Freaky ponytail action and ’60s rave-ups at Link Wray’s Vancouver riff-o-rama

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 10, 1997

By Steve Newton

When I heard that legendary instro-rock guitarist Link Wray was performing a few tunes and signing autographs at the Virgin Megastore last Friday afternoon (July 4), I snuck off from work early and headed down to Robson Street clutching my trusty Plexiglas-body Raven guitar and one of those silver felt pens with the permanent ink.

I already knew where I wanted the original king of feedback to sign my axe—smack-dab on the first humbucking pickup—but once the autograph session started I had to wait about 45 minutes while front-row enthusiasts such as Gerald Rattlehead from CiTR Radio’s Powerchord show and Nanaimo blues-rocker David Gogo got their own goodies inscribed and posed for photos with the incredibly accommodating 68-year-old.

Far from being your typically cranky senior citizen, Wray—sporting a black Hendrix T-shirt, hip shades, and a long ponytail—greeted every autograph hound with rapt enthusiasm, politely introducing each one to his wife, Olive, seated nearby. He didn’t seem the least bit perturbed that the majority of signature-seekers were offering up vintage Wray LPs rather than just-bought copies of his current CD, Shadowman.

Royalties appeared to be the last thing on his mind as he eagerly made prized collectibles out of his early vinyl pressings.

Link Wray knows where his enduring musical legacy is centred, of course, and when he stepped up to the mike at the Starfish Room seven hours later he summed it up in one word: “Rumble!” He kicked off his set with that signature stroll-type instrumental from 1958, showering the sold-out room with feedback-drenched power chords. And for the next 90 minutes the “godfather of metal” delivered high-voltage guitar-rock in its purest form.

Accompanied by the formidable rhythm section from opening act Dieselhed, Wray prowled the stage like an aged alley cat, coaxing raunchy wails from his “Screamin’ Red” Yamaha guitar and the metal-bodied Harley- Davidson Strat his wife picked out for him in Houston a few weeks ago.

Speaking of Olive, she remained near hubby’s side throughout the show, making repeated forays to centre stage to whip Wray’s ponytail around for no apparent reason. After about the fourth hair-fondling episode her presence became a tad distracting, but it didn’t affect Wray’s incendiary re-creations of ’60s rave-ups such as “Raw-Hide”, “Ace of Spades”, and “Run Chicken Run”. He actually seemed to play better when she was yanking his hairy chain, so maybe the stimulation of his scalp provides an energy boost or some weird thing.

All I know is that, by the time Wray had encored with the night’s second run-through of “Rumble”, “Jack the Ripper”, and the Batman theme, I’d experienced my wildest instro-rock show since fellow ponytailed old-timer Dick Dale previewed the sound of Pulp Fiction at the Commodore four years back.

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