Link Wray Gets His Day With a Rockville Bonanza

By Buzz McClain
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A proclamation from the governor designated Sunday as "Link Wray Day" in Maryland, in honor of the late pioneering rock guitarist who spent his formative years in Accokeek. The day was capped by a celebration of his music performed over six hours at El Boqueron II in Rockville. Seven ensembles performed in front of a packed house that included Wray's children and grandchildren -- who at one point took the stage to sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

Wray may have been in everyone's hearts, but what was really being celebrated was the awesome majesty of his most significant improvisation: the power chord. Demonstrating the sound at various times were two of the area's best guitar sidemen -- Dave Chappell and Pedro Sera -- as well as a former local who has made good as a frontman, Eddie Angel (Los Straitjackets).

The show started off inauspiciously enough with the power going off and on due to a windstorm during Ray Wallace's opening number of "Batman." Though stage monitors would bedevil some of the performers throughout the night, few were impeded in their mission to twang their hearts out -- the night's second act, Switchblade, being a good example.

The Triumphs, together for the first time in 45 years, featured D.C.-born bassist Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) amid a brass-laden, double-keyboard R&B outfit that included singer Ron MacDonald, who put his all into "Blueberry Hill," "Lucille" and "Barefootin'."

Garage rockers the A-Bones devoted their frenzied set to "the old crowd from d.c. space," and local mainstay Billy Hancock followed with his usual assured rockabilly presence.

Robert Gordon, whose two late-'70s albums with Wray -- "Robert Gordon & Link Wray" and "Fresh Fish Special" -- are inarguable classics of the rockabilly genre, was backed by Angel on guitar, Hancock on bass and drummer Anton Fig, from "The Late Show With David Letterman" band. It was a highlight amid a night of highlights.

Finally, the finale, and a couple of encores: Guitarists Angel and Sera, Casady on bass, the A-Bone's Lars Epensen on sax and Switchblade drummer Jim Dougherty ripped through an instrumental set of Wray standards -- "Rawhide" and "Rumble" among them -- that showcased the tunes and the tunesmith's strengths once and for all.

The concert certainly put the "rock" in Rockville for a few hours, and it's a shame the event is a one-off and not an annual affair. Hey, wait: Wray spent some of his childhood in Norfolk, so how about next year they do it again in Northern Virginia?

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