Hot Platters: Link Wray (Polydor Records, 1971)



01    La De Da         

02    Take Me Home Jesus         

03    Juke Box Mama         

04    Rise And Fall Of Jimmy Stokes        

05    Fallin' Rain         

06    Fire And Brimstone         

07    Ice People        

08    God Out West         

09    Crowbar         

10    Black River Swamp         

11    Tail Dragger 

If you're not familiar with Link Wray's overall musical history, he was originally known for being one of the first "heavy" guitarists in the 50's.  His biggest hit, "Rumble", typifies his overall approach, using thick distortion and power chords (pre-Pete Townshend, folks) to get his point across. 

I've always been impressed by the wide variety of highly creative records that were released in the early 70's and today's Hot Platter is a great example of what I'm talking about.  While Link Wray, which was released on the Polydor label in 1971, failed to ignite the public imagination upon its release, it is indeed one of a handful of records -- the Rolling Stones Exiles On Main Street and The Band's 2nd album aka "The Brown Album" are two that come to mind -- which had inspired musicians to consider a more laid back approach to record making.  It's interesting to note that those two albums I just name checked were, much like this Link Wray album, recorded outside of the confines of regular studios. 


By the early 1970’s, Link Wray’s music career has slowed down considerably.  “Link Wray picked up and moved to rural Accokeek, and eventually recorded hundreds of songs on a three-track in a dismal little shed that resembled, at first glance, a coal miner’s dwelling. On the first album from these Three Track Shack sessions, 1971’s Link Wray, Link did something exhilarating: he sang. Virtually for the first time… In Accokeek, Link’s life took a thrilling, meandering turn, the thwarted promise giving way to a long-awaited second wind… recorded in the house’s basement at first. Then they swept out a shed and built a room off of it, installing Doug’s high school drum set and a wheezy piano. They called it Wray’s Shack 3 Tracks. They loved letting the tape roll to see what they could come up with...his forlorn, one-lunged, loping baritone. It carries such desolation. Such lovely distress! As if Van Morrison and Cat Stevens had fallen down a flight of stairs together. What’s truly amazing and heartbreaking is that Link had to be wheedled into it. Vernon had the pipes. Link hated his own voice. Nightclubs and demos, fine. Records, no thanks. And yet, all of a sudden, here he is, sailing from the tiniest intimacies to brawling, primal haymakers, his voice beating through the entire human emotional registry...They loved letting the tape roll to see what they could come up with. Link, though, was fortyish and unhappy. He was being scandalously underpaid to churn out the old hits at military nightclubs. Doug ran a barbershop, Vernon a grocery store and pool hall. They were struggling. Waiting for something better to come along.... (Mystic Chords, John O'Connor, Oxford American, 2018) 


Wray, in particular, seemed to anticipate the future revolution in which musicians would record outside of traditional studios.  In his case, he remodeled an old chicken coop on his family's farm in Maryland and, using only rudimentary recording gear, Wray managed to craft this low-fi masterpiece.  "How low-fi is this record?"  

From the Wikipedia site: "The album was recorded in 1971 by Link's brother Vernon Wray at Wray's Shack Three Track, a three-track studio Link Wray had converted from an old chicken shack on his farm in Accokeek, Maryland, and mixed by Chuck Irwin. During louder numbers, the recording team placed the speakers for Link Wray's guitar outside in the yard and miked the windows. For a time no drum kit was available, so on several tracks the musicians stomped on the floor for the bass drum and shook a can of nails for the snare drum.  Songwriter/co-producer/drummer Steve Verroca said that, 'What we do is go into the shack and make music. We get the melody that way and then maybe write down some lyrics. Okay, it's a little unusual but that is what comes natural.'" 


Verroca's statement pinpoints exactly what makes this album shine.  The simplicity of the sound that was made in that ol' chicken coop studio came about naturally in an atmosphere of pure music making.  When Wray was interviewed by Sounds Magazine just prior to the album's release he stated that "In a way I couldn't care less if the album didn't sell a single copy. We're happy with it and we've done it our way." 


Wray's 1971 album sold modestly upon its release but, much like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, the album became a cult favorite that would pick up a devoted following with each passing year.  For me, this album truly stands the test of time.


Link Wray spent his last years performing shows on a Danish island.  He died of heart failure, at the age of 76, in 2005.  That same year, Three Track Shack , a compilation of the 1971 Link Wray album and its lo-fi follow up, Beans and Fatback, was released to much acclaim.  One of the few things that will always outlast time and memory is good music.




Link Wray 1971 Album Review (Pitchfork Magazine)

Mystic Chords (Oxford American Magazine)