- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

Fredericksburg sock hop in ‘58 spawned roots of punk, heavy metal

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Younger music lovers bemoaning the local scene might find some satisfaction in knowing punk rock and heavy metal have roots in this town.

Music historians say the deep, grinding guitar sound known as the power chord — a favorite of punkers and heavy-metal aficionados — was born when legendary guitarist Link Wray played a Fredericksburg sock hop in the late 1950s.

Mr. Wray, who died Nov. 5 at 76, told Guitar World magazine that youths at the hop asked him to play a “stroll,” a popular, slow line dance of the time.

However, Mr. Wray had no such tune so he made up one, then recorded a version of it in 1958 as “Rumble.”

“Many historians who follow Wray’s career believe the song was the direct result of that night,” said Dan Del Fiorentino, historian for the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, Calif. “And that record became an influential part of American music.”

He also said the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles probably would never have been so popular or influential had that night in Fredericksburg never happened.

“Without the power chord, punk rock and heavy metal would not exist,” Mr. Del Fiorentino said. “Punk music, and certainly heavy metal, has been tied directly to that power chord.”

Mr. Wray lived in Accokeek, Md., at the time, and the Fredericksburg hop was a paying gig for his band.

“Rumble” eventually became a rock classic, though the song was originally banned by many American radio stations because of fears its menacing sound might lead to gang violence.

“It was sort of the rebellious side of rock ‘n’ roll,” Mr. Del Fiorentino said. “That night, an attitude was born.”

Since there were no vocals for the improvised song, Mr. Wray’s brother, Vernon, thought they should crank up the guitar.

“So he took the vocal [microphone] and put it in front of my amp, which just distorted the heck out of the small P.A. speakers,” Mr. Wray said.

The young crowd went crazy, demanding that Mr. Wray replay “Rumble,” initially called “Oddball,” four times that night.

But Mr. Wray had problems re-creating the rough sound in the recording studio, using the power chord and “fuzz-tone,” which involves feedback, distortion and noise.

To re-create that, Mr. Wray eventually used a pencil to punch holes in his little Premier amp’s two 10-inch speakers.

Mr. Wray said the initial radio ban “just made it sell more.” The song eventually sold 1 million copies.

To this day, Mr. Wray’s fans insist he was “the real Man in Black,” not Johnny Cash. During a clean-cut, squeaky-clean era, he dressed in black leather jackets, wore sunglasses at night and smoked cigarettes onstage.

Mr. Wray became a session guitarist for performers including Rick Nelson, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly. His music has been featured in the films “Pulp Fiction,” “Independence Day” and “Pink Flamingos.” Mr. Wray, who was born in Dunn, N.C., lived in Norfolk for a time when his father was working as a shipbuilder. The family then moved to the District, then to Maryland. He died at his home in Copenhagen.

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