From the moment I found out that legendary guitarist Link Wray would be performing at Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa, Florida, my calendar was marked and my musical interests piqued. Although I was familiar with Wray, the man credited for the use of intentional distortion (by poking holes in his speakers) and as the originator of the power chord, I never had the good fortune to see him perform live. Along with songs including "Rumble", "Batman", "Comanche" and "Barbed Wire", Wray is also noted for his recording work with another music legend, Robert Gordon and the fact that he has influenced a generation of guitarists, particularly the British guitar gods who took first generation blues music and turned it into the popular power-based blues rock of the 1960's and 70's. Never turning down the opportunity to see a performing musical icon, I pulled into the parking space at Skipper's anticipating a power-filled show from the North Carolinian who now resides in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The show at Skipper's started around 8:00 p.m. with an opening set by the Orlando-based rock-a-billy/blues combo, Midnight Ramblers. The Ramblers performed an excellent 90 minute set including some very fine guitar work that featured songs from the band's two recordings and included a nice mix of covers and original material by the band. After a two song encore by Midnight Ramblers, the packed outdoor venue waited in collective anticipation for the legendary Wray.
Everyone waiting for the show to begin became a bit nervous when it was announced shortly before 10:00 p.m. (the usual start time for headliners) that Link Wray has not yet arrived at Skipper's. Apparently, Wray had cancelled an earlier Tampa appearance at the Tropical Heatwave and this seemed to generate some fear the lightning was about to strike twice. Fortunately, at 10:30 p.m., the 72 year old, yet ageless, Wray took the stage, strapped on his guitar and blasted into is opening song, "Rumble". Several times during the first song, Wray implored the sound man to "Turn up the guitar!", wanting to make good on the pre-performance suggestion that this might be the loudest show ever held at Skipper's Smokehouse. The vocal crowd was clearly unfazed by the warning as they pressed the stage and willingly faced into the music.
As I expected, except for a few occasional comments by Wray, the show was all instrumental. Wray's bassist, Atom Ellis (who Link refers to as his "adopted"son) and drummer (referred to as Mr. Spock), helped to keep the eccentric guitarist's sound together. Several times during the show, Wray beckoned Ellis to the front of the stage to work in unison on songs where that likelihood seemed almost impossible. In an unexpected move, several members of the audience became active participants in the show during "Batman" (Yes, the theme song from the TV show!), pulling the microphone from the stage and providing the theme song "vocals" as they cried, "Batman, Batman, Batman...." at the appropriate moments.
Although I cannot honestly say that I recognized every song performed by Link during the 90 minute set, several of the songs including "Rumble" (three different times),"Spiderman," "Barbed Wire,""Run, Chicken, Run" and the aforementioned "Batman" were immediately recognizable to me and many others in the audience.
When the show ended around Midnight, Link quickly left the stage and was whisked away as one of the stage crew sadly reported that, "Link Wray has left the building,"
essentially killing the possibility of an encore, an autograph or a brief conversation with the living legend. The disappointment of his quick departure seemed offset by the appreciation of his high energy and very unique show. Personally, I felt lucky to have gotten the opportunity to see Link Wray live and do hope that he is able to continue to excite music fans well into the future.
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