The following is an interview I have had the honor to conduct with Ed Cynar. He is a longtime bassist for The Raymen in addition to several other Washington D.C. area bands. I was particularly honored to do this with him as he spent several years playing and recording with Link Wray. Ed can be heard on a vast number of Link recordings including many of the reissues and compilations that have been put out. This interview and my many conversations with him has provided me with much knowledge about all things Link which I previously didn’t have.
The Raymen currently perform as and I suggest viewing their myspace page. The current lineup consists of Ed on bass and vocals, John Van Horn on guitar/vocals and Pat Greenwood on drums/vocals. Thank you, Ed for taking the time for this interview with me.
1. Can you share with us how it was to share the stage and record with Link?
Link was a huge presence on stage. He looked the part and played like it, too. He always seemed to be able to find the people for The Raymen who knew and loved his style and could play it the way he wanted it to be played. Being there with him was a bit overwhelming at first, but after a short time it became almost second nature. I was always amazed by the enthusiastic crowd reaction we always got. We always felt special with Link. One thing that was essential is that we were, as a group, remarkably tight. Everyone knew the material exactly and provided the basis for Link to expand on. He would often do unexpected things and we would have to be alert to follow him. He was an amazing musician.
We did most of our recording after we finished playing at 2:00 a.m. We would ride back out to the studio in Accokeek, MD and get right on it. Most of the time Link knew exactly what he wanted to do and would discuss it with us. We got most songs down in very few takes. There were times when he would have an idea that we would go over and try out things to get the effect he had in mind. He was open to ideas from all of us, and once I even ended up arranging one of the songs that he was having trouble with. Link’s brother, Vernon (Ray Vernon), was usually at the board and was very skilled in getting Link’s music onto the 3-track Ampex machine. What was also very interesting was being there when Link tried something new for the first time. Once Ray hooked up a hose to a speaker driver and Link played wah-wah for the first time. Another time he recorded all the solos on I’m Branded with one hand after tuning down to G. He played in the A positions, we played in G. We did so much recording back then that it became routine.
2. What was touring like?
Touring with Link and the guys was probably the most fun I have ever had. Unlike some of the later groups, we never did anything too crazy and behaved ourselves very well. However, we used to carry on continually in the limousine. Link always sat up front with Shorty Horton who drove. Doug Wray, Chuck Bennett, and I sat in the back and would torment Shorty for the entire trip. Link, who knew exactly what we were up to, would occasionally turn around with his big smile. Shorty, on the other hand, would pretend like he was ignoring us. We did a lot of college shows in those days at schools like Cornell, Colgate, Dartmouth and others. The reception we got from those kids was outstanding. They knew Link and once even had a birthday cake for him at Cornell. We also got to meet some of the other popular acts in the mid 60s, and had time to sit with them and talk. Often, some of the locals would take us out around town after the shows. The people we played for and met while touring were always nice to us. And, yes, there were a number of ladies, too! I don’t recall any problems encountered while touring. Link would always take me along when he did interviews at the local radio stations in whatever city we were in. I enjoyed the touring much more than the night-after-night work in DC.
3. Can you describe some of the clubs that Link and The Raymen played in? I have heard that the band had to arm themselves at some of the gigs.
The stories about being armed are much exaggerated. That happened only once and that was at the old 1023 Restaurant in Southeast Washington, DC. We had gotten word that one of the biker gangs was going after Link because he was seeing a girl that they knew. So, on only one night, I had a handgun on stage on top of my bass speaker cabinet wrapped up in Link’s black and white Rumble jacket. Nothing ever happened. I still have that handgun, but Link’s jacket mysteriously vanished from Ray’s house. Link gave it to me to wear for luck when I got drafted and was heading off for induction. While in basic training, I sent it back home with the rest of my civvies. When I got back on leave, I took it back out to Ray’s house and returned it. Somehow, it disappeared from there. Now, to be honest, all of us, except Jack Van Horn always had a stiletto in our back pocket just in case. The clubs we played in ranged from very nice to dumps. Fortunately, most of them were nice. Link needed larger clubs to play in because he played so loud. When he played loud, we had to play loud, too. Earlier, Link had been playing at some not-so-nice places in the DC area. The one in particular that has received the most notoriety is Vinnie’s that was located on the corner of 10th and H Streets, NW. It has been torn down for probably over 40 years now. That was a popular spot for many gang members and they had little impatience for idiots or smart asses. They didn’t even like each other! You could be sure most of them were armed and they were not afraid to use what they had with them. There were always fights breaking out and often they would progress out the door onto the sidewalk and street. Vinnie’s was a small club and Link would play from the bandstand in the front window about 3 feet high. When a fight broke out he would jump down and head out the door by where he always stood. The band would head across the street to DeVito’s Restaurant and drink coffee until things settled down. Even at the 1023, a good number of the regulars were armed with various implements of destruction ranging from stilettos to brass knuckles, to firearms. On the road we played at shows, colleges, clubs, TV shows, etc. Most of the clubs we played while touring were very nice in comparison to the DC clubs.
4. Can you tell us some about the D.C. music scene of the 50s and 60s?
Back then the DC scene was predominantly rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and soul music. There were a few country music clubs also, but loud rock was most common. There were a lot more places up and running back then. Some of the things from back then have not changed. For example, the press consistently ignored Link even though the radio DJs liked him a lot. The snobbish attitude of the press continues to this day. The writers have their “friends” and those are the only people ever publicized. Link was never into sucking up to anyone for anything. He was a genuinely nice guy, but I suppose that was not enough for the press. One thing that probably did have an effect in this regard is the fact that the places Link played were not the “nice” clubs in DC. His clubs were usually in the rougher parts of town although he always attracted people from all over the DC Metro area. Perhaps the writers were afraid to go there. Back then you were likely to see people like Jimmy Dean, Roy Clark, Roy Buchanan, Charlie Daniels, and many others playing at local clubs. One other thing is that people went to the clubs to dance back then. You don’t see as much of that now. They stand in front of the stage and watch.
5. Do you know anything about Link’s days in Lucky Wray and Palomino Ranch Gang/ Pine Wranglers?
I really don’t know too much about those days before the Raymen. Back then Link’s brother was the featured vocalist in the act. When it became clear that he was not going to make a big splash, the group changed its style and became the trio Link Wray and The Raymen. Ray took over management and recording responsibilities. I’m sure the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll had a lot to do with that evolution. Many young singers were coming out and Ray was not getting any younger.
6. Can you tell us about some of the other bands you have played in such as The Pack and The Fender Benders?
Link stopped using Link Wray and The Raymen as his billing in the late 1960s. That was probably because all of the old Raymen, except Doug, had gone on to other things. The main reason for that was the lack of pay for all the work we did. No one could survive on what Ray wanted to pay them. Then Link left the area for Arizona in the early 1970s. So, Jack Van Horn and I began to perform together with various drummers and other band members. We would bill as The Fender Benders (Jack’s old group that he started in about 1957 and the group from which both Jack and I joined Link), Face Value, The Pack, and John Van Horn and The Fender Benders. We also did a lot of recording and had a number of 45 rpm releases on “Briarwood”, “Slash”, “Rumble”, and “Fender Bender” Records (all of which we owned). We continued to play in Link’s style the whole time and played a lot of his songs. On the few occasions when Link returned to the DC area, Jack and I would play with him at local gigs. By that time, Doug had stopped drumming so we would have to find a local drummer to fill in. That did not work well until we found Pat Greenwood.
7. What was your favorite recording that you did with Link? or your other projects that you have been involved with as well?
Two songs stand out because they were different. One was Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” that Link arranged as a very upbeat sounding song. It had an unusual beginning with just Link and I playing and a very full guitar sound. The other was “I’m Branded” because of the unusual solo method Link used. The original title was “Branded”. After it was released on Swan Records, Swan was contacted by the Producers of the TV show Branded (Chuck Connors starred). They threatened to sue because of the name. So, they changed the name to “I’m Branded”. The original demo copies that were produced all had the title as “Branded”.
8. Do you feel that Rumble could’ve been a number 1 hit had it not been banned from airplay in many major cities?
It’s hard to say. There were a lot of really good songs that came out in 1958. There was Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, The Everly Brothers, and others. Although instrumentals were still very popular then, most of the music was vocal. Rumble had a wide appeal, but I’m not sure that the younger kids appreciated it as much as the older ones and musicians of the time. Back then those in their early teens bought most of the 45s. Also remember that rock ‘n’ Roll was the devil’s music in those days.
9. How much influence do you feel Link Wray and his song Rumble had on Rock and Roll?
I think the song’s influence manifested itself more in the musicians who were intrigued by it rather than any radical change in musical direction. The sound was certainly new and different, foreboding perhaps. It was also hard to classify. They ended up calling it an R&B genre song in the beginning because there was nothing to compare it to. What it did was to inspire people to start playing and expand the boundaries of what they had been hearing. Link introduced distortion, the power chord, and a darker side of the music with that song. When you listened to it, you went through an emotional experience. The remarkable thing about the song is its simplicity (although the vast majority of people even to this day do not play the correct strum chord in the middle of the song).
10. Can you tell us about some of the other Raymen? Doug, Ray, Chuck, Ed, Jack, Pat, Shorty, John, Dixie, and other players like Bobby, Ritchie, John etc. ( I just don’t feel enough has been documented on The Raymen. So who better to ask)
These are some real characters. Doug was the best drummer I ever played with. That was because he was always on time and kicked the heck out of his kit. He and I were always in perfect sync because we both knew what each of us would be doing. On recordings you could sometimes hear what sounded like extra bass notes, but they were actually Doug’s bass drum complementing what I was doing. Doug was the practical joker of the group, especially when it came to Shorty. He never let up on him and the rest of us would be laughing uncontrollably. He was very easy going and even tempered. I never heard him raise his voice in anger. He was fun to be around.
Ray always seemed to know exactly what to do and when it should be done. He made all arrangements for the group and was probably one of the best recording engineers I have ever worked with. Remember that in those days engineers had very little to work with as far as tracks and electronics were concerned. He only had 3-tracks in those days. There was a lot of overdubbing necessary. Ray could do that exceptionally well. He had a great ear for the “end” sound that would result and often made recommendations in the recording process. Between Link’s ideas and Ray’s ability to get the sound Link wanted, they made a great pair. You’d always see Ray in a suit and tie. He knew the music business well.
Chuck Bennett was an outstanding singer. He would always sing most of the soul and screaming songs since he had a great voice and presence for those styles. He had long hair and was skinny as a rail like Link. He was also probably the hardest working guy in the group. Chuck was the one who picked most of the new tunes we played and went over them with Doug and me at the studio. Most times we would try them once or twice and perform them the same night. His singing was intense on stage and the fans loved him. He was great fun to be with and we had some fun times together. As I think I mentioned, I heard recently that he is in a nursing home because of severe breathing problems. I have not seen him for many years, but the last time I saw him he had gained a huge amount of weight. I was told that he still is pretty heavy. He gave up the music business not too long after he left The Raymen in the 1960s. He just got fed up with things. He had all the talent anyone ever needed to be successful, but he never got a break.
(Since this interview Chuck Bennett has passed away on January 29, 2009)
Jack Van Horn was a close friend for 40 years when he passed away. We did a lot of things together both in and out of the music. We lived fairly close to each other most of the time and I saw him very often and we talked on the phone constantly. We tried some business ventures together and were always up to something. When we played with The Raymen, Jack usually sang the ballads, slow songs, and some of the R&B numbers. He had one of the best and cleanest voices I have ever heard. I never heard him sing a bad note. Jack also played guitar when Link was not on stage. He could do all of Link’s material very authentically. Since I was the “kid” in the group, he always looked out for me and drove me around places that I needed to go. I still think about him every day.
Shorty was a very reliable bass player and friend. You could depend on him to do what he said he would do. I don’t know of anyone who was as loyal to the Wray family as Shorty was, even though he was not compensated much for all he did. Doug could get Shorty to do almost anything. He would just harangue him until he did it. That’s why Shorty showed up one day with a mohawk haircut! He was no kid; he was Ray’s age. It is interesting to note that when Shorty played the bass on Rumble he used a stand up bass. Because of that he played in a certain way. When he got his electric bass, he played the song differently because he had more options. That is why some recordings of that song sound a bit different. On some his bass runs go down, and on others they go up. After his time with Link, he took up barbering and played with local country groups in the area. He was the first of the guys to die.
Bobby Howard was an excellent singer and was very intense. He was with Link before Jack and I started and was gone by the time we got there. He went on to front The British Walkers out of DC with Roy Buchanan on guitar. They were a very popular group in the early to mid 1960s and had a permanent gig at The Roundtable in Georgetown. They also toured on the college circuit and in other shows around the country. After Link signed with Polydor, Ray got Bobby a deal for an album that he put out under the name of Mordicai Jones. That didn’t do anything, and Bobby eventually got away from the business. He sold cars for a while in Virginia. I hear he is in Florida now.
The only times Richie Mitchell and I have been on stage together were for a few days with The Fender Benders at The Oasis in 1964 when I subbed for Jack Van Horn who was ill, and at the first Link Wray Tribute in 2006. Richie is an excellent bass player who fit in perfectly with the style Jack and Link played. When I asked Ray to move strictly to the touring gigs with Link, Richie took my place at the daily shows at the 1023 for a few months before he left, too. As far as I know, he never played with Link again. He would be out at the studio a lot of the time and was an excellent technical resource who Ray relied on to get things set up. He would often make the cords and connectors used during recording and could rewire or fix just about anything. I learned much of what I do from watching Richie with the old Fender Benders. Richie also played with Bobby Howard before Bobby started The British Walkers. After his time with Link, he played mostly country music with members of his wife’s family. After Jack died in 2002, Richie took The Fender Benders name and now performs with that group playing oldies.
John Van Horn, Jr. (John) was just 16 years old the first time he played with Link, his father, and me. Link stayed with Jack for almost a year in 1983 and John learned everything Link would teach him about his style of playing. John has a steel trap memory and the skill to go with it. He plays Link’s music in the most remarkable manner I have heard. It is impossible to tell the two apart. He also makes guitars and has plenty of other skills and talents. He is also fronting his own group, The John Van Horn Band. They are just now getting started. John and I wrote and arranged most of the songs on the “Jack Van Horn and The Fender Benders” CD.
Pat Greenwood has been a steady resource for us on drums since about the late 1970s. He has done a good bit of recording with Link, Jack, John, and me over the years. He is very capable with Link’s music and plays with a lot of intensity. Pat was the second (and last) drummer we had in The Pack.
11. What equipment was often used for recordings and performing? amps, guitars, speakers etc.
In the 1960s, Link Wray and The Raymen used some pretty basic equipment. Link used a Gibson Firebird guitar run through a Fender Twin Reverb and a PA speaker (Jack also used this setup). Chuck had a normal guitar and a much smaller amp. Doug had a very nice Ludwig drum kit and always had a tambourine on his hi-hat. I used a Fender Precision Bass and Shorty’s Ampeg B-1 connected to a Fisher pre-amp run through a 40-inch Voice of The Theater speaker. Link used no pedals or any other devices when he played. When recording, a piano would sometimes be added and Ray or Chuck would play that. Once in a while in the earlier days, Ray would have a sax player come over for specific songs. I recall on one of Ray’s songs Jack and I, who went to the studio to finish up the track, had to use a cardboard box for drums since Doug’s kit was still at the 1023. Once Ray ran one of his daughter’s pajama tops through my bass strings to get a more muted sound on one track. When on the road, we always carried all of the usual equipment with us. Link has had many guitars over the years, Gibson, Yamaha, Fender, Supro, Danelectro, etc. Rumble was recorded through an old Premier Amp. I know Richie has the PA speaker and he may also have the Premier. There were no gimmicks with Link. He didn’t need them.
12. How is your hearing after playing with Link?
The practical question! As it turns out, I have noticed for some time that my range of hearing has diminished somewhat over the years. I do have a bit of trouble hearing my granddaughter especially when the TV is on. But, fortunately, I don’t have any serious problems – yet. I am a bit concerned, however.
13. Can you tell us some of the musical influences of Link Wray and The Raymen?
The artist that Link thought the most of was Elvis. He also was a fan of Bob Dylan. Link and I went to a Dylan show in Baltimore in 1965. We sat pretty high up and no one even recognized Link. He recorded songs by both of them. In addition, he was very fond of Duane Allman. He was also influenced by some of the older blues singers. The Raymen were influenced by Link Wray! We grew up hearing his music. The group without Link on stage (when Jack played) was heavy into R&B and soul music because of the beat. If there was a hit song released, you could bet we would be playing it a day or two later. Don’t forget that we had to play for 5 hours a night! Then came The Beatles. We did just about everything they put out in the early days.
14. Do you feel that Link Wray deserves to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Do you think he will be?
Link should have been inducted into one of the first classes. His absence is a stain on that organization’s credibility especially because of some of the lesser talents already inducted. Link is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, but most of his music was not in that genre. Several people have begun petitions and I know the family has even spoken with HoF people. No one knows what is up for sure, but I would bet it has something to do with Olive. I have heard that she has never met anyone in the business she didn’t piss off. Link should be in the HoF. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess.
15. How is it playing with the current Raymen and what does the future hold for you all?
I have not enjoyed playing so much as I do now since we adopted the current trio format with John, Pat, and me. The sound is so much like what I remember from the early days that it is stunning. In addition, because we all know Link’s music over the years, we can play all of the material that he could not play while touring. He often picked up musicians for each tour who did not know his songs. They would even mess up his main instrumental hits. He seldom had a drummer who could match Doug for intensity.
As far as the future is concerned, we are not sure. We have tried very hard for the past year to get connected with a booking or management agency to no avail. We have had several deals in various stages for U.S. tours and overseas tours, but things never got worked out satisfactorily. A lot of local promoters have contacted us for individual shows, but frankly the expenses we would incur precluded us going because of the fee requirements for a single show. No one has yet been able to put together a reasonable tour even over a couple of weeks that would have sufficient shows to make the travel and effort worthwhile. We are still looking for someone to handle those aspects for us. Link played at clubs all over the country to his many fans. We can bring that same music back to them if and when the opportunities arise. Our MySpace site has generated over 90,000 hits and we have over 6,000 friends. Many ask when and where we are playing. It has gotten very frustrating to not be able to respond positively. The fans are there.