Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Link Wray's "Rumble"

A few months ago I caught two sets of Jinx Jones. I was kind of surprised I hadn't heard of Jones before that night; he is an incredibly talented guitarist who channeled rockabilly, jazz, swing, surf instrumentals, and country over the course of the evening, through a clean Telecaster sound. 

Rockabilly was what stuck with me, as Jones had black clothes, a ducktail, and a stand-up bassist who backed his peregrinations. Jones's aesthetic made me think of Link Wray, so when I got home that night, I looked Link Wray up on YouTube.

I lucked out and found exactly what I was looking for (though I had never seen this video before I logged on) with minimal searching:   

The resolution is poor, but within seconds - cued in by the sunglasses, 
leather jacket, slicked back hair, prominent lambchops, and whammy-barred feedback - I knew this was the one. 

"Rumble" is Link Wray's biggest song, and a great example of less being more, as one would expect of a spontaneous composition. It's basically a major-chord blues progression spruced up by tasty dynamics:  crushing volume that leaks feedback in on an as-needed basis, an ominous bass line, a little blues lick (at :56) to glue the first two verses together, and a chordal goosing at 1:48 to take things up a notch before Link drops back into the thunderous main riff. 

In its original incarnation the song moved along relatively briskly. But by the time the above video was made, twenty years later, "Rumble" had become a major anthem adorned with extra touches. In this version, Link Wray gave "Rumble" a walk-don't-run treatment - dragging out the the first crashing D-D-E chords - and a grand flourish at the end that wasn't in the original.

"Rumble" has appeared in at least three movies (that I'm aware of). Ry Cooder's interpretation served as the backdrop for a big motorcycle gang battle in "Streets of Fire." The song plays on the jukebox in "Pulp Fiction" as Uma Thurman and John Travolta sip milkshakes. Jimmy Page listens to a 45 of the original pressing in "It Might Get Loud."

And "Rumble" is an appropriate theme song today, Tuesday, November 6, as voting Americans choose their president.

May the best man win.


  1. Thanks for the tip, Dan--I enjoyed this a lot. Your description of the "major chord blues progression" is exactly accurate, and all the tasty bits made it a rich experience. To these I'd add Wray's moves, and the fact that what the listener naively assumes is the end goes on for almost a full minute! Gotta love it, and I do.

  2. Link Wray's moves remind me of Mick Jagger in slow mo.

  3. Love that ride cymbal at crash symbol height. A late 70's thing for a short time until drummers realized getting shoulder cramps is not so fun :) From your favorite drummer!