Sunday, April 11, 2010

Link Wray: Fire And Brimstone

In 1971, Polydor Records released the long awaited comeback album for 50s and 60s guitar legend Link Wray. Primarily known for his instrumental work characteristic of his two biggest hits “Rumble” and “Rawhide,” Wray did not sing much in his early days as he lost a lung to tuberculosis that he contracted during his service in the Korean War.

Wray’s self titled LP was a critical success, but a financial failure. Mainstream and album radio failed to support the album that largely was only played on college radio stations. Later covered by the Neville Brothers, one of the album’s better cuts was the apocalyptic tune: “Fire and Brimstone.” Because the song largely draws from the book of Revelation for its lyrical content, it qualifies to be today’s Spiritual Sunday feature.

I bought the album in early 1973 at the Kmart in North Versailles, PA. It was discounted as Polydor had cutout the album from production. I think I paid something in the neighborhood of 99¢ for the LP at a time when albums were priced between $3.99 and $4.99. The album features a profile of Wray that celebrates his Shawnee heritage. The photo is actually cut out from the album stock; therefore, it is a partial gatefold album.

The album was recorded at his homemade studio located in an old chicken shack on his Maryland farm. He called it “Wray’s Three Track Shack.” The three tracks refer to the number of tape tracks that could be recorded on a single piece of quarter inch magnetic tape. The three track machine was ground-breaking technology in the 1950s, as it allowed the backing tracks to be recorded on two tracks and the vocals on a separate tape track. In the 60s, four track machines were in vogue. By the time Link recorded his album, most studios were recording on 8-track or 16 track machines (no not the 8-tracks that we had in our cars) that used up to 1 inch tape widths.

“Fire and Brimstone” also features Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Link Wray on slide guitar. I didn’t plan this, but for the last three days, I’ve featured cuts that utilized slide guitar. There must be something subliminal occurring. Be that as it may, the world lost an excellent musician on November 5, 2005 when Link passed away in Denmark where he was making his home with his current wife and youngest son. He was survived by nine children in all.

In addition to his membership in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, he was posthumously inducted into the Native American Music Hall of fame in 2006; however, he has yet to be considered for induction in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.

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