Dick Clark on the "American Bandstand" TV show from Philadelphia, appears with teens around him as he reads mail. AP photo.
In 1963, American Bandstand, the popular Philadelphia-based TV dance show with Dick Clark, was still going strong, having been broadcast nationally since August 1957. The show was still seen mid-afternoons five days a week on the ABC television network. However, by 1963, Bandstand’s format had been shortened to 30 minutes per show. Not long thereafter, it began broadcasting taped shows rather than live broadcasts. Then, in September 1963, ABC moved Bandstand to Saturdays-only for one hour. But even with those changes, American Bandstand was still a place where many aspiring recording artists came for national exposure to help launch and/or advance their careers.
During 1963, there were more than 200 guest appearances on American Bandstand, with a number of artists making their national television debuts. Among some of the more notable performers appearing in 1963 with one or more hit songs were: Dionne Warwick, Paul & Paula, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary, Franki Valli & The Four Seasons, The Chiffons, Dion, Bobby Rydell, Skeeter Davis, Nancy Sinatra, Lesley Gore, Frankie Avalon, Gene Pitney, Dee Dee Sharp, Jan & Dean, Neil Sedaka, Darlene Love, Bobby Vinton, Link Wray, and others.
Cover sleeve for Dionne Warwick’s single, “Don't Make Me Over,” a hit song in 1962-63.
In January 1963, Dionne Warwick made what may have been her first national TV appearance on American Bandstand performing her hit song, “Don’t Make Me Over.” Released in October 1962, Warwick’s song had broken through nationally after receiving heavy radio play in San Francisco. It debuted on the Billboard chart December 8, 1962, rising to No.21 on that chart and to No. 5 on the R&B chart in January 1963. Warwick would follow this hit with others, including, “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” released in December 1963 and “Walk On By” in April 1964, a major international hit and million seller. Warwick went on to stardom and a long career of many hits, including those in collaboration with the writer/producer team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David during the 1962 -1971 period. Warwick, in fact, would put 56 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart between 1962 and 1998, making her one of the that era’s leading female recording stars.
Frank Valli & The Four Seasons appeared twice on “American Bandstand” in 1963.
The Four Seasons, a quartet of singers from New Jersey with front man Franki Valli and his famous falsetto voice, appeared on American Bandstand at least twice in 1963. These “Jersey Boys” as they would come to be known years later from a famous stage production of that name, formed their group in 1960 as The Four Lovers. They eventually became The Four Seasons, with Frankie Valli on lead, Bob Gaudio keyboards and tenor vocals, Tommy DeVito on lead guitar and baritone vocals, and Nick Massi on bass guitar and bass vocals. By the time they appeared on American Bandstand in 1963, they were already stars, having released their first album in 1962 with the No. 1 hit single “Sherry,” followed by their second No. 1 hit, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – both million-sellers. The Four Season appeared twice on Bandstand in 1963 – once in February and once in March – performing “Walk Like a Man” on both occasions. That song had been released in January 1963, but by March 2nd that year it had hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining there for three weeks and in the Top 40 for 12 weeks. The Four Seasons would go on to become one of the more popular musical groups of that era, and for years thereafter, selling some 175 million records worldwide.
Lesley Gore, shown at 1964 TAMI concert, appeared on Bandstand, May 1963, singing “It’s My Party.”
In late May 1963, a 17 year-old New Jersey teenager named Lesley Gore (Lesley Sue Goldstein) made her first appearance on American Bandstand singing her soon-to-be No.1 hit, “It’s My Party.” Just three months earlier, she was virtually unknown, performing locally at a Manhattan nightclub. That’s when Quincy Jones, a producer with Mercury Records, had caught her performance. By late February 1963, Jones came to Gore’s family home where she chose a demo song named “It’s My Party” to record for his label. Six weeks later, the recording was finished and sent to record stores.
But by June 1, 1963, after Gore made her national TV debut on Bandstand performing ”It’s My Party,” the song shot to No. 1 on the pop charts, remaining there for two weeks. Gore would also have big subsequent follow-up hits, including “Judy’s Turn To Cry” and “You Don’t Own Me.” And years, later, she would also be nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the 1980 song, “Out Here On My Own” from the movie Fame.
The Righteous Brothers appeared on Bandstand in June 1963, but this was before their major stardom, coming at a time when they worked with a small recording company and then using the Moonglow label. Under that label, they produced two moderate hits: “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “My Babe.” Their big hit – “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,” produced with studio wizard Phil Spector – would not come until 1965.
The Righteous Brothers duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. Click photo for separate story.
Among others appearing on Bandstand in June of 1963, were: Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker, Bobby Vinton, and Nancy Sinatra. James Brown also appeared that month performing his “Prisoner of Love,” as did Barbara Lewis with her hit, “Hello Stranger” and The Essex, with their hit,”Easier Said Than Done.” The Essex were an interesting group for that time, composed as they were of five U.S. Marines: Walter Vickers, Rodney Taylor, Billy Hill, Rudolph Johnson, and female Marine, Anita Humes. Stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, they cut a demo that landed them a contract with Roulette Records. Their hit song, “Easier Said Than Done,” was written by William Linton and Larry Huff, recorded by the group in 20 minutes, and released in May 1963. To the group’s surprise, it soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on July 6, sold more than one million copies, and garnered a gold disc from the recording industry. In September1963, The Essex had another hit, “A Walkin’ Miracle,” which rose to No.12 on the pop charts. The group appeared on American Bandstand June 7th, 1963.
Little Stevie Wonder appeared on Bandstand July 8, 1963. Click photo for separate story.
Stevie Wonder, a young blind teenager out of Detroit, made his network television debut on American Bandstand on July 8, 1963, with a performance of his harmonica-with-vocals song, “Fingertips, Part 2.” Wonder would go on to become a very popular music artist for decades, winning many Grammy awards, and continuing his success into the 21st century. Major Lance appeared on Bandstand in September 1963 with a popular dance song called “Monkey Time,” written by Curtis Mayfield, a song that had risen to No. 8 on the pop charts that August.
In the latter part of 1963, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand had a contingent of “girl group” recording artists on the show– i.e., groups that were girl-led, all-girl composed, or had a “girl group” sound. Among these were the Jaynetts, the Chiffons, Darlene Love, Dee Dee Sharp, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and the Ronettes. Clark also gave local groups continued opportunity on his show such as The Dreamlovers, a Philadelphia doo-wop group that once backed Chubby Checker on “The Twist” and other songs. This group appeared several times on Bandstand in 1963.
Dick Clark interviewing a young Little Richard on American Bandstand sometime in 1963 or 1964.
Although American Bandstand was still an important force in the music industry of that day, its power wasn’t what it had been in the 1950s. By September 1963, when the show went to its Saturday-only format, it wasn’t playing new recordings every day, which had been one of Bandstand’s big selling points in the music industry. With its reduced air time and song plugging, the show lost some of its influence in the industry. Still, through 1963 American Bandstand was the place where aspiring artists came to launch or enhance their music careers. Bandstand would have many years remaining as a TV dance show, extending into the 1980s.
The 1963 season, in any case, was the last year that American Bandstand would be broadcast from Philadelphia. In early 1963, the live broadcasts were replaced by previously-taped shows, though still running five days a week. In August, Bandstand ended its weekday broadcasts and instead, went to a Saturdays-only show for one hour, ending its years in Philadelphia with its final broadcasts in December 1963. By February 1964, the show resumed broadcasting from Los Angeles, California, near Hollywood. Clark by then had also been serving as a game show host, a part of his career that would grow in the years ahead. At the time of Bandstand’s move west, Dick Clark was still a young man at age 34.
The Jaynetts appeared on Bandstand in 1963 with their song, "Sally, Go Round the Roses."
The move to California and the show’s location near the growing music industry in the Los Angeles area, was beneficial in terms of Bandstand landing more musical guests. And in terms of the youth culture at that time, California was becoming an important center of attention. It was “where the action was,” as Clark would later explain. “Everything was going on there. The surfing craze was high on everybody’s list of things to do, whether you lived near water or not. Everybody wanted to have bleached-blonde straight hair… So I figured I’d better get out [there].”
Still, the 1963-1964 period became something of dividing line for Bandstand and the nation. With the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, America fell into a period of mourning and national soul-searching. And with the turn of the new year in 1964, the music began to change as well. In February 1964, after the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, “Beatlemania” swept the country. Plain Vanilla rock ‘n roll was heading into some new territory, not the least of which would be drug and psychedelic influences.
1962: Top left to right - Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, Mary Wells & Dick Clark. Click for Martha & The Vandellas story.
Although Clark and American Bandstand were then in California and would adapt with the changing times and fashion, after Bandstand left Philadelphia it would never again have quite the same dominance it enjoyed during the late 1950s and early 1960s. As author John Jackson has put it in his American Bandstand book, 1964 became the year in which “Clark’s epic production began its steady diminution…to becoming…just another television show.” Dick Clark, in any case, while continuing to host the Bandstand show for many years in California, was building his career in other areas, including game shows, television productions, and related entertainment businesses through his Dick Clark Productions, which he formed in 1957.
What follows below is a listing of artists who appeared on American Bandstand in 1963 – the final Philadelphia year — along with a few Bandstand “top ten” lists from that year. Artists appearing on Bandstand are listed by date, and in some cases, with the song each performed. Other Bandstand-related stories at this website include, “At the Hop, 1957-1958,” “Bandstand Performers, 1957,” and “American Bandstand, 1956-2007,” the latter providing a general history of the show, Dick Clark, and his related businesses. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle.
Dion DiMucci appeared on Bandstand in January 1963 showcasing “Ruby Baby.” Click for his story.
Skeeter Davis appeared twice on Bandstand in 1963, performing her song “The End of the World” in February. Click for her story.
Surfing music was popular in the early 1960s, and Jan & Dean had a hit with “Surf City,” but appeared on ‘Bandstand’ in March 1963 with their song, “Linda.”
James Brown appeared on Bandstand in June 1963 showcasing “Prisoner of Love.” Click for his website.
Folk group Peter Paul & Mary, appeared on Bandstand May 2, 1963 for their song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
Bobby Vinton performed his song, “Blue on Blue,” when he appeared on Bandstand June 14, 1963.
The Chiffons appeared on Bandstand October 12, 1963. Click for "Girl Groups" story.
Link Wray and group appeared on Bandstand June 10, 1963 performing hit instrumental, “Jack the Ripper.”
The Ronettes appeared on ‘Bandstand’ 2x in 1963 w/ big hit “Be My Baby.” Click on photo for their story.
Jan 2: D. Warwick- “Don’t Make Me Over”
Jan 4: Johnny Thunder- “Loop de Loop”
Jan 10: B. Lynn- “You’re Gonna Need Me”
Jan 11: Freddy Cannon- “Four Letter Man”
Jan 15: The Dreamlovers
Jan 17: Dion – “Ruby Baby”
Jan 18: Paul & Paula- “Hey Paula”
Jan 22: Barbara Lynn
Jan 23: J. Mathis- “What Will Mary Say?”
Jan 28: Steve Alaimo
Jan 29: Conway Twitty- “The Pickup”
Jan 31: Bobby Comstock & The Counts
Feb 1: The Dreamlovers
Feb 4: Bobby Rydell- “Love is Blind”
Feb 6: J. Darren- “Pin A Medal on Joey”
Feb 8: Lou Christie- “The Gypsy Cried”
Feb 12: Sandy Stewart
Feb 14: S. Davis- “End Of The World”
Feb 19: J. Ray- “Look Out, Chattanooga”
Feb 20: Lou Christie- “The Gypsy Cried”
Feb 21: Nancy Sinatra
Feb 22: Four Seasons- “Walk Like A Man”
Feb 24: N. Sedaka- “Alice in Wonderland”
Feb 25: J. Tillotson-”Out of My Mind”
Feb 27: Marcie Blaine
Feb 28: Marcie Blane- “Bobby’s Girl”
Mar 1: Four Seasons- “Walk Like a Man”
Mar 5: Bobby Comstock- “Let’s Stomp”
Mar 6: Connie Francis- “Follow the Boys”
Mar 8: Nancy Sinatra- “Like I Do”
Mar 12: Johnny Thunder
Mar 14: Jo Ann Campbell- “Mother…”
Mar 18: Anita Bryant- “Our Winter Love”
Mar 19: Timi Yuro- “Insult to Injury”
Mar 22: Wayne Newton
Mar 26: The Dreamlovers
Mar 28: Wayne Newton- “Heart…”
Mar 29: Jan & Dean- “Linda”
Apr 2: B. Vinton- “Over the Mountain”
Apr 12: J. Soul- “If You Wanna Be…”
Apr 17: S. Alaimo- “Lifetime of…”
Apr 18: Al Martino- “I Love You Because”
Apr 19: Johnny Cymbal- “Mr Bass Man”
Apr 23: Bobby Lewis- “Intermission”
Apr 25: Freddy Cannon- “Patty Baby”
Apr 26: Frankie Avalon
May 1: Mickey Callan
May 2: Peter, Paul & Mary- “Puff…”
May 3: Jimmy Clanton
May 7: N. Sedaka- “Let’s Go Steady…”
May 8: D. Love- “Today I Met Boy…”
May 14: Rockin’ Rebels
May 24: S. Davis- “…Saving My Love”
May 30: Lesley Gore- “It’s My Party”
May 31: B. Hyland- “…Afraid to Go Home”
Jun 5: The Righteous Brothers
Jun 6: Dee Dee Sharp
Jun 7: Essex – “Easier Said Than Done”
Jun 10: Ray Stevens- “Harry The Ape”
Jun 11: Frankie Avalon
Jun 12: Chubby Checker- “Black Cloud”
Jun 13: T. Yuro- “Make the World…”
Jun 14: Bobby Vinton- “Blue on Blue”
Jun 17: Miami Beach Show
Jun 18: Nancy Sinatra- “One Way”
Jun 19: Steve Alaimo
Jun 20: Bill Anderson- “Still”
Jun 21: Guest info unavailable
Jun 26: James Brown- “Prisoner of Love”
Jun 27: Barbara Lewis- “Hello Stranger”
Jun 28: Paul & Paula- “First Quarrel”
Jul 3: Dean Randolph- “False Love”
Jul 4: Joey Dee- “Dance, Dance, Dance”
Jul 5: Dee Dee Sharp- “…Cradle of Love”
Jul 8: Stevie Wonder – “Fingertips, Pt 2″
Jul 10: Link Wray- “Jack the Ripper”
Jul 11: Doris Troy
Jul 17: Freddy Cannon
Jul 22: Bobby Vinton
Jul 23: F. Cannon- “Everybody Monkey”
Jul 24: Roy Orbison- “Falling”
Jul 25: B. Hyland- “Afraid to Go Home”
Jul 26: Jimmy Clanton
Jul 29: Patty Duke (Patty Duke Show)
Jul 30: Mel Carter- “When a Boy…”
Jul 31: Frankie Avalon
Aug 1: The Dovells- “Betty in Bermudas”
Aug 2: Freddie Scott- “Hey Girl”
Aug 5: Eddie Hodges- “Halfway”
Aug 6: D. D. Sharp- “Rock Me in The…”
Aug 7: Jo Ann Campbell
Aug 8: Wayne Newton- “Danke Schoen”
Aug 9: Steve Alaimo- “Don’t Let Sun…”
Aug 12: Al Martino- “Painted, Tainted…”
Aug 13: Roy Clark- “Tips of My Fingers”
Aug 14: Dick & Dee Dee- “Love is…”
Aug 15: Bandstand Fans Special
Aug 19: Duane Eddy- “… Lonely Guitar”
Aug 22: Dick & Dee Dee
Aug 23: B. Lynn- “…Laura’s Wedding”
Aug 29: Fats Domino- “Red Sails in Sunset”
Aug 30: Final Daily Show- Dick Clark
Bandstand “Top Ten” List
(30 August 1963)
1. “My Boyfriend’s Back!”- The Angels
2. “Hello Mudduh…”- Allan Sherman
3. “Fingertips”- Little Stevie Wonder
4. “Candy Girl”- The 4 Seasons
5. “Blowin’ in Wind”- Peter, Paul & Mary
6. “If I Had A Hammer”- Trini Lopez
7. “Judy’s Turn to Cry”- Lesley Gore
8. “Mockingbird”- Inez & Charlie Foxx
9. “More”- Kai Winding
10.”Denise”- Randy & The Rainbows
(Saturday shows begin)
Sep 7: Neil Sedaka- “The Dreamer”
Sep 7: The Jaynetts- “Sally Go…Roses”
Sep 14: Dion- “Donna the Prima Donna”
Sep 14: Major Lance- “Monkey Time”
Sep 21: Skt. Davis- “Can’t Stay Mad…”
Sep 21: Garnett Mimms- “Cry Baby”
Sep 28: B. Rydell- “Let’s Make Love…”
Sep 28: The Ronettes- “Be My Baby”
Oct 5: Dee Dee Sharp- “Wild”
Oct 5: Linda Scott- “Let’s Fall in Love”
Oct 12: The Chiffons- “A Love So Fine”
Oct 19: Peggy March- “…Follow Him”
Oct 19: Bill Anderson- “8 x 10″
Oct 26: The Busters- “Bust Out”
Oct 26: Freddy Cannon- “That’s What…”
Bandstand “Top Ten” List (12 October 1963)
1. “Sugar Shack”- J. Gilmer & Fireballs
2. “Be My Baby”- The Ronettes
3. “Blue Velvet”- Bobby Vinton
4. “Cry Baby”- G. Mimms & Enchanters
5. “Sally, Go ‘Round…”- The Jaynetts
6. “Busted”- Ray Charles
7. “My Boyfriend’s Back”- The Angels
8. “Mean Woman Blues”- Roy Orbison
9. “Heat Wave”- Martha & Vandellas
10. “Donna the Prima Donna”- Dion
Nov 2: Dale & Grace- “…Up to You”
Nov 2: Wayne Newton- “Shirl Girl”
Nov 9: Gene Pitney- “24 Hrs From Tulsa”
Nov 9: Sunny & Sunglows- “Talk to Me”
Nov 16: Bobby Bare- “500 Miles…”
Nov 16: Brian Hyland- “Let Us Make…”
Nov 30: Dick Clark’s Celebrity Party
Dec 7: Neil Sedaka – “Bad Girl”
Dec 7: Vito & Salutations- “Unchained…”
Dec 7: Chubby Checker- “Hooka Tooka”
Dec 21: Chubby Checker- “Lody Lo”
Dec 21: Donald Jenkins- “Adios”
Dec 28: Bobby Vinton- “Blue Velvet”
Dec 28: Patty Duke- Dick Clark interview
Bandstand “Top Ten” List
(21 December 1963)
1. “Dominique”- The Singing Nun
2. “Louie Louie”- The Kingsmen
3. “Don’t Have to Be a…” – Caravelles
4. “There! I Said it Again”- Bobby Vinton
5. “Since I Fell for You”- Lenny Welch
6. “Be True to Your School”- Beach Boys
7. “Drip Drop”- Dion
8. “…Leaving it Up to You” – Dale & Grace
9. “Everybody” – Tommy Roe
10. “Popsicles & Icicles” – The Murmaids
Note: This is not a complete list of all
1963 American Bandstand guests, as some
dates, artists and/or songs are missing.
Available sources have incomplete,
conflicting, or uncertain information.
“American Bandstand – Season 6 Episode Guide,” TV.com.
“American Bandstand – Season 7 Episode Guide,” OVGuide.com.
Among dance shows that Dick Clark did in 1963 was the one photographed above – a “Dick Clark Parade of Stars” show undertaken with CHUM radio in Toronto, Canada on July 19, 1963 at the Maple Leaf Gardens.
Cover of 1993 CD, “Rumble! The Best of Link Wray,” Rhino compilation.
A guitar tune written in 1958 has the distinction of being the only instrumental song ever banned for radio play in the U.S. The song’s name was “Rumble,” performed by a guitarist named Link Wray and his band, the Wraymen. The offensiveness, apparently, had to do with the fear that the song might incite gang violence. More on that in a moment. First, some context.
In January 1958, there were live dance nights held in Fredericksburg, Virginia hosted by the popular Washington, D.C. television disc jockey named Milt Grant – of Milt Grant’s House Party, a teen dance show similar to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in Philadelphia. At one of these live dance events that January, Link Wray and his band, a local group from the area, were being urged to come up with a song like “The Stroll,” then a popular hit by The Diamonds. What Wray and his group came up with instead was an instrumental, power-guitar driven, blues type song that would later become
known as “Rumble.”
Old poster of Fredericksburg, VA arena, where Link Wray & band first performed the song “Rumble.”
At the dance that night in Fredericksburg, the song was quite popular, as Wray and his band did four requested encores. The dance crowd’s reaction to the song made Wray and his band think – along with disc jockey Milt Grant, their de facto manager – that they were on to something. So they set about trying to get the song on tape for a demo to shop it around to record labels. However, when they tried to record it, they could not quite duplicate the sound they had on the dance night, especially frustrating Wray. That’s when he started moving speakers and mics around to get feedback, and then took a pencil and began punching holes through an amplifier to get the sound he wanted. What Wray had done in his frustration was “invent” a new sound, a sound that would later be known as “fuzztone guitar.” There was also some novel use of reverberation on the track as well. The song they had recorded on their demo was then using the name “Oddball.” And they began shopping it around to record labels, but there were no takers. Capitol and Decca Records both turned down “Oddball.”
Milt Grant then took the demo to Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records in New York. When Bleyer first heard the song, he hated it and the novel sound that Link Wray had created. Still, he recorded some demos, not sure what would happen next. Bleyer’s stepdaughter and some of her teenage friends, however, loved the song. One story has it that she was the one who suggested naming it “Rumble” because it reminded her of West Side Story, a popular stage play about rival New York street gangs. West Side Story had debuted on Broadway in 1957 and “rumble” was then the popular slang term for “gang fight.” Another account credits one of the Everly Brothers with coming up with the same name for the song. In any event, the tune became “Rumble” and Bleyer decided to release the song despite his dislike for it. Quoted in a promotional article in Billboard magazine at the time, Bleyer reportedly said something to the effect: “Rumble, schmumble, who cares, as long as it’s a hit?”
Link Wray’s 1958 hit “Rumble” on the Cadence record label – a short lived venture for Wray, who would later move on to other record labels.
“Rumble” wasn’t exactly the lightest, easy listening fare of the day, true enough. Still, rock ‘n roll by then was finding its voice and raucuous edge. Although the term “rock and roll” dates to song lyrics from the 1920s and 1930s, a Cleveland disc jockey named Alan Freed in 1951 is credited with introducing the term to a much larger audience, especially through his play and promotion of African American rhythm & blues (R&B) music in the 1950s. New white artists, picking up on the R&B sound in some of their recordings, were also finding an audience. Bill Haley had “Rock Around the Clock” by mid-1955, and Elvis Presley had “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog” by the fall of 1956. Both Haley and Presley had riled convention with their own rock ‘n roll styles. Still, rock ’n roll music was by no means the dominant sound of the day. There was still plenty of more sedate, “easy listening” music to be found on the Billboard top twenty in the mid- and late-1950s – music from artists such as Andy Williams, Perry Como, Pat Boone, Tab Hunter, and others. “Rumble,” by comparison, was all instrumental, but a tune that had a distinct “attitude” about it. The guitar riffs in “Rumble” stood out, and went well beyond the moment. The musical sound created by Wray, and his distinctive playing, would soon have a direct effect on the future of rock and guitar music. “With one mean D-to-E chord change,” observes writer Angie Carlson in a 2007 Gibson.com article, “Link Wray changed the electric guitar forever.”
“Rumble” Not Played
But in the late 1950s, radio disc jockeys had the power of determining what music was played and what wasn’t. And in some cities and towns, including radio stations in Boston and New York City, “Rumble” just wasn’t played for fear it could incite gang violence or be an influence on juvenile delinquency. Even Dick Clark of American Bandstand was careful to avoid mention- ing the song’s title when introducing Wray on his Saturday show. The song’s title — “Rumble” – was a stumbling block for some DJs; they just couldn’t get past it. However, the song itself, an instrumental, had no lyrics of course, so there was no language per se to incite kids; no fiery rhetoric. Still, those aware of the controversy took precautions. Even Dick Clark of American Bandstand, the popular TV dance show, was careful to avoid mentioning the song’s title when he introduced Wray and his band as guests in May 1958.
Rock ‘n roll music was not always welcomed back then, and in fact, there were some efforts nationally to block the more objectionable sounds, suggestive lyrics, and loud or raucous music. Band leader Mitch Miller was one of those who helped put a damper on the more raucous forms of rock ’n roll. Miller was then head of A&R – “artists and repertoire” – for Columbia Records, and as such, had the power to determine which musicians and songs would be recorded and promoted at Columbia and beyond. Miller had some of his own hit tunes on the Billboard charts of the 1950s. But he also had broad influence at the time, and was publicly critical of rock ‘n roll and Top 40 radio stations that played rock ‘n roll. Miller, however, did allow for some lighter forms rock ‘n roll, such as the 1957 million-selling hit by Marty Robbins, “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,” which he helped produce.
“Rumble” scene from the 1957 stage production of “West Side Story” -- Jets leader vs. Sharks leader in knife fight.
In addition, West Side Story’s gang scenes had permeated popular culture by 1957-58. In fact, a dance scene in Act 1 of the play is titled “The Rumble,” and other scenes also showed the activities of the play’s two featured gangs, the Jets and Sharks. “Juvenile delinquency” was a national topic of discussion by then as well, even attracting the attention of the U.S. Congress. There was also proposed legislation in Congress in 1957 that song lyrics be screened and altered by a review committee before being broadcast or offered for sale. That legislation, treading on free speech, never became law, but it was a sign of the times and part of the broader cultural concern then revolving around gangs and juvenile delinquency. In 1958 the Mutual Broadcasting System dropped all rock ‘n records from its network music programs, calling the music “distorted, monotonous, noisy music.” Link Wray’s instrumental was part of the music that became entangled in those fears and prohibitions.
Link Wray performing later in his career.
Nevertheless, despite all the tiptoeing around “Rumble” as a musical instigator of teen trouble, the song became a huge hit, rising to No. 16 in May 1958 and remaining in the Top 40 for 10 weeks. Despite Dick Clark’s care not to mention the song’s title at Wray’s earlier 1958 appearance, Bandstand did give the song enough air time to help it along, and Clark would freely use the song’s title in subsequent appearances by Wray in 1959 and 1963. In fact, the attempted suppression of the song by some radio stations likely contributed to its success, as Wray himself would later surmise of the radio bans. “Rumble” went on to sell more than one million copies in its prime, with some estimates as high as four million, though it’s not clear what time frame is involved and whether sales of albums with the song are also included.
Link Wray, however, would not get a giant share of the royalties or music publishing fees from “Rumble.” Milt Grant, the DJ, was one co-author of the song, appearing on the Cadence label with “L. Wray.” But Link’s share, according to one account, appears to have been assigned to his father. Link would later say that he did receive enough money to buy his mother a house, but that he was generally spared the details of the “paperwork,” which appears to have kept his share lower than it might otherwise have been. He may have fared better with subsequent songs.
Meanwhile, back in the late 1950s, Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records – the guy who had first produced “Rumble” since his stepdaughter and her friends liked it – was getting some external criticism for releasing the song. Bleyer was charged by some critics with “promoting teenage gang warfare.” Bleyer, nevertheless, thought he could “clean up” Link Wray and his group. Bleyer’s plan was to have the group record in Nashville, Tennessee under the guidance of the Everly Brothers’ production team. But the Wrays didn’t like that idea, and decided to part company with Bleyer and Cadence Records. They soon joined Epic Records, recording a 1959 follow-up to “Rumble” called “Rawhide,” also an instrumental, which rose to No. 23 on the pop charts. In subsequent years, the group also had other notable songs, including “Jack the Ripper” (1961), “Black Widow” (1963), “Big City After Dark” “Run Chicken Run” (1963), “Ace of Spades” (1965), “Switchblade,” and “Red Hot (1977). Thereafter, Link Wray would not hit the pop charts in quite the same way again, but would have influence in other ways.
Link Wray, undated photo.
Fred Lincoln Wray was born in Dunn, North Carolina in 1929. According to some accounts his parents were semi-literate and engaged in street preaching from time to time. Wray was also reported to be part Shawnee Indian. He is quoted in one Associated Press story of 2002 saying: “I’m half Shawnee Indian, born to a Shawnee mother. I had a Shawnee dad, and he was in the First World War…and he was shell-shocked…. I had to go to work when I was 10 years old to help feed the family. This was Dunn, North Carolina, in a different era, you know, during the Ku Klux Klan days, you know…really bad in the South,” Wray said, explaining he shook with fear at KKK raids. In Dunn, they lived in a black neighborhood. “I seen the sheets come,” Wray would recount in another interview, referring to the KKK, “pull out the black people, tie ‘em to a tree, and beat…’em. We’d hide underneath the bed, hopin’ they wouldn’t come for us.” For a time, Wray’s family slept on the floors of barns under the protection of Cherokees and ate whatever they could find. “Elvis, he grew up — I don’t want to sound racist when I say this – he grew up white-man poor,” said Wray, comparing his experience to that of Elvis Presley. “I was growing up Shawnee poor.” An early bout with the German measels had also left Wray with weak eyesight and hearing.
1960 LP album, "Link Wray & The Wraymen," issued by Epic Records. ("Wraymen" was later changed to "Raymen").
When Wray was about age 8, a traveling black guitarist and sometime circus performer named Hambone introduced him to the blues, giving him guitar lessons on his front porch, and showing the young boy a few chords and how to play slide guitar. Wray’s father later worked in the dockyards of Portsmouth, Virginia, and the family moved there from North Carlina, which for young Link was a welcomed development. “It was like moving from one world to a whole ‘nother,” he would tell one reporter years later. “I couldn’t believe it — all of the sudden I could turn on a stove and it was gas fire, I could turn on a switch and it was electricity.” In 1951, Wray was drafted into the U.S. Army, sent to Germany and Korea, where he contracted tuberculosis, which later led to the removal of his left lung. But when he first returned to the U.S. in 1953 after his Army hitch, he ordered a Gibson Les Paul guitar. It was then he developed his own style, playing louder, in part, because of his bad hearing.
By 1955 Wray started playing as a member of Lucky Wray & the Palomino Ranch Hands, a country music band formed in North Carolina with his brothers Vernon and Doug, and later one other member. The Wray brothers soon moved to just outside of Washington, D.C., and recorded some songs on a local label named Kay and also for Starday Records in Texas. By 1958, Link Wray’s brother was doing the vocals in the band, while Link focused on the guitar. Cast a bit in the “Elvis look” of that era, the band dressed in black leather and began playing the local record hops.“…[A]ll of a sudden” in the 1950s, this guy in a black leather jacket “plays this loud chord that practically tears your eyebrows off your face…” – Michael Molenda Guitar Player magazine Wray became inventive in a hunt for his “own sound,” such as poking holes in an amplifier to get the sound he wanted in “Rumble.” He was also one of the first guitarists to take a major chord and run it up and down the fret board, creating the sound known as the power chord.
Music historians of the late-1950s-early1960s era would observe some years later that there probably was a bit of “juvenile attitude” in Wray’s “Rumble.” Dan Del Fiorentino, historian for the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California told the Los Angles Times in a 2005 interview that “Rumble” added “more of a zing, more of a delinquency, if you will, to rock ‘n’ roll.” Michael Molenda, editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, also noted in the same article: “Fifties rock was pretty clean, and you’ve got this guy — he’s got a leather jacket, he looks scary — and all of a sudden he plays this loud chord that practically tears your eyebrows off your face…It was extremely sexy and aggressive, and it kind of paved the way for the next level of rock and roll.” Without the power chord that Wray more or less invented with “Rumble,” explains Dan Del Fiorentino, “punk rock and heavy metal would not exist.” And Wray is revered by a number of the most famous guitar-wielding rockers. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, and Jeff Beck all count Link Wray as an influence in their own careers. Bob Dylan is reported to have called “Rumble” one of the best instrumentals ever.
Link Wray’s “Rumble” and “Ace of Spades” were used in the 1994 film, “Pulp Fiction.”
Film & TV Music
By the early 1970s, a few of Link Wray’s songs were finding their way into other venues. Wray’s “The Swag” was used in the 1972 film, Pink Flamingos. “Jack the Ripper,” another of his instrumentals, was used as the music behind a high-speed car chase in the 1983 film, Breathless, with Richard Gere and Valérie Kaprisky. In Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film, Pulp Fiction, both “Rumble” and “Ace of Spades” were used. In the 1995 film, Desperado with Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas, “Jack The Ripper” was used. In 1996, Independence Day, the highest grossing film that year, Wray’s “Rumble” made another appearance. “Rumble” was also used in the January 1999 pilot episode of HBO’s The Sopranos. A first use of Wray’s music in TV advertising also came in 1999 with excerpts of “Jack the Ripper” used in a Taco Bell commercial. In 2001, “Rumble” was used in the film Blow, starring Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz. “Rumble” was also used in 2009′s It Might Get Loud, a documentary on the history of the electric guitar by film-maker Davis Guggenheim. These film uses of Wray’s music brought the Link Wray sound to a new audience, gave it another shot in the market and renewed appreciation by fans and other artists.
Over the years, there have also been various cover versions of Wray’s songs in new music, such as the song “Killer in the Home” (based on “Rumble”) by New Wave group, Adam and the Ants, included on their Kings of the Wild Frontier album of 1980. The guitarist for this group, Marco Pirroni, has cited Link Wray as a major influence.
Wray’s legacy is found not only in the U.S., but also in Great Britain, where his music has been cited as an influence on The Kinks and The Who, among others. Pete Townshend has reportedly stated that “if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar.” Townshend also said of his first impression on hearing the song: “…Link Wray never toned the music down. He was always ready to Rumble…” – Richard Harrington Washington Post “I remember being made very uneasy the first time I heard it, and yet excited by the savage guitar sounds.” Ray Davies of The Kinks also cites Wray as an influence. In 2003, Rolling Stone’s entry for Wray in their “100 Most Important Guitarists in History,” called him the man behind “the most important D chord in history.” Wray was ranked at No. 67 on that list. The Rolling Stone entry also credits Wray with creating “the overdriven rock-guitar sound taken up by Townshend, Hendrix, and others.”
Link Wray’s “Mr. Guitar” album, a two-CD set of 63 songs, his Swan recordings, released by Norton in 1995.
In 1980, Wray married his fourth wife, Olive, a Danish student who had been studying Native American culture. He then moved to Denmark and began some recording for the foreign market. By the 1990s, Wray’s older music had caught the attention of grunge musicians, as some of this work was also reissued under various labels. Wray himself continued to perform and record, turning out two albums – Shadowman in 1997 and Barbed Wire in 2000. Link Wray continued performing his music into his 70s. “He just loved playing,” said Michael Molenda, editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, who had seen Wray perform in 2005 in San Francisco. “He wasn’t like a guy who was 76 years old,” Molenda told the Los Angeles Times. “He was like a 19-year-old in a 76-year-old body.” Wray lived his last years with his wife Olive on a Danish island. He died of heart failure in Copenhagen in early November 2005.
“Link Wray never toned the music down,” wrote Richard Harrington of the Washington Post at Wray’s death. “He was always ready to Rumble.”
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Rumble Riles Censors, 1958-59,” PopHistoryDig.com, May 10, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
1990 and 1997 LP and CD versions of Link Wray album, “Missing Links, Vol. 2: Big City After Dark,” Norton record label.
In the 1970s, frustrated with the music business, Wray turned a family chicken coop into a crude, three-track studio, where he & friends experimented with sounds & styles. This 2005 two disc album by Acadia Records captures some of that.
1973 Link Wray album, “Be What You Want To,” Polydor.