The Legend - Link Wray - Part 5

    Here at Eastwood, we have always been big fans of the late Link Wray. Wray invented the power chord, the basis of most modern rock guitar playing, from rockabilly to punk to thrash and heavy metal. Most consider him to be missing link in the history of rock guitar and never really received the credit he was due.

    We have some really exciting news coming between now and Christmas. Can't tell you much at the moment, but as we lead up to it, we are going to reprint (courtesy this fabulous and detailed six parts series for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!


    Link in 1977 with pal Widmarc Clark. "I was having palpitations," said drummer Richard X. Heyman. "I couldn't keep up."
    (photo courtesy Clark)

    A tribute by Jimmy McDonough © 2006
    (Part 5 of 6)


    Back in Arizona, Ray Vernon had gotten a little funkier himself. He'd lost the suit and tie, let his hair grow, started hanging out with Kris Kristofferson, and began a bit of an acting career: he can be seen briefly in Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Link produced an interesting solo album on Ray, Wasted, but the brothers were drifting apart. Ray's daughter blames the falling out on the meddling of producer Steve Verroca, but others close to Link say it had been a long time coming.

    "One thing I recall vividly is the day Ray and Link left for Arizona," said Ed Cynar. "We were all standing in the driveway of Ray's house in Accokeek, and Doug asked Ray about his share of all the money they had made over the years. Ray's response was that there was none, and that whatever they had earned was put back into the studio, equipment, etc. Doug didn't say anything, but both he and Link had a funny look on their faces." (It should be noted that to my knowledge neither Ray nor Doug ever gave an interview in their lifetimes, let alone an in-depth one concerning the matters discussed here.)

    Other bandmates were quick to note how disconnected Wray was from his finances. "Link didn't get a salary--if Link needed money for coffee or donuts, maybe he'd get it from Ray, maybe he wouldn't," said Ellwood Brown. "Link made no money of his own. He didn't see a payday or a bonus."

    Ed Cynar had similar concerns about the financial arrangements. "It is interesting to note that during the best times in the early sixties, Link and Doug were only paid about $100 per week by Ray... I got $65. That was despite the fact that we were earning about $1,500 a week. Link never had any money to speak of, and neither did Doug. This, of course, caused them a lot of problems in their marital situations." As Sharon Wray explains, "Link was basically the musician. He trusted his brother--Ray had the publishing company, Ray handled the business end. And Ray just set out the money to Link and Doug. Ray had the new house, Ray had the new car. Link and Doug? A little bit here and a little bit there. I think as time went by Link realized something wasn't right. Financially he had no control over anything.

    "It was something I could never understand. And when we all lived in Arizona, I approached Ray about it. I said, ‘I don't understand--Link should have what you have, half the publishing. He never saw it, never, ever saw it.' So Ray said, ‘Oh, he'll see it in time. He doesn't need it now, he'll see it in time.'" Link, notes Sharon, "never did." Ed Cynar maintains that Wray "never got over" the "feeling of betrayal over the loss of royalties for his early work. Without him, there would be no royalties. He was not treated well."

    More than once, Link related to me a conversation he'd had with Ray over his finances shortly before his brother's death, and it was a stunner. "He said, ‘Link, the only reason I took it away from ya was you took the glory, I just thought I might as well take the money.' Right out of his own mouth, Jimmy. It floored me, man. I said, ‘I thought it was me, you and Doug all the way. I never looked at it any other way.' He said, ‘Well, you took the glory, I took the money.' It really shocked me."

    Ray had problems of his own. He was said to be despondent over a failed relationship, career woes, and alcohol. His daughter Sherry maintains that the truth of the matter was that Ray had been suffering with cancer and that the prognosis was not good. "He knew he was dying, and because of my grandmother having been a cripple all of her life, he used to say to me, ‘I'm never gonna be around for somebody to take care of.'"

    On March 25, 1979, Ray took his life. Sherry corrected rumors that her father died in a van full of empty beer bottles and drug paraphernalia. "He had killed himself in the grass," she said softly. "He owned a lot out on the west side of town... left his glasses in the Bible where he'd been reading, and went outside and shot himself." Just a few weeks before, Ray had been staying with Link, who'd relocated back east. According to Sharon, Ray's death haunted his brother. "Link thought, ‘I should've never let him go, I should've never let him go.' Link felt guilty for a long time."

    Grief mixed with animosity when Link that learned Ray had willed the publishing company to his daughter. "There was immediately some anger on his part," said Sherry. "He called me and said, ‘We're going to sell the company, we've been offered six thousand dollars.' And I said, ‘I'm very sorry, but we're not. I have the will, I've gone to probate, I do not have any intention to sell the company for any price.'" Sherry explained that it was her father's deathbed wish that the publishing stay in the family--and in her hands. To put it mildly, Uncle Link was not happy to hear this news. "I never really had a conversation with him again," said Sherry. Link remained furious the rest of his life, and what he had to say about his niece is virtually unprintable. The matter has divided the Wray family, and there have been whispers of lawsuits, forgeries and all sorts of skullduggery. Link's death has naturally intensified the situation. "I think my dad's music and possessions belong to all his children, not just one," said his son Fred Lincoln Wray III.

    Sherry tried to contact Link over the years to bury the hatchet, but he never responded. When she showed up at a 1997 gig in San Diego, an absolutely livid Link had her tossed out of the club. Wray also froze out friends who dared speak to her, accusing them of "consorting with the devil." As Ed Cynar sees it, "Sherry has borne the brunt of Link's disillusionment with Ray's management practices." An unfortunate situation all around.

    Understandably, Sherry will hear no criticism of her father--"My Dad gave his life to Link Wray"--and much to her credit, refuses to put down her uncle despite the constant trashing she's received from him. She seemed pained discussing the situation at all and would rather concentrate on the positive. "I've tried to protect the music, I've tried to protect the rights, I've tried to keep things so the music will always be appreciated--and I believe I've done a good job with that." She rightly points out that if Link had had his way back in 1979, the company would've been sold "for a paltry six thousand dollars."

    Since the seventies, Link's music has been used increasingly in major motion pictures, with Wray stated time and again in interviews that he'd gotten zilch from such deals. Not so, says Sherry. "We made an agreement that he would get his money direct--and that document was signed in 1985--so I don't have anything that belongs to him. We did not want anything that belongs to him, because I knew this day would eventually come, and I didn't want to deal with that. And I get checks that show the split to prove it. I've spent thousands of dollars straightening things out and making sure that Doug's estate got his part, Link got his part, I got my Dad's part... I don't know what I can say to anybody other than that."

    But like so many things Link, there remain more questions than answers. "I don't know who's getting the ‘Rumble' performance money--that must come to a sizable amount, the mechanicals... it's licensed on loads and loads of compilations," said Ted Carroll of England's Ace Records, Wray's main label the last two decades of his career. "I don't know where all that money goes." Carroll attempted to help Link get to the bottom of it all, but didn't get very far. "I did try and offer to sort things out, but then Link would get worried you were trying to cut yourself in for a bit of the action. I just wanted to help him, because if he had some income from that, it would get him off my back!"

    Unfortunately, one of the roadblocks to helping Link was Wray himself. "Link was a bit of a bullshitter, so you could never separate reality from what he had to say, y'know?" said Carroll. "One minute he'd be saying somebody ripped him off and the next thing he'd be saying nice things about them."

    After meeting Link in 1997, I tried to help him too. My superlawyer buddy George ‘The Johnson' Hedges--the singular force who saved my book Shakey from lawsuit oblivion--agreed to help and met with Link in Los Angeles. But when I heard that Hedges had mentioned in passing he'd met Link's old nemesis Milt Grant, I knew nothing would come of it. Indeed, paranoia creeped in. Although Link promised to send all his legal documents for inspection, Hedges never heard from him again.

    It became apparent that Link just didn't want help, nor did he have any desire to investigate his own past too closely. As Ted Carroll saw it, "God knows what a tangled web of deceit he left behind him--which is one of the reasons he had difficulty dealing with it, y'know? On stage, he was Link Wray, he'd go out there and give it all. On a personal level, he was just incapable of dealing with stuff. Link was the sort of guy who would run away from trouble rather than face it."


    In 1979, out on the road with Robert Gordon, Link met Olive Julie Pavlsen, a Danish student of Native American culture twenty five years his junior. "I don't think she was a fan of mine," laughed Link. "She liked jazz. When I met her she didn't even like Elvis! She liked me cause I was an Indian." Link was smitten. "Very first moment I fell deeply in love with her. First moment I looked in her eyes, man. I guess God meant it to be that way.

    "What was different about her? She's not out fuckin' the whole world, y'know? She's got a big mouth sometimes. Olive's too jealous. Even though she gets jealous of all these little groupies, there's nobody else ever that could even tie her shoelaces. She's mine, y'know? She's my one and only. She doesn't let anybody piss on me, Jim. Because I'm not educated--she can catch things when I can't. I know she's totally for me."

    Unfortunately Link was still married at the time. "I'd seen a couple of pictures that had been taken of him and Robert, and there was a woman onstage an' she was kissin' Link. It was in Europe. I confronted him. He said, ‘That was the groupie I was tellin' you about.'" I said, ‘I can't do this anymore, Link. We're done.'

    Sharon had stuck by Link through some very hard times. "He was just struggling all the time. He said, ‘Someday I'll find a way to get what's coming to me and you won't have to work. We'll never want for nothing.' I really believed in him. When he used to sit and write music, I thought, ‘This man is looking for something, reaching for something, and I hope someday I'll be there.'"

    But with the arrival of Olive, it was sayonara to marriage number three. "He just wanted the next one that was young," said Sharon. "I went to the airport with him and he turned to me and said, ‘If you tell me not to go, I'll stay. But if I go, I'll never come back.' I said, ‘Oh, Link, you say that all the time.' He said, ‘I'm tellin' you--tell me to stay and I won't go.' I said, ‘I can't tell you, I don't know how I feel any more.' And that was it. I read in the newspaper that I was divorced." Link married Olive three days later, on January 12, 1980 (the 12th had been his mother's birthday; he'd married Sharon the same day four years earlier). In 1983, a son, Christian Oliver Wray, was born, and Link began calling Denmark home.

    In 1984, Doug Wray died unexpectedly of a heart attack. "Doug played a big role in Link's life," said Sharon. "Whatever Doug said he would do. If he'd told him to go jump off a bridge, I think he would've." Friends and loved ones all agree: with the death of Doug, something in his brother snapped. "When Doug died, Link was devastated," said Ed Cynar. "He felt he had no one in the family he could fully trust." Link's summed up his despair in a postcard he sent out of the blue to his friend Bruce Steinberg. Scrawled on the back was, "Bruce, I am lost"--the word ‘lost' underlined five times--"Doug is GONE. What am I gonna do?"

    What Link did was leave the United States for good. In 1985, he played his last American show, not to return for another twelve years. "He seemed to be not knowing if he wanted to be here or overseas, he was torn," said his daughter Rhonda. "He went and stayed with each of us and saw that we were okay with our mothers. That was my impression. I think he came over to see we were all gonna be okay. And then he went to stay with Olive." In the process, Link Wray severed all ties with his past.

    "It was easy to leave America," said Link. "I was a very unhappy guy. If I hadn't met Olive when I lost everything, I guess I could've ended up in jail. The wrong person could've came up to me and I could've gone over the edge. Then when I met Olive, she buried the pain. Without her I don't know if I coulda made it or not." He credited the move with calming many an inner demon. "Since I moved to Denmark, I've thrown all my knives away. Olive's mother Greta, she said, ‘You don't do things like that. Not in Denmark. You get rid of that. We're good people.'"

    The Link/Olive relationship was fraught with jealousy from both ends. "Link would get very jealous if other guys were lookin' at her," said Carroll. "It was all imagined he'd think some guy was looking at her, she was looking at some guy. Link jealously guarded her." If a musician invited a girlfriend to the studio, Olive would find some way to get rid of her. On one occasion, Link recorded tracks with a female background singer. Olive made sure they were removed.

    At least one musician who shall remain anonymous tried to warn Wray about getting involved with Olive--her overbearing personality was capable of "clearing a room in a second." Bruce Steinberg met her briefly on a visit to California. "My first vibe of Olive was, ‘Man, she is really really suspicious. This may be good for Link--he needs a bulldog.'" In 1981, Link made her his manager, where she excelled at playing bad cop to Link's good. "That's a manager's role," said Ted Carroll, who had many frustrating dealings with the pair. "The bulk of the decisions were Link's and Olive was just the bad guy out there giving the bad news. I'm sure she pushed him and talked him into various things, but Link was one of those guys who hated to be unpopular so he hated to have any negative kind of stuff with people." And so Olive became the gatekeeper to all things Link. The weirdest period of a very weird life had now begun.


    England's Ace Records began releasing vintage Swan-era Link in 1978, and put out some extremely lo-fi live recordings of Link's 1985 American tour. Then, in 1989, came the first new music from Link in a decade, but it came at a price, or maybe a lack of one. "He needed to extract as much money from the sessions as possible, so you'd be trying to do it cheaply, so you could give the bulk of the money to Link," said Ted Carroll. Wray produced himself, and all new material would now be credited to Link and Olive Julie Wray (which would render Link's wretched 1993 import-only workout-rock album Indian Child rather comical, as four of the songs mention Olive by name).

    The first of the these records, 1989's The Rumble Man, is just Link and a drum machine recorded in a rehearsal hall, reviled by many a Link fan as well as Wray himself on occasion. But make no mistake, the quirkier side of Link was back, maybe a little older and lazier. Like much that followed in the next decade and a half, the songs were either made up on the spot or renamed retreads of past classics, but Wray's oddball originality was in full-force. Did Link know how to work a drum machine? More importantly, did he care? Largely instrumental, the album is wall-to-wall guitar, featuring one of Wray's most searing numbers, the monstrous "Street Beat." Said Link, "Y'know what I was thinkin' about when I did that? Once Upon a Time in the West. I never get tired of seein' that movie and the music in that movie, man, it just gets me." And the chromatic guitar sound was directly inspired by Charles Bronson's harp solos in the movie. "I was tryin' to copy the fuckin' harmonica. I love Charles Bronson. A fantastic actor."

    That same year, Ace put out two more instrumental-heavy albums, Apache and Wild Side of the City Lights. Recorded in England's tiny Pathway Studios with Bruce Brand of Thee Headcoats/Milkshakes fame manning most of the other instruments, both LP's feature frenzied guitar playing from Link on such cuts as "The Wild One," "Dallas Blues," "The Joker" ("It's ‘Batman,' but backwards," Wray instructed Brand), and "Shawnee" (Brand's idea--"Comanche" backwards).

    Link stopped Brand dead in his tracks with one idea. "He said, ‘I want to do a disco number for the kids. The kids'll identify with it.'" Brand tried valiantly to talk him out of this very bad notion, but Link prevailed, although the resulting "Dick Tracy" is no threat to Donna Summer. Funniest of all is the arcane rap Link does throughout the track, mumbling phrases like "John the Revelator," "Young Blood," "I'm the Doctor" over and over. Turns out Brand had brought Link a copy of Thee Headcoats first LP, Headcoats Down! "He picked it up and started reading the track listing. That became the rap. If you locate a copy you can sing along."

    Ted Carroll never quite knew what to expect when Wray stepped off a plane. "There's always lots of drama when Link comes in for things," he said, noting that Wray was the one rocker who wigged out at his band when they got busted. "Somebody had a smoke on them. Link thought it might reflect on him. He was highly freaked." Carroll found Link easy to deal with--up to a point. "The only negative thing in his life was stress generated by Olive--he seemed to thrive on that to a certain extent. He was always a bit paranoid, and it was helped by Olive, who was twice as paranoid as he was. She'd fan the flames."

    Carroll had to deal with constant phone calls requesting money. "You're falling over backwards trying to do these people favors and be nice and treat them right--they'd ring up a reverse charges call from Copenhagen... I mean, the number of times I sent money Western Union just to kind of bail them out I lost count of. Even at this moment in time there's still a debit balance on the books."

    Wray now claimed that he and Olive and Oliver lived in a remote castle once owned by Hans Christian Andersen. He had no car, no phone and and admitted to at least one person that he didn't speak a word of Danish. For the most part, Link stayed in his room and watched old westerns when not playing the role of family man. "I'm this guy who's married to Olive when I'm home. I'm not Link Wray. I'm just a daddy to my son. He's a beautiful kid. I believe he's a brilliant guy. I'm so proud of him. I really am."

    Perhaps Link was making his own brand of peace with the past by committing himself to this new family. "Link once told me he wanted this marriage with Olive to work," said his European bass player Eric Geevers. "Marriage hadn't worked before, he blamed himself and he wanted to do things right this time. Link loved her--in a complicated way we'll never understand."

    That's for sure. Olive would prove to be one of the more colorful and controversial figures in Link's life when he eventually returned to the States in the nineties. As she told me, "I love him most when in the middle of making love he says, ‘You remind me of my mother,' and I ought to laugh, heeheehee--but you know what? I'm so honored. Because I think that's the best thing a guy can say--that you're both his lover but you're also his mummy. Me and Link and Oliver, we're so close, we're like one little commune."