Roy Orbison

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas. Professionally, his parents – a nurse and a worker – had nothing to do with music. But in his free time from work, he loved to play the guitar and sing with friends. On his sixth birthday, along with the harmonica that Roy dreamed of, his father gave him a guitar.  That predetermined the fate of the guy. The boy quickly learned to play and soon took part on an equal basis with adults in impromptu home concerts. At the age of eight, Roy wrote his first song called “A Vow of Love.” A year later, he won the city’s young talent competition and received an invitation to perform on a Saturday show on local radio. In late 1946, the Orbison family moved to Wink, where, a few years later, Roy formed his first group, the Wink Westerners. The frontman was then barely 13 years old. The venture turned out to be surprisingly tenacious.

Three years later, the group, playing other people’s country songs, was invited to perform once a week on the local radio station KERB. Over time, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, performing instrumental compositions and big band standards. Roy Orbison was an unusually active and energetic teenager. During the summer holidays, he worked part-time as a laborer, taking on the hardest work.

In parallel with his studies at school, he managed to play in the orchestra, which performed marches, sang in the octet, learned to play the trumpet. And in his senior year, he even became the manager of the school football team. Over time, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, performing instrumental compositions and big band standards. Roy Orbison was an unusually active and energetic teenager. During the summer holidays, he worked part-time as a laborer, taking on the hardest work. In parallel with his studies at school, he managed to play in the orchestra, which performed marches, sang in the octet, learned to play the trumpet. And in his senior year, he even became the manager of the school football team. Over time, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, performing instrumental compositions and big band standards. Roy Orbison was an unusually active and energetic teenager. During the summer holidays, he worked part-time as a laborer, taking on the hardest work. In parallel with his studies at school, he managed to play in the orchestra, which performed marches, sang in the octet, learned to play the trumpet. And in his senior year, he even became the manager of the school football team.

The Wink Westerners

In 1953, the Wink Westerners began working part-time in city clubs and soon embarked on their first modest tour of West Texas. After graduating from high school, Roy Orbison moved to Denton, where he entered college. Together with two fellow students, he made his first professional recording, “The Ooby Dooby.” True, the young musicians did not wait for the promised contract with Columbia Records. In 1955, Orbison entered the two-year college in Odessa (Odessa Junior College). At first, he intended to study geology but preferred history and English. Over time, other members of Wink Westerners gathered in Odessa. Having slightly updated the lineup and changed the name to The Teen Kings, they took up the old one – they performed in clubs with a rock and roll repertoire. The musicians have their Saturday show on local television, the guests of celebrities who came to the city. Roy Orbison has interviewed even Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

Weldon Rogers, who has just created his own record label, Je-Wel, has agreed to lend studio time to Roy Orbison. Accompanied by The Teen Kings, Roy recorded two songs – “Ooby Dooby” and a cover version of Clover’s “Trying to Get to You.” The double single was released two weeks after the studio sessions, t. The record fell into the hands of Sun Records boss Sam Phillips, who immediately tracked down the musicians and invited them to Memphis, where they recorded three of their compositions. And at the earliest opportunity, he went on a test tour of the southern states, supporting Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other famous artists. Tours were not in vain – single “Ooby Dooby” appeared on the 59th line of the pop chart; however, the following singles, published by the label Sun Records, did not receive any response. In December 1956, The Teen Kings disbanded, and Roy Orbison decided to help develop his composing skills.

A new chapter in the musician’s biography began in 1958 when the Everly Brothers recorded his composition “Claudette,” which Roy dedicated to his wife, Claudette. Released as a B-side, it rose to the American Top 30, while Orbison’s songs appeared in the repertoire of Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, and Jerry Lee Lewis. This significantly raised his prestige as a composer. The tracks “Uptown” performed by the artist himself and especially “Only the Lonely,” which were distinguished by an unusual orchestral and allowed the singer to shine with his charming baritone, felt more and more confident in the charts. The single “Only the Lonely” quickly finished on the second line of the American rankings and became a number one hit in the UK.

Monument Records

Roy Orbison Album
Roy Orbison’s first album from Monument Records featured “Only the Lonely.”

During this time, the artist began recording for the new independent label Monument Records with producer Joe Melson. Orbison is incredibly lucky with the record bosses. The head of the label, Fred Foster, was not chasing quick success.. He gave the singer studio time with no guarantee of future profits, allowed to experiment, and ignored the market demands. Ultimately, he won. Roy Orbison grew into a unique artist, performing a one-of-a-kind repertoire, original in structure, sound, and style. Orbison himself began to dictate the fashion of music, creating fresh, quasi-symphonic orchestrations. Roy’s characteristic vocals and guitar along with thrilling strings, sinister drums, and magical backing vocals were amazed the studio. The hits followed one after another: “Crying,”

In May 1963, Orbison accepted an offer to tour the UK to support the Beatles, who were just beginning their stellar career. Tickets sold out tickets for all concerts in a few days. On the first evening, the audience did not want to let the singer go and called him for an encore 14 times. John Lennon later admitted that when he wrote songs for the first Beatles album, “Please Please Me,” he set himself to surpass Roy Orbison.

Orbison could compete with the Beatles, and he was one of the few who withstood the wave of the so-called British invasion.

Oh Pretty Woman

In 1964, the artist released the biggest hit in his creative biography – the song “Oh Pretty Woman.” It was co-written with new partner Bill Dees. The composition “Oh Pretty Woman” is the pinnacle of a single biography and one of the most famous and iconic songs of the rock era. In August 1964, the single was released in the United States, followed a month later in the UK and dozens of other countries. It consistently became the number one hit in every country it was published in. In a matter of months, even before the end of 1964, the single “Oh Pretty Woman” fell into the hands of seven million music lovers around the world.

The musician consolidated his studio success with regular and extremely successful tours, which allowed him to show live all the power and beauty of his magnificent voice. In 1964, Orbison undertook an Australian tour with the Beach Boys, and in 65, he shared the stage with the Rolling Stones and visited Europe many times.

When his contract with Monument expired, Orbison was an ace target for record labels. The head of MGM offered him a million-dollar contract. His debut on a new label, the single “Ride Away,” only peaked at # 25 on the pop chart.  But time has shown to be the musician’s most successful release in the States in the next twenty years. Unfortunately, the million-dollar contract took away the singer’s creative freedom. For the label, MGM, one of the market leaders, Roy Orbison, was just another artist who was subject to the general rules.  Tops was the pursuit of quantity at the expense of quality. The musician was forced to release the agreed number of singles and albums, for which he paid with the level of records and then popularity.

Roy Orbison with sunglasses
Roy lost his glasses before a concert and went on stage wearing sunglasses. He wore them from then on.

A very difficult period began in the life of Roy Orbison. Professional failure is only half the trouble. In 1966, a much more terrible blow fell on him.  His wife Claudette, with whom they lived for nine years, died in a car accident. Two years later, a new tragedy struck.  Two of Orbison’s three children died during a fire, and his house burned down. For several years, the musician could not write music but kept himself in shape, continuing to tour and act in films. In particular, he played the main role in the film “The Fastest Guitar Alive.”

A young German woman Barbara Anne Marie Wilhonnen Jacobs, whom he met in England, helped the artist get out of the crisis. Barbara moved to America, and they got married in May 1969.

In 1974, the artist moved to a new label, Mercury Records. This did not return his former popularity. True, as Orbison liked to repeat, his songs were necessarily present in the charts somewhere in the world. For example, the single “Penny Arcade” hit number one in Australia.  The track “Too Soon to Know” hit Top 3 in the UK.

Monument Records Again

In 1976, the musician returned to the Monument label in hopes of restoring his reputation as a hitmaker. In the United States, he did not manage to revive his former popularity for a long time. For more than twenty years, from the late 60s to the late 80s, his albums and singles were sold so sluggishly that they almost did not appear on the charts. But the world is big, and the artist found a place to turn around. The busy concert schedule included lengthy tours of the Far East, Australia, Asia, and Europe. A grueling life on wheels, plus excessive smoking, were quick to take their toll on Orbison’s health. In January 1978, he underwent open-heart surgery. But after three weeks, he played the first concert, proving to everyone and himself that he would still fight.

Meanwhile, a glimpse has been outlined in America. Unaclaimed as a performer, Roy Orbison has always remained a fairly popular composer and one of the most beloved authors. Cover versions of his songs became hits one after another. The single “Blue Bayou,” released by Linda Ronstadt, has sold 8 million copies. Van Halen’s new version of “Oh Pretty Woman” was a huge hit. The song “Crying” became one of the biggest hits in Don McClean’s career.

With the beginning of the 80s in Orbison’s career, there was an obvious turning point.   It gradually restored his reputation as an actual artist, keeping up with the times. In 1980, he won his first Grammy for Best Country Performance (track “That Lovin ‘You Feelin’ Again”). He shared it with Emmylou Harris. The beautiful song “Wild Hearts Run out of Time” sounded in the famous film “Insignificance.” In 1986 a long-play “Class of ’55” was released, recorded with colleagues on the Sun Record label. For the interview disc “Interviews From The Class Of ’55 – Recording Sessions,” Orbison again became a Grammy winner in the category “Best Non-Musical Album.” The composition “In Dreams” played an important role in the new surge in popularity.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In January 1987, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him. At the same time, a new contract with Virgin Records provided for the publication of a collection of hits, “In Dreams-Greatest Hits.”  The musician prepared several fresh tracks, written together with new co-authors, including Jeff Lynne.

Among the live albums released by Orbison over his 25-year career, there were many successes, such as “Roy Orbison at the Los Angeles Country Club” or “Live in Birmingham, Alabama.” But none of them could compare with the disc “Roy Orbison and Friends – A Black and White Night Live” (1989). A chic lineup recorded the album: Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Bonnie Raitt, T-Bone Burnette and Jackson Browne ), and even accompanied by a backing band Elvis Presley with James Burton (James Burton) on guitar. He released a separate single on the album’s track “Crying,” a duet with Ki Dee Lang (KD Lang), which Orbison won him another Grammy.

The Traveling Wilburys

Collaboration with Jeff Lynn, certainly interesting in itself, had even more important consequences. Lynn has simultaneously produced George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison. This is how the composition of the participants of the future Traveling Wilburys super-project was outlined.  It was managed to attract Bob Dylan. The first album of this brilliant team (Lynn, Orbison, Harrison, Petty, and Dylan) climbed into the American Top 10.

In the meantime, Roy Orbison finished work on a selection of new material. The release was scheduled for January 1989, followed by a tour of America and Europe. In November, the musician performed as a headliner at the Belgian Diamond Awards Festival.  There, he performed a wonderful new composition, “You Got It.”

On December 6, 1988, in Nashville, where the singer came to visit his mother, he felt unwell.  A few hours later died of a heart attack after a shopping trip. He was only 52 years old.

Within a month, the name of Roy Orbison returned to the first lines of the charts. The single “You Got It” skyrocketed to the 9th position on the Billboard Hot 100. And the new long-play “Mystery Girl” hit the Top 5 of the pop albums rating.  It became the best-selling disc of Orbison’s career. In 1992 Virgin released the “King of Hearts” collection of unreleased material.  “The Very Best of Roy Orbison” came in 1996. The releases did not go unnoticed. His wife Barbara manages his legacy and prepares new releases on the specially created Orbison Records label.  She has done and continues to do a great job of popularizing Roy Orbison’s creativity.

We still love Roy Orbison, and we still listen to him. Regularly reissued compilations of hits are also regularly noted in the charts. The new “Virgin Platinum Collection”, was released at the end of 2004, nearly 15 years after the musician’s death.  It started in the US charts from the 16th line right away.