Link Wray – Jack The Ripper

Link Wray And His Ray Men Jack The Ripper (7" Single)

Swan 1963

Mode still tremolo, cruising up the 67 with the radio turned to a respectable volume, car shaking at the vibrations and the sun-scorched wind rushing by so fast you lose track of things like distance and time. We’d started out in an open cantina nestled just at the outskirts of town, throwing back some steel traps to wash down the rice and beans with ropa vieja, poised at that junction where the desert meets those last few scattered adobe buildings and the twilight gasp of civilization.

Blue Öyster Cult Tyranny And Mutation Columbia

But we were long past all that — this was red and black country now — piercing the dusted gold sea painted in shadows of naught more than rocks, palms and yucca, and onward into the mountains and blanched sky beyond. The sounds write themselves into the landscape at this point — Blue Öyster Cult, Motörhead, ZZ Top, 13th Floor Elevators, Four Sail, Queens Of The Stone Age, Dirk Wears White Sox, and of course the late great Link Wray — choice doesn’t even come into it.

Link Wray shreds his guitar to abstraction
Link Wray

Of course, Link Wray is the godfather of this entire trip, the whole Vanishing Point flameout into the horizon like some fiery blue angel in sync to the sound of feedback and the ultimate speed rush of the pounding caveman rhythm. Whether you’re talking about the early years, when he split the difference between rockabilly and surf rock to wind up as the godfather of garage punk and biker rock both, or the late-period slabs of whiskey-soaked roots rock (where country music enters the equation) that have yet to be fully appreciated, his reverberations live on in this lost wild horizon, as sure as the sand, sediment and stone. It’s in there... you can bet on it.

Link Wray And His Ray Men Jack The Ripper Swan

Then there's the stuff released in between those twin poles, the music centering around the Jack The Ripper LP. Where else would you find something like the death drive organ pulse of Cross Ties — low slung, sun-smeared guitar twang haunting as ever — or the descending staircase of Steel Trap's outland take on burning blue fifties swingland jive? Something like the wild-eyed sonic assault of Hidden Charms — a non-album single from a couple years later — out-nasties garage punk to such a degree that it’s hard to imagine what people would have made of it in 1965 upon wider release.

Link Wray And His Ray Men Jack The Ripper (7" Single) Swan

If there’s one record that distills all of this down to its essence, it’s undoubtedly the Jack The Ripper (7" Single). The a-side — lifted from the aforementioned album of the same name — is the quintessential Link Wray burn-the-house-down rocker, rolling in on a primal surf beat and pulsing two-note bassline (sounding like something off The English Beat's I Just Can't Stop It) while Link drags his guitar across the whole thing like a souped-up gila monster swerving sight unseen into the passing lane, all rusty Los Rancheros Morricone downbeat twang, before he kicks it into high gear with a great arcing riptide attack like gears grinding against the asphalt as it tears down the highway.

Link Wray Early Recordings Chiswick

The Black Widow lays in waiting on the flip. A non-album track, and could only be found on this 7” until the release of the indispensible Early Recordings compilation some fifteen years later. Rivalling it’s a-side counterpart, this thing cold launches on a machine-piston rhythm right out the gate, Link's guitar muscling its way into the fray to drive the whole thing on a razor wire before the crashing garage beat kicks into gear and the tune hits overdrive. He literally shreds his guitar across the length of the track, stretching time in dirty streaks of noise that cascade into a great surf squall cresting against the rhythm’s shoreline. It's a perfect mirror image of Jack The Ripper's great arcs of feedback flaming out into the shoulder of the highway.

Taken together, both sides of the record add up to a crucial slab of high desert rock ‘n roll magic, where the whole tangled trip comes into being. It still stands one of the greatest singles ever committed to wax (right up there with Back From The Dead, River and Remember (Walking In The Sand)). This record IS the desert sprawl, the purple haze rushing by at 80 miles per hour in the blazing hot sun, the roar of the engine, and the last lingering echo of civilization somewhere off in the distance, a single vanishing point on the horizon framed in the rear view mirror.

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