Guitar master Link Wray, the father of the power chord in rock ‘n’ roll who inspired Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Pete Townshend, died Nov. 5 in Copenhagen. He was 76.
Wray, who played in his trademark leather jacket, developed a style considered the blueprint for heavy metal and punk music. He is best known for his 1958 instrumental “Rumble,” 1959 “Rawhide” and 1963 “Jack the Ripper.” His music has been featured in movies including “Pulp Fiction,” “Independence Day” and “Pink Flamingoes.”
Wray, who was born in North Carolina and is three-quarters Shawnee Indian, is said to have inspired many other rock musicians, including Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Steve Van Zandt.
“He is the king; if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar,'” Townshend wrote on one of Wray’s albums. Neil Young once said: “If I could go back in time and see any band, it would be Link Wray and the Raymen.”
The power chord — a thundering sound created by playing fifths (two notes five notes apart, often with the lower note doubled an octave above) — became a favorite among rock players. Wray claimed because he was too slow to be a whiz on the guitar, he had to invent sounds.
When recording “Rumble,” he created the fuzz tone by punching holes in his amplifiers to produce a dark, grumbling sound. It took off instantly, but it was banned by some deejays in big cities for seeming to suggest teen violence.
“I was looking for something that Chet Atkins wasn’t doing, that all the jazz kings wasn’t doing, that all the country pickers wasn’t doing. I was looking for my own sound,” Wray told The Associated Press in 2002.
Born Frederick Lincoln Wray Jr. in Dunn, N.C., his two brothers, Vernon and Doug, were also musicians. The three became a country hit as “Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands.” Later, after “Rumble,” they became “Link Wray and the Raymen,” or Wraymen, as it was sometimes spelled. Later, the brothers’ relationship soured after a dispute about the rights to “Rumble.”
In 1978, he moved to Denmark and married Olive Julie Povlsen, who became his manager and played percussion with his band. He toured the United States and Canada since the mid-1990s, playing 40 shows this year. His final show was in July at Cruise Night in Glendale, Calif. In 2002, Guitar World magazine elected Wray one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
He is survived by his wife and son.