Two for Tuesday: Roy Orbison (Baby Boom Years)

Mary and I went to see Roy Orbison at the Chicago Theater shortly before we moved to Atlanta. Johnny Rivers opened for him and put on a great show, but it paled when Roy came onstage and started hitting his high notes. It was as though he was controlling the crowd with them: he hit one and the crowd came to their feet. It will probably go down as the best concert I’d ever been to. Of course, I didn’t go to many concerts, but if it was the only one I saw, it would be enough.

Roy and his high-school band, the Wink Westerners (they were from Wink, Texas) had a goal of recording for Sam Phillips’s Sun Records after hearing that Elvis had gotten one. Johnny Cash, another Sun performer, gave Orbison Phillips’s phone number, but when Roy called, he was told “Johnny Cash don’t run my record label.” Thinking that was the end of his chances with Sun, he and The Teen Kings (formerly the Wink Westerners) went into the studio and recorded “Ooby Dooby,” which Roy had heard while at North Texas State College, for the regional Je-Wel label. Phillips heard the record when a record-store owner played it for him over the phone, and asked Orbison to come and record it at his studio. It was released in 1956 and reached #59 on the Hot 100. Years later, Creedence Clearwater Revival did a version for their Cosmo’s Factory album that sounded exactly the same.

From 1960 to 1964, Roy had seven Top 10 singles for the Monument label, culminating in what might have been his best-known song, “Oh, Pretty Woman.” It reached #1 in 1964.

Roy’s fortunes hit a bad streak after that. His wife Claudette, with whom he had divorced and remarried in 1963, died in a motorcycle accident, and the British Invasion swept him and so many other American acts off the charts. By 1976 he hadn’t had a hit album in over ten years and was doubting his own talent. Meanwhile, rock acts were beginning to cover his songs, most notably Linda Ronstadt, whose recording of “Blue Bayou” reached #3 on the charts. He rekindkled a friendship with George Harrison and became a member of The Traveling Wilburys, choosing the name Lefty Wilbury in honor of Lefty Frizzell. The Wilburys released their first album in 1987 and Roy’s final album, Mystery Girl, was released in 1988. Complaining of chest pains, he still managed to complete a hectic schedule. On December 4, after spending the day with his sons and having dinner with his mother, he died of a heart attack at the age of 52.

Roy Orbison, your Two for Tuesday, January 23, 2018.

5 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: Roy Orbison (Baby Boom Years)

  1. When I clicked on your second Roy Orbison song, I instantly remember practicing baton to Pretty Woman when I was around 10. Thanks for the memory : ) My favorite Christmas song has always been Pretty Paper, Pretty Ribbons of Blue. I didn’t know that he died in his early 50’s. Gone much too soon!

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  2. Famous for playing warmup for the Beatles when the Beatles had been booked to be warmup for him; by the time the concert rolled around, the Beatles were a phenomenon, and he graciously allowed them to headline.

    He was an odd looking fellow with his signature dark glasses but even odder looking when he took them off.

    Thank you for the tribute.

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    1. Great story on Wikipedia about him opening for The Beatles:

      As “In Dreams” was released in April 1963, Orbison was asked to replace the guitarist Duane Eddy on a tour of the UK in top billing with the Beatles, whose popularity was on the rise. When he arrived in Britain, however, he saw the amount of advertising devoted to the quartet and realized he was no longer the main draw. He had never heard of them and, annoyed, asked rhetorically, “What’s a Beatle anyway?” to which John Lennon replied, after tapping his shoulder, “I am”.[49] On the opening night, Orbison opted to go onstage first, although he was the more established act. Known for having raucous shows expressing an extraordinary amount of energy, Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr stood dumbfounded backstage as Orbison performed completely still and simply sang through 14 encores.[50] Finally, when the audience began chanting “We want Roy!” again, Lennon and McCartney prevented Orbison from going on again by physically holding him back.[51] Starr later said, “In Glasgow, we were all backstage listening to the tremendous applause he was getting. He was just standing there, not moving or anything.”[50] Through the tour, however, the two acts quickly learned to get along, a process made easier by the fact that the Beatles admired his work.[52] Orbison felt a kinship with Lennon, but it was Harrison with whom he would later form a strong friendship.

      Hard to imagine him without the sunglasses or some kind of glasses. He was unique….

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  3. I am still settling into WP. I am sorry I missed this! Orbison is one of Bill’s favourite male singers. Bill calls him a canary, but in a good way. You know how South Side Chicago guys talk. wink I do wish The Traveling Wilburys had been able to do more together. That was a great act. Great post!

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