Danny Frost, "Grouch Rumble"
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS, July 10, 1993, p. 17
Joyous news, lovers of fantastic anecdotal thought tangents! We've teamed up grand old man of rock, Link Wray the 64-year old Shawnee Indian who single-handedly invented punk rock, heavy metal and a sonic nastiness that has influenced every axe-hero EVER, with fanatical upstart Mark E Smith for a bit of a chat. Just listen to the ensuing rockabilly babble.
AAAAAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHA HUHUH!" Link Wray and Mark E Smith are laughing in maniacal stereo. It's already clear that rock's grand old man is in vivid, sparkling form...
And Link Wray isn't doing so bad either, which for someone who lost a lung in the Korean War is remarkable in itself. He grasps The Smith in an affectionate headlock and grins: "I love this guy!"
Gathered around a table in a buzzing hotel bar, we're seeing another side of Mark Smith. Almost pubescently delighted to be meeting a lifelong hero and touchingly keen to protect the garrulous, guileless Wray from the evil stitch-up artist from the NME, he's all deference and humility. Which is as it should be, because Link Wray is not your average leather-clad, 64-year-old, Shawnee Indian fresh in from the wilds of Denmark. He's the man who invented punk rock, heavy metal and every other form of sonic nastiness we currently hold dear. And he invented them in 1958.
Link Wray's 'Rumble' was a revolution on wax -- a slashing, raw-nerved rockabilly assault, an instrumental tornado that reverberated across the Atlantic and hypnotised the first generation of British guitar heroes. And it still sounds great, as any one of a number of existing compilations will prove. Deprived of the technology and volume today's bands take for granted, Wray punched holes in his speaker cones and turned his cheap-shit mail-order axe into the slavering hellhound that ate Elvis.
Marc Bolan admitted he nicked all his moves and Townshend called him "The King". Since then, a legion of born-again primitives -- The Stingrays, Milkshakes, The Cramps, even The Gun Club -- have ridden shotgun with the spirit of the Shawnee riffster.
And then there's The Fall, on top of everything else the most important rockabilly combo on the planet. Listen to 'Totally Wired', 'Rowche Rumble', 'Cruiser's Creek', 'Couldn't Get Ahead' and there's the distant echo of Jerry Lee, Gene Vincent and, yup, Link Wray. Mark's a fan, alright, and though he's yet to be introduced to the wide-open spaces of Link's new 'Indian Child' LP (the result of a bizarre link-up with Creation), he's better equipped to interview the man than anyone else we could think of...
MES: "YOU kept my head together for fuckin' years, Link, when I was a teenager and in my 20s. You know, I like Elvis, I like Gene Vincent, but you were the one that kept me together. It is spiritual, it's that Indian thing: DAANNNG! DA-NA-NAANNGG! If ever I thought about packing the business in, I'd put on 'Rumble', full fuckin' blast."
LW: "Aaaaaalright, Mark! That's fantastic!"
MES: "You wouldn't believe it, Link, in Manchester you're a total working class hero. I've got three sisters, they're bikers and they're all younger than me. They don't like anything else, but the one thing that the entire family agree on is Link Wray!"
One thing that Mark and Link agree upon, and mark it well, Ye Who Never Loved Elvis, is the primal greatness of The Pelvic One...
"Elvis was Sid Vicious, man!" yells Link. "Elvis was, um, Mark! Elvis was rock'n'roll. He came from the poverty and the pain. He was playing on the Louisiana Hayride for nothing. Then Tom Parker saw this million dollar thing because the chicks were coming in their pants. God zapped something on him that the rest of the country musicians didn't have...
MES: "But he was like you, in a way, Link, because he was on his own. There was no-one else around. There wasn't even anyone you could say was shit. But it's still a good place to be. You've got no contemporaries. I mean, my group still hasn't got any contemporaries. People might try and imitate us, or you, and it's just not the same. That's why people like you continue. That's why I'd still go to see you. I wouldn't go and see Conway Twitty...
LW: "But let's be honest. If you went to see me today, you might not like my music. Because I'm not the same today as I was in '58, or '59 or even '71. I turn off a lot of my old fans. You know, I was in Berlin, I played 'Rumble' and this guy came up and almost spit on me.
MES: "People always expect you to do the song the same way, don't they! If you wanna hear the record then go home and play it, that's what I say. You should never stop and take notice, Link. I have sacked musicians in my group because they've wanted to do all the old hits in the same way, over and over again. It's very stale and it's very boring. That's not entertainment...
MARK TAKES another pull at his pint. This is proving hard work. What he doesn't know is that he's bellowing straight into Link's deaf right ear. Adding to the hectic ambience are Link's hyperactive gaggle of Danish associates, brandishing a handicam and filming anything that dare even twitch. Smith flashes an evil smirk and leans forward conspiratorially: "Denmark always freaks me out. You know why! It's because when I go to Denmark, I see these people and they all look exactly the same. They're like doppelgangers! I've only been once and I won't go again. 'Cos I went into this bar and I looked round.., and everybody looked like me! That's the God's honest truth.., and, you know, I've never met anyone else who looks like me...
"I look like you, Mark," fibs Link, badly. "Heck, man, we could be twins! We're fuckin' soul brothers, kindred spirits. Am I right or am I wrong!"
And maybe that's not as mad as it seems. Two peas in a pod they aren't, but neither could spare diddly for the hardcore shit acts that populate the record bit. Face it, they are punk rock. 'Rumble' scared the stiff-shirts so much it was banned, for Christ's sake.
"It was banned because of the teenage gang fights in NYC," chuckles Link. "You had the Dukes and the Sharks, these big fights, and the newspapers were yelling RUMBLE! Heh, heh. The music business has come a long way, Mark."
MES: "No it hasn't, ha ha, it's gone backwards. The trouble with the rock business is that it's too easy to make music. That's why they use the machines. If you want to hear something that's perfect you should go away and listen to classical music, but that's not what rock'n'roll's about, is it!"
LW: "No it ain't. It's about feeling and hurting and pain. That is rock'n'roll, and that's soul music. Soul music is pain - you can hear the slaves, the beatin' and the hurtin'. Who cares if we're playing the right notes or not! Who gives a shit if it's in tune!"
MES: "I remember one time we were playing San Francisco and there was this massive big Indian guy and his wife stood at the back of the hall humming in tones along to 'The North Will Rise Again', and it was unbelievable. I've actually got a tape of the gig, and you can hear it, and yet you can't hear it... You see, we're both primitives.
Long dormant, the Mark Smith rantometer trips into sudden overload. "Mind you, I'm from an English army family. And the Indians were always our allies against the Yanks during the American wars. They knew land-grabbers when they saw them. Of course, you don't get that in the American films. You get how the Americans and the Indians fought together against the horrible British swine. You know, I'm a scholar of history, and I don't like the way people keep re-writing it...
"No, he's right," nods Link, "and I'm sure that Jesus said 'muthafucker', but you won't find that in The Bible. 'You muthafuckers, you're fuckin' up!' I'm sure they cleaned The Bible up. On the original Dead Sea Scrolls I bet it says, 'You assholes! Get the fuck' out of here!"'
MES: "For sure, if he'd have known about the way they burnt witches and that, Jesus would have been mad. But if Jesus had seen U2 he'd have been very mad indeed, Jesus would throw bottles at U2. We supported U2 once, at Elland Road, and people were going 'Satanists! Satanists!' and throwing Bibles and crosses at us.
While we're vaguely on the subject of global politics, how did Link vote in Denmark's Maastricht referendum! "My wife, she voted no, but I voted yes. I thought it'd be good for the music. Shit, why not throw it all in the pot and see what happens! But I don't believe in organised politics, organised religion, organised music, organised anything. I just believe in my Indian, spiritual god and my music. That's sustained me for 64 fuckin' years. You know, I'm an eagle, flying around in the mountains. Money don't rule me, record companies don't rule me. Nothing rules me but my god and my music... and my wife, heh, heh. She rules me.
MES: "You're alright, Link, man.