Link Wray: Rolling Stone's #45 of 100 Greatest Guitarists

Link Wray black and white photo with leather jacket nd guitar
Link Wray
Link Wray
Birth name: Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr.
Born: May 2, 1929
Dunn, North Carolina, U.S.
Died: November 5, 2005 (aged 76)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Occupation: Musician, songwriter
Instruments: Guitar, vocals, steel guitar, bass guitar
Genres:  Rock and roll, rockabilly, instrumental

Rolling Stone ranks Link Wray number 45 of 100 Greatest Guitarists. His hit, "Rumble," is among the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museums  500 Songs That Shaped Rock & Roll. Bob Dylan once called "Rumble "the best instrumental ever."

Link Ray and His Wray Men black and white publicity photo
Link Wray & His Ray Men
"If I could go back in time and see any band, 
it would be Link Wray and the Ray Men."
Neil Young

Link Wray 

Link Wray, named Fred Lincoln Jr.,  was born May 2, 1929 to his half Cherokee father and disabled Shawnee mother. He had an older brother, Vernon, and a younger one, Doug. 

The cover of the single,  A-side "Rumble" B-side "Swag" by Link Wray 1958
"He is the king; if it hadn't been for 
Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have 
never picked up a guitar."
Pete Townsend of The Who
Rumble

One of the only instrumentals ever banned from radio in the United States, "Rumble" by Link Wray, was one of the first tunes to use the power chord,  a mainstay of rock & roll. Wray also pioneered the use of distortion and feedback on the electric guitar. In 2018, when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum added a category for singles, "Rumble" was one of six hits in first class of inductees. The other five:
  • The Twist - Chubby Checker
  • Rocket 88 - Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats
  • Louie Louie - The Kingsmen
  • A Whiter Shade Of Pale - Procol Harum
  • Born To Be Wild - Steppenwolf
L-R: Doug Wray, Vernon Wray, and Link Wray in his Army uniform

Wray composed "Rumble" in early 1958 at a live show in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His brother, Doug, was his drummer for the The Ray Men at the time. The Diamonds had a hot song, "The Stroll," on the charts that started a dance craze. Wray was asked onstage if he could play a stroll. He didn't know one but his brother played the beat on the drums. Wray improvised. He set a microphone up in front of the speakers and blasted out some chords.  The volume, distortion and feedback drove the kids wild. They loved it and demanded four repeats that night. 


The band originally titled the song "Oddball." Wray asked his producer, Archie Bleyer for Cadence Records, to record it as a single. To recreate the live onstage sound at the previous gig, Wray punched holes in the amps' speaker cones with a pencil. Bleyer hated it. But his daughter said it reminded her of the rumble scene in West Side Story and she loved it. When Phil Everly (of the Everly Brothers) heard it, he agreed and suggested the title "Rumble."

The song was banned from radio play in New York and Boston out of fear the raucous sound would incite teenage violence and because the term 'rumble' was slang for a gang fight. In spite of, or perhaps because of, that notoriety, it became a hit in the United States and climbed to number 16 on the charts by the summer of 1958.  

Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop

In an interview with Stephen Colbert on April 29, 2013, Iggy Pop was asked what musical influence made him start the band that basically created punk. "There was a guy named Link Wray and I heard this music in the student union at a university. It was called 'Rumble' and it sounded bad," Pop said. "I left school emotionally at the moment I heard 'Rumble.'"

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