymen (1960) shows Wray in his early glory. The album cobbled together several years of singles with staccato titles like “Caroline,” “Radar” and “Comanche.” Wray was exceptional not only in his unique, hard rock sound—long before people used the term “hard rock”—but because he could express himself through instrumentals only.

A later album, 1973’s Beans & Fatback, offers a more diversified sound. Link goes acoustic on some tracks. Overall, the album has a rootsier, bluesier, more southern feel than his early material. He also sings more than I had ever heard him do before. He sounds a bit like Mick Jagger, and Beans & Fatback has the feel of the Stones’s stripped down, heavily acoustic Beggar’s Banquet.   

Fans—and Neil Young among them—might wish they had seen Wray live, but listening to Link live at the Paradiso in Amsterdam is pretty close. The album, recorded in August of 1979, presents Wray in all his greasy, leather-clad glory. He was joined by drummer Anton Fig (of David Letterman show fame) and bassist Jimmy Lowell. Wray was no newbie by the late 1970s, but he plays with an abandon worthy of the best rock music of the period. It’s Link Wray’s Live at Leeds. The master of the power chord ably closed a fantastic decade for rock music.

More recently, Wray has been the subject of a documentary about Native Americans, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. Wray’s screen time is limited, but, as always, he makes an impression. Wray could easily be the subject of his own documentary. Fans could also benefit from a comprehensive biography of the man.

Why does Link continue to not get the credit he deserves? He has been on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot before, but has not won enough votes for induction. Even so, the Hall has seen fit to induct historic and influential—though little known artists—such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Let’s hope the Hall treats Link the same way very soon.

If not, there might be a rumble.    

4 thoughts on “Why Isn’t Link Wray in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

  1. First time we ever heard Link Wray play was on the Indian documentary and its effect on American music. We were blown away…..love music can’t believe we never heard him earlier.. Love his music his look and swagger. Collin very nice article glad I saw this.

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