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Link Wray: Walkin’ With Link (Epic/Legacy EK 47904)

Once Link had revolutionized rock’n’roll w/the astounding “Rumble”...scoring a huge hit, by the way, he was - of course - dropped by his label, w/not even an album to show for his trouble. Cadence boss, Archie Bleyer - by all accounts - simply couldn’t stomach any more of that “juvenile delinquent” matter how well it sold. Consequently, Link ended up on Epic...with whom he also had similar troubles, albeit they did issue his stuff. But not, amazingly enough, much of the best...which had to wait til Billy Miller & co took a trawl through the vaults, and pulled together this crackling set.

Just have a listen to the two takes of “Commanche”, for starters...and marvel at just how lean & goddamn MEAN they could get in the 50s...especially after the idiot producer tells them to get “savage” - prompting derisive laughter from the musicians, most of whom were part-Native American. And, of course, whilst the issued take is truly great, it’s only to be expected that Link’s most reckless playing - careening around a set of slashing rhythm/lead chords - is to be found on the unissued cut... One of the very finest things here, in fact, never made it onto the album at all: his stunningly swaggering take on Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” of Link’s all-too-rare vocal excursions, in which he convincingly portrays a greaser overcome w/a lust that knows no equal. Not only that, but we also get an even greasier/slower alt. take, to boot...

Other unmistakably great cuts include “Right Turn” - along w/”Commanche” - the first strong sign of slippery interwoven rhythm/lead which would become much more prominent (and even more adventurous/atonal) over the next few years...not to mention “Lillian”, Link’s lyrical tribute to his mother, and the near-chaotically pounding “Mary Ann”, which served as the flipside to “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”...surely the finest single pairing in his history...

Now, whilst this material is, arguably, not quite up to the very best of the few years later - when Link & co. basically gave up on labels/studios, did all of their own recording, and licensed it out - it is an essential part of the Link Wray story...and - still - the best material here truly betters all but the very best of those later milestones, whilst being (now) much less well-known.

And here - and ONLY here - can we hear the style in it’s early maturity, flush w/commercial success...and, already, pushing the next set of boundaries in a way which would soon condemn him to the commercial margins, whilst ensuring artistic immortality. As the man says:

“Make sure the guitar’s prominent!”

John Henry Calvinist