Link Wray’s final Austin show: the Continental Club, 2005

There is rocker attitude, such as by skinny boys who having done their homework, don the correct shirts and haircuts, and moan and yelp (such as the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), and then there is Rocker Attitude, such as done by LINK WRAY, the original garage-rocker who evidently invented distortion, the only person to have had an instrumental song banned for being suggestive, the black leather jacket wearing man who perfected the art of playing maximum r’n’r at seedy redoubts of knife-wielding hoods while the Velvets and Stones were still learning their multiplication tables. Wray strutted onto the Continental Club stage and launched right into his signature anthem “Rumble”, grinning fiendishly beneath black sunglasses.  Instantly the crowd of sideburn sporting beat-rockers, record-store employees, wiry, tough-looking rockabillies, hot-rod hep-cats, rock scholars, and various time-travelers was in the palm of his hand.  “Rumble” will outlive him (as will other hits and misses covered by surf, garage and bar bands everywhere such as “Jack the Ripper” and “Run Chicken Run”) but the supposedly one-lunged old man isn’t quite ready to play the least polite of God’s parties just yet.

He blasted out scads of aggro chords and gnarly leads, but then changed course completely with a sensitive, wistful rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Home is Where the Heart is”. And for a piece he made his guitar emit shadowy, reverbed-out sounds that were too psych to be surf and not quite spy-music either: I can only call this “beat-rock”. Wray’s three-piece band shook the rafters with a sped-up, fuzzed-out, crunchy cover of the “Batman” theme song. And then he was gone, no encore, nothing to prove, guitar leaned against amp, feeding-back so dangerously loud I had to grab it to stop the strings from making a soundbomb. The man was gone…maybe never to return.

(Link Wray died shortly after this was written, on November 5, 2005. May he rest in peace. I feel lucky to have shaken the hand of the man who invented distortion)

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