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May 2017 for MusicRealms.com

Denise Mercedes & Jeannie Pawlowski interview


Greg Laxton -- a World Authority on -- and Curator/Archivist of LinkWray.com The Native American Forefather of All Modern Rock Guitar Playing 1929 - 2005



“I’ve been doing this my whole life…”

“Link Wray made the guitar the weapon of choice in rock and roll.” Greg Laxton


“Rumble is the greatest instrumental ever.” Bob Dylan


“He’s the king. If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and RUMBLE, I’d have never picked up a guitar.” Pete Townsend


“If I could travel back in time to see one band, it would be Link Wray and the Ray Men.” Neil Young


“He’s the man who invented punk rock, heavy metal and every other form of sonic nastiness that we hold dear.” Danny Frost, New Musical Express


In keeping within the theme of MusicRealms interviews, we again chose to feature someone whose work in the music business has proven to be crucial, yet who retreats from the limelight, preferring to work behind the scenes. It takes many people and their talents to create the environment that make it possible for an ‘artist’ to achieve fame, perhaps fortune, and more importantly, lasting recognition. Greg Laxton is the ultimate FAN – a retired motorcycle Police Officer injured in the line of duty who plays no instruments -- but attained a deep, devout and sincere lifelong connection to the music and persona of guitarist Link Wray, a near-magical, now immortal man he only saw perform once in 2002, but who changed Greg’s life forever.


NY guitarist Denise Mercedes & Link Wray onstage, Max’s mid-1970’s, with Bob Dylan band members Howie Wyeth, drums, Rob Stoner, bass. Photo credit: Nicky Lazzoni/Lower Third Enterprise.

Greg Laxton initially contacted me about some mid-1970s photos he’d seen of me playing with early rock’s most influential and significant guitar player, Link Wray, for use on his website. Reviewing the page, I was blown away by the depth and magnitude of Laxton’s work in coordinating the detailed lifetime history and works of Native American guitarist/songwriter Link Wray: the powerfully vital ground-breaker underground legend, yet who is still under-recognized and oft-times completely obscured from the history of rock/modern music, except for those serious musicians and creative arts intellectuals “in the know.” Our ensuing conversation led to the understanding that Greg Laxton was a lifetime fan of Wray’s music, and has dedicated many years to enshrining this enduring musician, making sure his legacy is not forgotten, accurate, and that it will live on far into the future for the benefit of others via cyberspace.


MusicRealms:
How did you get into the music of Link Wray (a/k/a Fred Lincoln Wray 1929-2005). What were you listening to/involved in prior to that? Where and how did you first come across his records?


Greg Laxton:
As a kid, I was never into sports. I gravitated to music and collecting records. I guess my first exposure to music, like many other pre-teens in the early 1970s, was the Partridge Family. I used to watch it every day on Channel 5 in DC when I was growing up. Of course, through my nine-year old eyes I thought they were a real band! In 1976, I discovered punk rock. I was a huge Sex Pistols fan - still am. I remember hanging out at the magazine rack at our local drug store reading copies of Creem and Circus magazine for any punk rock news. At my local record store, you had to ask for the punk rock 45’s - they kept them behind the counter… They were as taboo as Playboy magazines!


If you can believe it, it was actually my dad who first introduced me to the music of Link Wray. I was a punk rock kid in the mid 70’s, and had just got the new Ramones record. Dad came in my room and I played him a track off the LP. When the song was over, I asked him what he thought. Dad said, “You need to listen to Link Wray - he’s a local guy” and then he left my room. My dad had never said anything to me about music before, and he’s never said anything about music since. So it really made an impression and stuck with me, and thus began an obsession that continues to this day.


MusicRealms:
How hard was it for you to get your hands on his recordings in the pre-internet era? How did you find Wray’s music?


The LINK WRAY self titled LP

Greg Laxton:
I grew up in Southern Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. Link’s most prolific work was in the DC area, he was a local legend. Even so, it was still very hard to find Link Wray records. It seemed every record store I checked, no one had heard of Link…and this is where he cut his musical teeth. I was thrilled when I finally found my first Link LP – “Rock ’n Rumble” on Charly Records. I found it in the import bin at the Penguin Feather Records, located in an old house in Alexandria, Virginia…records in the front room, head shop in the back. I couldn’t wait to get home to finally figure out what my dad was talking about. After hearing that LP, I understood.


MusicRealms:
On a personal note, what was it about this particular artist that drove you to focus on his body of work and history?


Greg Laxton:
What really knocked my socks off is how far ahead of his time Link Wray really was. He introduced the power chord to rock and roll. Link was the first to use intentional distortion in a rock and roll recording. His early live recordings are punk rock ground zero. When RUMBLE came out in 1958, it was banned in New York and Boston for fear it would incite teenage gang violence. All the more remarkable, when you realize RUMBLE had no words! It wasn’t Link’s words that got him in trouble, it was his "wild rock and roll” as Link liked to call his music. I guess that, and the fact that his records were so hard to find, piqued my interest. Kinda like the “forbidden fruit." The fact that Link’s music was so hard to find just made me want it all the more. How more “rock and roll” can you get than Link Wray?



RUMBLE, 1978, Musikladen show, Germany, with New Yorker John Paris on bass
and Anton Fig (David Letterman Show) on drums

MusicRealms:
When and how did it occur to you to create this meticulous and painstakingly precise website dedicated to all things Link Wray? Were you also a programmer?


Greg Laxton:
I was hurt on the job when I was a motorcycle officer in Maryland. While I was on light duty, I was tasked with the job of putting together a website for the Sheriff’s Office where I worked. I had no programming experience, and knew nothing about building websites. I asked the Sheriff’s Office to purchase a web building program and a book and off I went! After retiring, and recovering from my injuries, I couldn’t do much at home either. So I thought, “Hey, let me do a website on Link.” That began in 1999. It’s been a work-in-progress ever since. I love research and helping others. And it’s enabled a non-musician like me to pursue my original teenage passion - music.


MusicRealms:
You are also a historical collector of his works and memorabilia. You must have some very rare one-of-a-kind items. When did you start collecting and how? What are some of your favorite individual treasures?


Greg Laxton:
I started collecting with that first LP I picked up at Penguin Feather Records. My next two Link records were sealed copies of THE LINK WRAY RUMBLE and BE WHAT YOU WANT TO. I wasn’t the collector geek that I am now, so the first thing I did was crack them open and play them. I’ve since found another sealed copy of THE LINK WRAY RUMBLE and I’m still looking for the other one!


Before the Internet, I haunted every record store and swap meet within a 100 mile radius. Then, along came the internet, and that radius expanded worldwide. So did my collection. It now consists of all Link’s commercially released LPs, several dozen 45’s, even more live CDs, live video, and plenty of one-off items, including articles, posters, advertisements…


Some of my favorite goodies include the original artwork for BE WHAT YOU WANT TO and THE LINK WRAY RUMBLE. I have a promotional poster of Link, friends and family taken outside Wray’s Shack 3 Tracks in Accokeek, MD. It’s the only one I’ve ever found, and it says everything about American music in the early 70’s.


Link Wray’s Danelectro guitar

Of course the Internet opens doors that would have remained closed. Through my internet detective work I’ve been able to find Link’s own reel tape of a live show he did at the Record Plant in San Francisco (complete with his handwritten notes), as well as a couple unreleased demos (that I hope will soon see the light of day), never-before-seen photographs, vintage LP artwork promos and more. After Link’s passing, I got a tip on his Danelectro guitar that had been missing in action since 1962. It’s now owned by Deke Dickerson, a musician and guitar aficionado, and was displayed in the exhibit UP WHERE WE BELONG at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Tracking down the provenance on that thing was a rollercoaster ride. The whole story is detailed in Deke’s book “The Strat In the Attic."


MusicRealms:
As a leading world authority and expert on the subject, how would you describe Link Wray’s innovations as a guitarist and a performer?


Greg Laxton:
Terry Stewart, past President and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said it best: "There is no doubt that rock and roll would not be what it is without the contribution of Link Wray.”


Link Wray was the first to popularize the power chord in rock and roll. Some say Link was the first to use distortion in a rock and roll recording, but others say it was Willie Kizart in Ike Turner’s “Kings of Rhythm” when he played guitar on Jackie Brenston's ROCKET 88. I like to say Link was the first to use INTENTIONAL distortion.


Willie’s amp was damaged en route to a recording session for ROCKET 88. When the band got to Sun Studios for the session, they stuffed the amp full of newspapers in an attempt to repair it and make it sound like a properly working amplifier.


Link on the other hand, took a properly working amp, poked holes in the speakers in order to get a different sound for his recording - thus creating intentional distortion!


Before Link, guitarists were in the band behind the singer onstage. With Link, the guitar was front and center. He strapped on his guitar, cranked up his amp and said “watch what this thing can do!” Link Wray made the guitar the weapon of choice in rock and roll.


MusicRealms:
He was a somewhat controversial artist at times it seems during his long career – for example, being a black leather-clad sunglasses-wearing American Indian with a 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble” that was banned on many radio stations because it was considered too hot, wierd and even dangerously subversive. I’ve read that when “Rumble” was played on roadhouse jukeboxes, patrons would start tearing the joint up! Can you give some details on what you know about this?


Link at CBGB’s, mid 1970’s

Greg Laxton:
Link was branded dangerous from the very start. RUMBLE was banned in Boston and New York for fear it would incite teenage gang violence. Ice T’s hardcore band Body Count got banned for talking about killing cops, Link Wray got banned for a song with NO WORDS. That had never happened before or since.


In the early 60’s, Link and the Ray Men migrated to playing the “knife and gun” clubs in Washington DC, real tough bars that you really didn’t go to unless you knew a local. The outlaw biker gangs in the area adopted Link as one of their own, and packed the joints wherever Link played. Remember, back then, bands played clubs 5 or 6 nights a week, several sets a night.


Vinnie’s was located in a rough part of DC, right across from the Greyhound bus terminal. There was one regular who went nuts every time Link played RUN CHICKEN RUN. One night, he grabbed the cash register off the bar and threw it through the plate glass window.


It all comes back to Link’s music. Little Steven has called it “a soundtrack for juvenile delinquency.” I can only imagine catching the band during that time - heading to a club in a sketchy area of DC, which was an adventure unto itself. Then you add in Link’s brother Doug providing a machine gun beat, Ed Cynar playing his bass through a monster cabinet, supplemented at times with the additional guitars of Richie Mitchell and Jack Van Horn, Link’s music is pretty powerful stuff on record, add in THAT atmosphere and it becomes insane.


After a stint as the house band at Vinnie’s, Link and the band moved to the 1023 Club in Southeast DC. In a short period of time, the racial make-up of the neighborhood had flipped from primarily white to primarily African American. Right in the middle was the 1023, a stubborn hold-out with a clientele of white hillbillies and outlaw biker clubs.


In the spring of 1966, police arrested an African American teen for robbing a white senior citizen in the parking lot of a liquor store close to the 1023. The arrest angered the neighborhood residents and the police found themselves quickly surrounded. They dispersed the crowd in short order, but only for a short period of time. The crowd took out their frustrations at the 1023, a place they perceived as a club that discriminated towards blacks. A white patron leaving the bar had his ear cut off, motorcycles were knocked over, and the bricks and bottles started flying. Link Wray was on stage providing the soundtrack for that night.


Needless to say, that was Link’s last night at the 1023. Link said he retreated back to the clubs of Southern Maryland “playing to the rednecks that were chasing women and getting drunk off beer and whiskey.”


MusicRealms:
Recording in the early days was primitive compared to today’s technology. Wasn’t it sometimes one mic in the center of the room with everyone playing together? I remember Link Wray telling me how he discovered/experimented with the sound of his vocal in the bathroom because it gave an empty resonant acoustic/sound he was pleased with. Do you have any anecdotes on how he found ways to capture the ‘sounds’ he wanted on some of his early recordings?


Greg Laxton:
Link has said back in his day there were no “electric boxes” to get sounds…he was constantly looking for ways to get new sounds. When he first played RUMBLE live, his brother Ray stuck the vocal mic to his guitar amp, giving it a dirty distorted sound. When it came time to record that track, they couldn’t replicate it in the studio, so Link punched holes in his amp speakers with a pencil - the intentional distortion!


His brother had a recording studio in the Portland Building in Washington DC. After the “9 to 5-ers” left for the day, the band would get to work. They used the bathroom of that building as an echo chamber, and any other location in the building where the acoustics would give them those different sounds that they were looking for.


LINK WRAY's first LP from 1961.

The family was living a hardscrabble existence in the late 60’s when Link got a break - a three LP deal with Polydor Records. The first LP was recorded in WRAY’S SHACK 3 TRACKS, a literal shack on the family property. They had little money, so everything was used to make the sounds. No tambourine? Shake a can of nails. No kick drum? Stomp on the floor. On some tracks you can hear the dogs howling in the distance. These recordings, like the era, had a real down-home roots feel. Historians today say the first LP, the self titled LINK WRAY, ushered in the country-rock / Americana genre.


Family members have told me of self-constructed speakers and boxes that they used to get the sounds Link searched for. After they were used, I would imagine they were disassembled and recycled for something else. Today, music museums would love to have just one of those inventions.


MusicRealms:
What are some of the styles of music, and some of the artists who come to your mind who absolutely riffed off of Link Wray but at a later time?


Greg Laxton:
Punk rock, surf, grunge, garage, heavy metal…it all comes back to Link Wray. Link Wray is the trunk of the rock and roll tree. It all branches off from Link. He was always very humble though, never really taking credit or recognizing what he started.


Plenty of artists have riffed off Link over the years. A riff in JACK THE RIPPER can be found in the opening bars of the Sex Pistols GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. The guitar riff in RUN CHICKEN RUN can be found in Nirvana’s BREED. Just to name a few.


Link from 2003 at the Village Underground

The band DEATH GRIPS heavily sampled RUMBLE on the song SPREAD EAGLE ACROSS THE BLOCK a couple years back. That song currently has over a million views on YouTube, its core music being Link Wray playing a song recorded over half a century ago.


Guitar heroes of today speak about Link in revered tones. Pete Townshend said, “He’s the king. If it wasn’t for Link Wray and RUMBLE, I’d have never picked up a guitar.”


Little Steven has called (Link Wray’s music) “a soundtrack for juvenile delinquency.”


Terry Stewart, past President and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said it best: "There is no doubt that rock and roll would not be what it is without the contribution of Link Wray.”


Link was branded dangerous from the very start. Ice T’s hardcore band Body Count got banned for talking about killing cops, Link Wray got banned for a song with NO WORDS. That had never happened before or since.


Over the years the number of artists to respect and appreciate Link’s music is pretty impressive. You can find quotes from the likes of Neil Young, John Fogerty, Iggy Pop, Robbie Robertson of the Band, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and lots more on the front page of LinkWray.com


Press photo, 1996. I hope I look half that cool at 67 years old.

MusicRealms:
How do you feel about Wray never being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – despite being the undisputable lauching-pad for everything modern rock/metal/etc. guitar playing has evolved into? Aside from his historical catalogue of recordings, Link Wray’s music has appeared in major Hollywood blockbusters such as Independence Day, 12 Monkeys, Pulp Fiction, Blow, Breathless, Desperado, This Boy’s Life, and Johnny Suede, starring Brad Pitt – amongst other commercial entities.






Greg Laxton:
That’s the million dollar question. Link was nominated in 2014, but has yet to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


His resume?


- invented the power chord
- the first to use intentional distortion in a rock and roll recording
- the first Native American rock star
- the only person to have an instrumental banned for fear it would incite violence.
- featured in the exhibit “UP WHERE WE BELONG” at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, New York and Canada.
- in the top 50 of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists.”
- songs in dozens of major movies, television shows and commercials.
- “Link Wray Day” recognized by Governor’s Proclamations in two states.
- produced the sole LP from the band EGGS OVER EASY, credited with starting pub rock in the UK, laying the foundation for UK punk.
- recognized by several Rock Hall inductees as a direct career influence.
- RUMBLE is one of only 50 rock songs in the National Recording Registry, housed in the Library of Congress.
- crossed over to hip-hop when RUMBLE was sampled (and over a million hits on YouTube)
- currently featured in the Sundance award winning RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD


Link’s first recordings were released in 1956, making him eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at their first induction in 1986. Over 30 years later, he’s still waiting. The Rock Hall should engrave his name on the corner stone of that building.


With the film RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD, I’m hopeful that it will finally tip the scales. An absolute top shelf level of notable people all praise the contributions of Link in this film - Martin Scorsese, Iggy Pop, Little Steven, Robbie Robertson, Dan Auerbach, Taj Mahal, the list goes on and on.


C’mon…what else does the Rock Hall NEED, you know? Link Wray was ahead of his time. Maybe next year the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will finally catch up to him.


MusicRealms:
You told me your site has become the central gathering place for the family, friends, and fans of Link Wray, with visits from over 100 countries seeking information, and the chance to connect. Can you elaborate on this?


On tour 1959. I helped rediscover Link’s Danelectro guitar which had been missing since 1962. The full story can be found in Deke Dickerson’s book THE STRAT IN THE ATTIC

Greg Laxton:
I’m humbled that my website LinkWray.com has become the clearinghouse for “all things Link.” I’m continually amazed at the web stats for the site. We’ve had visitors from over 100 countries over the years. Friends, family and band members have eMailed the site over the years. Sometimes they’d remark, “I haven’t seen so-and-so in years.” Many times the person they were looking for had written me in the past, and I would be able to put family, friends and band members together that haven’t connected in years…decades! Before the Internet, this never would have happened.


MusicRealms:
I just saw your cameo appearance in the extraordinary, new and highly acclaimed Indie docu/film “RUMBLE: The Indian’s Who Rocked The World” – a Sundance Film Festival 2017 winner that traces the roots of the previously unknown influence of the Indigenous peoples of America on modern music. It features world acclaimed artists of Native bloodlines who helped shape and define what is called Rock & Roll in all its contemporary forms. From dazzling opener Link Wray, to Charlie Patton (early blues), Jimi Hendrix, Randy Castillo (Ozzy and Motley Crue drummer) and many others, it’s an eye-opening and mind-blowing cinematic journey to truth regarding the earliest roots of rock & roll. You are also in the company of many living music legends: Robbie Robertson (The Band), Iggy Pop, Slash and Matt Sorum (Guns & Roses), Steve Tyler, Stevie Van Zandt, Martin Scorsese, George Clinton, and so on – all paying homage and giving profound props to Link Wray. Can you tell our readers how your involvement in the film came about?


Greg Laxton:
Thanks for the nice words! I’m heading to both screenings next week at the Florida Film Festival and can’t wait!


The film was produced by Rezolution Pictures out of Canada. They contacted me through LinkWray.com roughly four years ago looking for information on Link. This project was the brainchild of Stevie Salas and Tim Johnson and was born as a result of the acclaimed UP WHERE WE BELONG exhibit that was at the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of the American Indian.


I was honored to be able to assist them in lining up a couple stars that were in the film, as well as supplying some historical research and archival material from my collection. I was pleased when they ended up using a previously unreleased picture of Link I unearthed last year, as the main promotional photo of the film.


At the Florida premier for RUMBLE with the film’s Executive Producers, rocker Stevie Salas, and Christina Fon of Rezolution Pictures.

I first met with Stevie and Christina Fon, two Executive Producers of the film, in 2015 when they were traveling through Tampa. I spent a couple hours showing them my collection and “talking Link.” Stevie is an Apache, and has an impressive rock resume, from playing guitar for Rod Stewart to Mick Jagger, recording with George Clinton and molding careers as a Music Director on American Idol. Google him!


After our meet, I boxed up my entire collection and shipped it to Canada where it was scanned and cataloged. I’m still anxious to see what they did with it in the film! In April of last year, I was humbled when they asked me to fly to DC for an on-camera interview. With the stellar line-up of stars in this film, I couldn’t figure out why they wanted to interview me - I figured they needed cutting room floor footage! I was quite surprised when they told me I made the cut!


I spent the day with the Rezolution folks and was impressed at how much they knew about Link, his contribution to rock and roll, and how dedicated they were to the project. I’m grateful to them for taking me along for the ride. It’s been one of my top life experiences.


Although this is not an “all Link” film, I have no doubt that this film will do more for Link’s legacy than Link himself. I think RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD will be used as reference material for college music classes, and seen as a historical music documentary for generations to come.


The film will be released nationally in the Summer of 2017. I encourage everyone to see it.


MusicRealms:
What do you possibly foresee moving forward regarding your website? And is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers before we end this dynamite interview?


Greg Laxton:
As for me…I’m on a quest to find and recognize those musicians, like Link, who cut the path for everyone else to follow. Those unsung heroes of American and rock music... I’ve recently found another lost treasure of American Music - 91 year old Billy “The Kid” Emerson. Billy got his start at Sun Records, the birthplace of rock and roll. No other African American released more sides at Sun than Billy. Please take a moment to read more about him at BillyEmerson.com. My other obsessions can be found at GregLaxton.com and my other current research projects can be found at OldLineMusic.com.


As for Link… He passed a dozen years ago, but the interest in his legacy continues to grow. Newly discovered photos, music, memorabilia, surface all the time. As with many geniuses, it seems he is finally getting the recognition in death that cheated him in life.


This coming year is shaping up to be a banner year for his legacy. 2017 started off with the release of the RUMBLE film to rave reviews. It won an award at Sundance, and is currently on a festival tour around the world and has been sold out. It will be in wide release this summer, and the trailer on the Playlist.net website has had over half a million hits.


Three Link LPs that have been out of print for decades will be released this Summer, and there is talk of several more discs of Link material coming out as well. In the fall, Link will get the full-blown biography treatment, and 2018 marks the 60th year of Rumble.


The icing on the cake would be an induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But you know, Link’s legacy doesn’t need official recognition in a house in Cleveland.


Link Wray is recognized in every house, every time a young guitar slinger cranks up their amp in the garage, blasts a power chord, and their parents yell TURN IT DOWN. That’s Link’s true Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Thank you for this opportunity. It’s been fun!.


For a complete biographical history of Link Wray, and everything to do with his life and career, please visit Greg’s information-laden and excellent website at: www.linkwray.com


MusicRealms takes great pleasure in having worked with Greg Laxton on this extraordinary and historical interview.


Writer Denise Mercedes:
Artist Endorsed by Hagstrom Guitars of Sweden Founder/guitarist of classic early NY punk band The Stimulators. Tribute work: Lead guitarist of Girls Girls Girls (2006-2016) and Bible Black NYC *An original project in the works.


Jeannie Pawlowski:
Staff writer of Musicrealms has also been published in New York Natives. Her early photos of the Bad Brains were on exhibition in Subliminal Projects Gallery’s “Banned in Babylon” The Art and Culture of the Bad Brains, Los Angeles, CA., July 23-August 20, 2016


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