By: William C. Crawford
Midnight, one more night without sleeping
Watching till the morning comes creeping
Green Door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?
The Green Door – Another Secret
Jim Lowe rode this catchy refrain to claim a bouncy top 40 hit in 1956. Today, boisterous laughter pulls me toward this tightly closed portal. The funky green paint jumps out in my Nikon viewfinder. Guitar riffs punctuated by high pitched cackles present a mysterious milieu. Suddenly, the three most famous power chords in rock ‘n roll history blow me back from the tightly closed green door.
Inside, a solid guitar man offers up the first three unmistakable notes of Link Wray’s Rumble. They changed the evolution of guitar playing forever. Now, they are seriously rattling my jaw fillings.
The ground was littered with spent beer cans and cigarette butts, but I wanted to see what was on the other side. I peeked through the wrought iron border around the green entrance. There stood a bearded dude caressing a classic Stratocaster.
He has been right here for a while. His vacant gaze suddenly found me peering sheepishly around the green door. “This is for Bob,” he observed softly. “He knew all there is to know about my old man.”
Now, I am no rock ‘n roll historian, but I was privileged to hear Link Wray pound out his pioneering guitar sound in the Southern Maryland of my youth. I even showed up unannounced at his family farm in Accokeek to pop a cold brew with him.
This unidentified player before me bore more than a passing resemblance to the young Link that I had venerated. But who the hell was Bob? And was this shaggy guy Link’s middle-aged son serving up a drunken homage to his dead father?
The mystery player then offered me a cryptic clue. “Bob remembered Dad even though he was playing in London,” he whispered in a distant, raspy voice. Well! Now I recalled a very cool story.
Dylan’s Tribute to Wray
Bob Dylan had just days before this won the Nobel prize for literature. There were plaudits aplenty, but the immortal troubadour was also catching hell from some jealous, prominent literati who resented his being dubbed the greatest poet of his generation. Bobby was, in effect, hijacking a precious in house award supposedly reserved just for them.
My mind then flashed back a few more years to when I first heard Wray had passed away in Copenhagen. Dylan was playing in London on his never-ending tour. Bob & his band walked out to open the show, and they stood stock still on stage in heads bowed silence. Bob then gave a nod to lead guitarist, Charley Sexton, and they belted out those three immortal power chords from my youth.
The audience briefly roared, but just as quickly they fell respectfully stone silent. For ten momentous minutes, the hall shook as the sullen crowd was rocked by one distorted power chord after another. Rumble washed over the hushed audience like the eulogy it was.
Now his critics notwithstanding, the one thing often missed about Dylan is his encyclopedic knowledge about music and musicians. He knew that Wray had enjoyed considerable success in the UK. He didn’t need to break his customary onstage silence to offer up an epitaph.
This once acoustic folkie just played it dead straight as a now legendary electric eclectic. Dylan made damn sure everyone paused to remember Link Wray that night with the language they all shared—the hard driving, fuzzy power chord. He would repeat this respectful ritual to open his next three concerts.
Banned But Not Forgotten
On this humid Sunday morning in North Carolina, I peered by pure chance around this tightly closed green door to find an enthralling slice of rock ‘n roll history. Dylan would continue to make millions on the way to immortality; Wray would finally get his just due in a big American film documentary, and Jim Lowe would remain the obscure answer to a trivia question about “the green door.”
For Link Wray, the guitar was both an instrument and a perceived weapon. Rumble was mostly banned from radio play in the late 1950s. It still reached number 16 in the US, mainly by word of mouth.
My own mother barred Wray and Jerry Lee Lewis permanently from our home. Their music was thought to harbor a pernicious virus that spread juvenile delinquency. Parents mistakenly believed that an aggressive quarantine would mean that this pestilence would be short-lived or forgotten.
But Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles recognized Link Wray for what he was—never a real threat to society but a pioneer, rock guitar innovator.
Bio: William C. Crawford
William C. Crawford is a writer & photographer based in Winston-Salem, NC. He was a combat photojournalist in Vietnam. His published works include fiction, creative nonfiction, memoirs, book reviews, and essays.
He had a parallel career as a social worker and community organizer. There, he wrote biting editorials on behalf of the powerless such as abused children, the frail elderly, and victims of enforced state sterilizations.
His memoir, Just Like Sunday on the Farm: Crawdaddy Remembers the Nam and After gives us glimpses into his experiences in Viet Nam in 1968.
His website is Forensic Foraging, where there’s sometimes a narrative, however, its primary purpose is engaging the viewer with a compelling photo, so that the image trumps any accompanying story line.
He is known as Crawdaddy to his Yellow Lab, Scout.
Two Drops of Ink guest post: Crawdaddy Remembers A 1953 Christmas Encounter With the Drifters