Monday, November 23, 2009

Song of the Week: "Deuces Wild", Link Wray

{Right click here to listen to Link Wray perform our SoTW, Deuces Wild, while you read this lovely article.}

Have you ever seen the diminutive little primate from Madagascar they call the Aye-Aye? It's one strangle looking creature. It doesn't look like a primate, but it's not quite a rodent and it's not quite a feline either. It's so strange as to make you stop and take a look. Invariably you make an audible query to no one in particular: "What is that? It looks like some sorta missing link or sumpin'." (in this theoretical conversation, you speak with a poor colloquial American accent, sorry.)

What the hell does an Aye-Aye have to do with our SotW you ask? Good question. An Aye-Aye, I propose, is like our artist this week. That artist is primitive guitarist Link Wray who, in his day, sounded nothing like anyone else. How refreshing is that? Link Wray and his Raymen -- brothers Doug and Vernon and bassist Shorty Horton) first appeared in record bins in 1958 with their instrumental hit, Rumble. The song was tagged as subversive and banned. (Take a second to let that sink in. An instrumental was banned! I know of no other instrumental that has ever been banned.) Suddenly Link Wray and his Raymen were in demand in the clubs of their adopted home of Washington, DC.

Let's back up a bit. Link Wray (born Fred Lincoln "link" Wray Jr.) was perhaps the most unlikely person to become a pop star. Link was the son of two preachers, one caucasian, the other a Shawnee, who grew up in rural Dunn, North Carolina. After a stint in the Army, Link landed in Norfolk, Virginia where he hooked up with his brother Vernon who was trying to make it as a singer. The band relocated to Washington, DC around 1957 where they got a gig as the house band on Milt Grant's House Party, a local teen dance show. By now they were playing as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. It was here that they improvised the rough strewn song that would become known as Rumble to cover the intro and outro of a commercial break. The record took off locally and the band was now known as Link Wray and the Raymen (also, the Wraymen).

For the next few years Link Wray and the Raymen would record numerous singles, and the occasional album filled with gritty and beautifully sloppy, under-produced instrumentals (with the occasional vocal number thrown in) in their own recording studio which was actually a converted chicken coop. Link preferred the cheaper guitars and had a special affinity for the easy to overdrive Danelectro Longhorn played through a small Premiere 71 amp. As he was also largely deaf, he liked to play loud. Today's SoTW, is illustrative of such a recording. It's Deuces Wild, the 16th single from Link Wray and the Raymen, and it's a wild romp of a song recorded in the sweltering summer heat of Washington, DC in 1964. That's right, this torture device of a song was recorded in 1964. The Beatles had just played their first ever gig in America just down the street from where Link Wray recorded in his chicken coop. The Kinks and The Who were for the first time ever entering the British studio with American producer, Shel Talmy. Things were about to change in America. But in the chicken coop, the Raymen were running through yet another of Link's demented instrumental compositions. These didn't rely on a deft right hand like Dick Dale's numbers, they didn't require exquisite production as did those of The Shadows, and they didn't rely on undeniable melody lines as did the songs of the Ventures. Link Wray and the Raymen did it with brute force. They performed with the primal force of an Aye-Aye (okay, Aye-Aye's aren't known for primal force, but I need to circle back and wrap this puppy work with me). Link Wray's work became hugely influential to the next generation of songwriters such as Ray Davies of The Kinks and Pete Townshend of The Who. Pete Townshend noted in 1970, "He is the king. It if hadn't been for Link Wray and Rumble, I would have never picked up a guitar."

Now sit back and enjoy the human Aye-Aye, Link Wray, perform his 1964 composition, Deuces Wild. This is some wild and wooly stuff.


  1. It's kinda like your Milkshakes studio narrative. Link gets a riff which is sufficient to then press record, and then they just power through it. Which makes the two drum stops - and a solo - all the sweeter. Drums are great. I wish I could hear the bass more (if I do indeed hear one). No more than three playing here though.

  2. I think you are spot on. Those stops are killer. Dig that guitar frenzy in that very last stop before they fade out.

    As eluded to in the article, "Rumble" was created on the fly. With their free nature attitude, they would have been pretty amazing to see in their day.

  3. \m/ Recorded in a chicken coop \m/

  4. Geddy Lee never recorded in a chicken coop. 'Nuff said?