He’s known as “your favorite guitar player’s favorite guitar player,” and when he spontaneously composed his legendary song “Rumble” in front of a crowd of teenagers in Fredricksburg, Link Wray created the guitar power chord and fuzz sounds in 1957 earning him the title as “the godfather of heavy metal rock.”
With its strong sound, Rumble caused controversy as it climbed the charts — it was an entity unlike anything people had heard before.
“It was the only instrumental to have ever been banned on the radio in New York, Boston, and Detroit — they said it incited violence and fights,” said Elizabeth Wray Webb, Wray’s eldest daughter and administrator of his estate.
A Portsmouth native, Webb continues working to keep her father’s legacy alive from her current home in Chesapeake.
“My job is to make sure people know who he is, to keep his music out there, and to help people know who he was to Rock & Roll,” Webb said.
Through her efforts “Rumble” has recently been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The distinction honors “recordings which have been exceptional and iconic contributions to our musical, social, and cultural history,” Neil Portnow, Recording Academy president, wrote in a letter.
“I’m so honored and proud and it couldn’t have happened without the people who’ve been backing him,” Webb said. “Thank God he’s starting to get the recognition he deserves now.”
And, Webb said she’s not stopping there.
While his Fender Stratocaster hangs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “Guitar Gallery,” and “Rumble” as a single song accepted into the Hall of Fame last year, Wray himself has twice been nominated but never inducted as an artist.
“He should’ve been the first in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because he’s inspired so many musicians,” Webb said. “Daddy invented and created a sound they use pedals to create today.”
When Wray died in 2005, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen played Rumble as a tribute to Wray and The Who guitarist, Pete Townshend said in Rolling Stone magazine “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar.”
Wray was born in 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina where there’s a dedicated historic marker and museum exhibit in his name. He moved to Portsmouth at the age of 13 and played music while he raised a family and drove a taxi cab here in South Hampton Roads.
After serving in the Korean War, Wray returned with tuberculous that would keep him hospitalized for a year and ultimately cause him to lose a lung, inhibiting his ability to sing, Webb said.
In 1954 Wray moved to Washington, D.C. where Webb said her father with his band eventually became the house band on the local “Milt Grant Show.”
After Rumble was a success with the young crowd in 1957, Webb said she’s heard her father recreated the sound in the studio by using a pencil to poke holes into his amplifier speakers.
On Tuesday, nominees for 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees are to be announced and Webb is hoping again to see her dad’s name on the list and work for enough votes to get him in next year.
“I’ll keep going and pushing up until my last breath,” she said.