“This Ace album has it all. If you only have to have one Link Wray album this is it.” Bobby Gillespie
Listening to this record gives me the same feeling as Ritchie Valens’ brilliant instrumental ‘From Beyond’ – recorded in 1958, the same year ‘Rumble’ was released: the sense of electricity discovered and unchained. The electric guitar, once highlighted and harnessed to an unvarying, minimalist beat, turned into a sound of such melodic brutality that it appeared to embody all the existential threat of early rock’n’roll: the sound of the repressed – in these two cases Mexican Americans and Native Americans – seizing their moment and their place in the sun.
That’s a lot to load onto a series of brief, catchy instrumentals but there is a power in these records that goes beyond the simple desire to have a hit or even have some product you can sell at gigs. The Valens track was a one-off – who knows whether or not he’d have pursued this route if he had lived – but Link Wray continued to make haunting, tough, lean and mean records until 1966 that at once moved with the times, ‘Batman Theme’ for one, but also stayed close to that founding sense of marginality and danger.
“Early Recordings” was released in 1978, one of the earliest Chiswick LPs. Principally, it collected the singles Wray recorded for Swan between 1963 and 1966. You’ve only got to scan the titles on the back sleeve – ‘Ace of Spades’, ‘Jack The Ripper’, ‘I’m Branded’, ‘Cross Ties’, ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, ‘Deuces Wild’. This is music from the wrong side of the tracks, an outsider mythology that goes with the hip, stripped sound of the 45s, that conjures up mental images of smoky saloons, juke joints, late night poker games, black leather motorcycle gangs, chicken runs at 120mph: what the American Wild West became after the frontier was finally closed. The records totally live up to this promise, or is it a threat? Or both? Who cares? Let’s go!
In retrospect, 1978 was the perfect time to reissue these tracks, very few of which had been released in Britain. In their artistic minimalism and melodic fury, they signalled a straight line between first wave rock’n’roll, hard rock groups such as the 60s Who (Pete Townshend: “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble’, I would have never picked up a guitar”) and the scalding, distorted electricity of the early punk groups – most notably the Cramps, who adapted ‘Jack The Ripper’ in their version of Dwight Pullen’s ‘Sunglasses After Dark’. As Poison Ivy said in a 2000 interview: “My favourite guitarist is Link Wray. I just like hearing a lot of strings splashing all at once. And just the austerity and the starkness of how he plays, you know? The drama that’s created by not overplaying.”