Link Wray, Merle Travis, Santo & Johnny and Johnny Jenkins : Guitar Instrumentals a Go Go!

Every decent Jukebox ought to have several fine instrumentals on offer.

The golden age of popular music, the 1920s to the 1970s, glittered with thrilling and moody instrumentals that blasted from car and transistor radios and the neon lit jukeboxes.

Most of the great instrumental hits hold you from the first notes and then take you on a dizzy aural ride before depositing you breathless as the last note sounds.

I have always loved guitar instrumentals.

There’s something elemental about those rousing riffs that locks deep into your memory and your musical heart.

The guitar instrumental can evoke a panoply of moods and tones from slashing attack to daydream lullabies.

The effective power of an instrumental is not necessarily related to instrumental virtuosity – its more something to do with familiarity and surprise.

Every time someone comes up with a winning riff you feel as if you’re recognising, recalling, something you’ve always known and yet you are charmed and surprised by its newly minted freshness. Simple really!

In a recent post I let you in on my fantasy off hosting a late night radio show and told you I already had the theme picked out. Well to kick of this instrumental fiesta here’s the one and only Link Wray with, ‘Turnpike USA’.

Can’t you just imagine setting cruise control, winding the windows down and driving into the setting or rising sun listening to this one?

Link Wray was a part Shawnee, power chording guitar hero if there ever was one! He was a master of distortion and of straight for the throat drive and attack.

His records demonstrate the awesome power of electric energy being restrained then unleashed.

They will never go out of style and you can bet someone right now is strapping on a guitar thinking they can match Link. Very few of them will succeed but they’ll have a heap of fun trying!

Next up a guitar player so good and influential that a whole style, ‘Travis Pickin” is named in his honour. I refer to the mesmerising maestro of guitar picking from Muhlenberg County Kentucky, Merle Travis.

Merle came out of and developed the multi-racial finger picking guitar styles of coal rich Western Kentucky.

His guitar playing miraculously melds elements of ragtime, jazz, hillbilly boogie, the blues and western swing.

Which is to say that Merle listened with wide open ears to all the music pouring out of the local radio stations and figured out how to take the elements of style needed for the particular tune he was ready to play (or write).

He could seamlessly switch from finger picking to flat picking like a musical conjurerer.

All this was done with charming relaxed authority. Sure, Merle wasn’t above a little showing off but generally his virtuoso skills were part of a musical whole not an end in themselves.

Perhaps this was because Merle was a brilliant songwriter as well as a supreme guitar stylist. After all, this is the man who wrote, ‘Sixteen Tons’ and ‘Dark As A Dungeon’ – songs that resound down the ages.

The showcase for Merle the picker here is this jaw dropping take on, ‘Cannonball Rag’

My next choice is from a musician, Johnny Jenkins, who is only well known to music scholars especially those devotees like myself of the home of deep southern soul the Stax/Volt label. This track appears on Volume 4 of the 9 CD, ‘Complete Singles’ set.

I consider possession of that collection of eternity shale to be the mark of a civilised person who would also have the 1911 Brittanica safely shelved along with the complete works of P G Woodhouse and Wild Bill Shakespeare.

Johnny was a left handed blues based player whose most important contribution to musical history, apart from the track in question here, is that he employed the young Otis Redding as his driver.

And, one epochal day in 1962, allowed him to use up 40 minutes of remaining studio time to see what he could come up with.

Those blessed minutes yielded the stupendous ballad, ‘These Arms Of Mine’ and the rest as they say is, History!

The track I’ve selected here is called, ‘Spunky’ and lasts barely two minutes.

But, what joy, what joy!

I advise you to turn this up as loud as you can and clear your furniture away.

For, if you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself whirling around like a dervish possessed while this one plays!

I can’t tell you how much I love this record.


Finally we may all need cooling down now so to sign off I’ll leave you with a tune that seems to contain the midnight breeze, the lapping of waves on the Atlantic shore and the blessed breath of your baby child.

Surely you’ve guessed I’m introducing the immortal, ‘Sleep Walk’ by the Farina Brothers from Brooklyn New York – known to you and me and the Billboard Charts as Santo and Johnny.

In 1959 this climbed all the way to the top of the chart and it’s still regularly played when anyone wants to look at the stars and dream of a better day tomorrow.

The boys greatest popularity came later in Mexico and Italy where they appreciate lyrical playing.

Got to say that’s put me in the mood to play Link Wray again – why don’t you?

54 thoughts on “Link Wray, Merle Travis, Santo & Johnny and Johnny Jenkins : Guitar Instrumentals a Go Go!

  1. Very nice, thought-provoking post. I was born in ’62 but was the youngest of five kids so inherited a musical legacy from them (and also my parents). Although I wasn’t alive, I can feel the vibes of 1945 (end of the War) so clearly when I watch history shows on TV. And the 50s, well, it’s just like I was ‘dreaming’ then before I fully awoke in ’62!!! I wasn’t there technically but can certainly get it.

    Great musicians have always known the power and beauty of (1) melody and (2) parsimony. These videos illustrate that!

    Liked by 1 person

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