For most people, that’s all they associate with him – those late-50s surf-rockabilly pioneering power chords drowned in tremelo and a distortion that would go on to influence the rockers and the punks.
But did you know that in 1971, he released one of the greatest and greasiest country/swamp/gospel-rock albums of all time?
It’s understandable if you’ve never heard it – it barely sold when it came out and still isn’t well-known outside of a cult following (Calexico and Karl Blau have both covered ‘Fallin’ Rain’.) But, along with Bobby Charles’ also self-titled/also tragically-underappreciated 1972 gem, it is a must hear for any fan of rootsy rock music.
That down-home country laid-back vibe was in the air in the late sixties/early seventies and this album fits right next to contemporary greats like Beggars Banquet or Dylan and The Band’s Basement Tapes. The songs show both a deep understanding of the rock/blues/gospel songwriting forms and an appreciation for straightforward and charming simplicity (‘Ice People‘ with it’s “Ice people, they’re made of ice/They don’t treat their fellow man very nice” chorus sounds like Daniel Johnston on a particularly tuneful day.) Wray’s guitar mastery shines on the acoustic and the electric but he never shows off, always deferring to the song itself. But the best and most immediately evident thing about this album is his straight-up-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude.
His voice won’t be winning any technical awards but, instead of the timidity you might expect from a guy famous for instrumentals, he just leans way the hell into it – drawing out the syllables until you feel the whiskey-soaked gravel in your own throat. The instrumentation on the album is bare and the recording is just as likely to sound dirty as the day after Mardi Gras as it is to have that pristine 70s hi-fi sound. To quote Wikipedia:
The album was recorded in 1971 by Link’s brother Vernon “Ray 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.
That presence and sense of place is strongly felt on the album, leaving an unforgettable je ne sais quoi that has kept me coming back over and over again in the ten years or so since I first heard this album.
All in all, it’ll make you curl your lip, shake your hips, and it might put a smile on that leathery face of yours – it’s just what you need.