Blog post from March 2009.
In the quick-fix instant vintage era, while it’s interesting to see a fixation with the garments of yesteryear, down to a lowkey saddleshoe revival, most attempts to capture the feel of a target era fall short. Seeing as 99% of what I’ve blogged has been retrospective, I’m guilty of excessive nostalgia, and it’s easy to place a deceased artist like Link Wray in the one or two hit “godfather of power chord” pigeonhole, pause-buttoned in his 1958 watershed moment – especially when he looked so damned cool. Jimmy McDonough’s comprehensive but accessible ‘Be Wild, Not Evil’ feature (does that constitute a Link, link?) includes a recollection from guitarist Deke Dickerson,
“There was a picture of Link, sneer on his face, big greasy pompadour, wearing a two-tone leather jacket playing a Danelectro Longhorn, with matching two-tone penny loafers. That picture changed my life. Link Wray, as far as I was concerned, was the coolest looking guy in the whole history of the world. And you know what I love about that picture? The two-tone leather jacket, the two-tone penny loafers, and the Danelectro Longhorn guitar–were all ordered out of the Sears & Roebuck catalogue!”
But as far as I’m concerned, Link’s ’70s output is the time worth revisiting. He was still touring, meeting rock ‘n roll expectations with the fuzzy blues riffing of ‘Rumble’ – in fact, the below video, filmed in 1978 shows a particularly self-assured badass at work –
And his 1979 LP ‘Bullshot’ (a dollar bin staple at one point) has, despite a ton of throwaway content and a Bob Dylan cover, but the cover art is like a cruder ‘Born To Run’ design. I love this sleeve.
With a curious duality of distortion versus a an authentic country sound, generally kept separated, Link’s self-titled 1971 album is his first ’70s masterpiece, embracing the latter, making it as much a lost gem as Dennis Wilson’s solo release. Check here for evidence. ‘Fire And Brimstone’ is soundtracking the construction of this post. You can’t synthesise that sound.
The second masterpiece? As lead guitarist on underrated revivalist Robert Gordon’s 1978 LP ‘Fresh Fish Special’. Far from being a bequiffed tit prancing about, the whole album sounds deeply authentic. Beyond Robert’s tremendous vocals, the no-frills approach to recording and Link’s guitar work works superbly.
Robert kept one George Cox shoe in the burgeoning new-wave scene and another in the rockabilly sound, even appearing in the arty no-budget 1976 film ‘Unmade Beds’ alongside Patti Astor and Debbie Harry. That sounds like an excuse to link to a clip of Debbie looking incredible. Avoid the rest of the film – it’s awful, but check the ‘Breathless’ poster on Rico’s wall in the clip. Coincidentally, the misunderstood 1983 remake of Godard’s film was the very thing that introduced me to Link Wray, using ‘Jack The Ripper’ as a getaway theme. Robert also plays a key role in the 1982 style-over-substance Kathryn Bigelow vehicle, ‘The Loveless’ – like ‘Fresh Fish Special’, a great reproduction of its chosen era that deserved a bigger audience.