Jack the Ripper redux

The Jack the Ripper conference I wrote about in my Sunday column may be over, but the beat goes on: Link Wray’s surf guitar masterpiece “Jack the Ripper” won’t stop twanging in my head.

The Ripper’s power is not confined to chords: The legend of the first serial murderer of modern times still permeates pop culture, inspiring hundreds of books, movies, plays and TV shows.


Music-wise, there’s a rap by LL Cool J and a strong song co-written by Morrissey while he was front man for The Smiths. 

But nothing can beat the space-age bluesiness, the metallic grit, of the original Jack the Ripper tune, and of the man who made it sing.

Lincoln Wray, who had Shawnee heritage, grew up poor in Depression-era North Carolina, which may explain why his music is far edgier than the sunny “surf” label suggests.

He hit the pop charts in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, faded, and then experienced periodic re-discoveries by hipsters, including retro-country crooner Robert Gordon in the ‘70s and filmmaker/groovemeister Quentin Tarantino in the ‘90s.

In 2005, Wray died.

But his music surely didn’t.