Welcome to another blog of Roy Orbison Junior’s Rock and Roll Circus. My name is Roy and I’m glad you’re reading today. We’re going to do an episode called quotations. It’s very interesting stuff and I love all these guys. This is kind of a precursor to where the blog may go in the future. Nearly every person on this list is so important in Roy’s life that we can do an entire podcast on them. I mean Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, or Bob Dylan there’s a lot to say. But, this blog is mostly what those great people had to say about Roy Orbison.
So let’s get started. The reason I titled the liner notes the new role of the old rock and the old role of the new rock was that there’s always a Roy Orbison character, and there is also part of Roy Orbison’s character in many many different artists of many genres. Its a personal hobby of mine to find those little points and those little references, but don’t take my word for it. I’m going to read some of the quotations that people gave us for the Soul of Rock’n Roll.
Sam Phillips said, “I don’t think people know how good of a guitar player Roy was. He used the bass strings and played combination string stuff. He had the best ear for a beat of anyone I recorded outside of Jerry Lee Lewis. His timing would amaze me. He’d play lead and fill in with rhythm licks. He just hated to leave his guitar down.”
Sam Phillips would’ve been talking about 1956 here, so that’s really early. Roy was about 19 years old 20 years old hated to lay his guitar down. I know he slept with a guitar in the bed, or he’d push put it on the edge of the bed leaning up against the bed. He would sleep wake back up play again because he played himself to sleep every night. A lot of times he fell asleep with the guitar in his hands. So I know what Sam Phillips meant there. He just hated to lay his guitar down.
This is a quote by Roy Orbison, Dad, and we included this one because he talks about Elvis. Elvis was a really important influence. Probably the primary influence on everybody really, but definitely Roy Orbison. Roy didn’t actually have that many identifiable sources as influences. But Elvis Presley was definitely, definitely everybody’s idol. Even though they’re about the same age, Elvis was a couple of years older than Roy.
Roy said in an interview, “Elvis was bigger than life. His success was documented and laid out for him. He came into the first show I had in Memphis and it was very nice. He sort of treated me like an equal because we are both fresh in the business. We got to be great friends and kindred souls.”
I really loved that line as we are putting together the Soul of Rock and Roll because he said kindred souls. When I read that I just knew we had to use this quotation because it’s called the Soul of Rock and Roll, and of course if you’re calling something the Soul of Rock and Roll, and it’s a kindred soul to Elvis Presley, that makes a little more sense.
The Bonnie Raitt quotation is, “The sheer beauty and aching emotion of Roy’s voice and music affected me deeply. From the first time I heard him, everything I learned about him defied all my preconceptions about Texans or pop and rock and roll stars. He was his animatic and unearthly a presence as he was a singer. Absolutely no one like him before or since.”
That’s Bonnie Raitt and she as you know did this great version of “You Got It” shortly after that for a movie. Know what she means, and it is true that Roy was kind of an unearthly, ghostly presence sometimes. He could actually walk through the room and be unnoticed if he wanted.
Bono of U2, “Roy Orbison is now coming back into focus as an innovator of pop music, and I think that’s his two eternal traits, singer and of innovator pop music. Someone who change songwriting and obviously as a singer, his spirit-like voice.”
He and Roy wrote a song called “She’s a Mystery To Me” That Roy used on the Mystery Girl album.
Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, ”Ever since I heard ’Only The Lonely’ on a jukebox in 1961, I was a sucker for that voice. Arguably the first true voice in Rock and Roll.”
This is kind of a surprising quote from Lemmy because Lemmy has that harsh kind of AC/DC voice. Definitely a rock and roll voice. So, he’s carefully chosen his words here, “arguably the first TRUE voice in rock and roll.” So I think it’s the word true that really jumps out there. He means, the first true voice and rock and roll, not so much of a stylist but someone who could truly sing. So, I think that’s kind of what he was trying to say. Arguably the first true “singer” voice of and rock and roll. That is true because up until Roy Orbison, most of the singers were doing a kind of raspy voice, exactly what Lemmy himself did so well. But, as a true singer, a true toned singer, Roy was probably the first.
Joe Melson, Joe was Roy’s cowriter for a lot of the great songs like “Only the Lonely”, “Blue Angel”, “Crying”, “Blue Bayou”, and “Running Scared. Here’s the Joe Melson quote, ”Roy Orbison, what a voice! Elvis Presley was the Rock and Roll King of the world, but Roy is indisputably the Rock Ballad King of the world. No one in history could surpass the dramatic escalation of his voice. Roy is missed, both as my friend and an artist.”
Joe truly was Roy’s friend, and it’s a little hard for me to read that quote because they had such a beautiful relationship. They were kind of like brothers. Joe Melson is a fabulous songwriter, a great character and a great man. He is someone that I’ve respected and looked up to my whole life. He speaks the truth. He’s had great times with Roy Orbison and he’s had arguments with Roy Orbison. He came to terms with his own relationship with my dad over many years, so the most important part there is where he says Roy is missed both as my friend and an artist. I know that would mean a lot to my dad because they have been through so much.
John Cougar Mellencamp. His quotation is, ”When I was a kid, my parents had a Roy Orbison record in their collection. When I heard him sing, I asked them if they thought there was a special device that was used to make him sound like that, and they said they didn’t think so- He sang so beautifully I just had to ask.”
I assume what John means is the beautiful vibrato in Roy’s voice. He probably thought there was actually an effects box he could put it through. There is now, those exist today but no, Roy was singing things in one take, just through the microphone in a very simplistic way when you compare it to what’s being done today.
Tom Petty, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys. His quote is, ”The first time I heard him was on the family radio. I remember that he sounded very otherworldly, like he came from another place. I remember the next time I heard him was when he did ’Mean Woman Blues,’ and that really shook me up, and I then made a point to find his records and find out exactly who this was. Not long after that ’Oh, Pretty Woman’ came out, and everyone knew who he was. He had that incredible stage presence with the sunglasses and his jet-black hair.”
This sort of reminiscence by Tom Petty really shows how Roy would latch himself onto your spirit. This is a personal memory, a personal experience quote.
Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, ”’Only The Lonely’ was probably, or ’Blue Angel,’ the first real Roy Orbison record I ever heard. And then I heard ’Crying.’ And that was it. To me it was the voice of God.”
Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, ”This mystery that I liked about him as well, the way he was all in black with the black sunglasses.”
Dolly Parton, ”I’ve never been more moved by a voice than I have been by Roy Orbison. I loved him personally, and I loved his voice. I think of him often and frequently listen to his songs.”
Kris Kristofferson, ” Roy Orbison was one of the genuinely nicest persons I’ve ever known. With one of the most beautiful voices in the history of recorded music he could easily have had an opera star’s ego, but he was one of the humblest, kindest, sweetest human beings to grace this planet. This spite of the enormous tragedies in his life, A brave, beautiful blessing of a man.”
Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, ”One of the earliest and most specific memories of Roy Orbison’s great work set the stage for slow-dancing at Junior High house parties, where it found me and my sweetie hugging and listening to his big hit ’Crying.’ It was a privilege to meet him years later in his all too brief, brilliant career. He was as gracious a man as you could ever encounter and was delighted to be regaled about my earlier exploits set to his awe inspiring sounds. A great artist.”
Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, ”I just love him. There is nothing fake going on there. The all-black, the sunglasses and the black hair are all very dramatic, and it’s show business to an extent, but it is not showbiz. It’s not for your entertainment value. It is because it has got to be expressed.”
The quotation by Mick Jagger, ”From watching Roy, I learned how to sing a dramatic ballad.”
Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones went on tour with Roy in 1965 in Australia. They spent three weeks with him right at the beginning of their song writing career. Another surprising quote because you would think that Mick Jagger learned to slow songs from a lot of different sources. He’s actually saying quite a lot in the small statement, “from watching Roy I learned how to sing a dramatic ballad.” And the greats have a certain way of hiding their influences or obscuring where they get things. I think that’s why Mick Jagger is so brief. He’s actually giving us something very important. And Roy did teach a whole generation, a whole world how to how to approach a ballad, how to sing it with feeling without being trite, superficial, or fake. Actually Mick Jagger, while he doesn’t sound like Roy Orbison, I believe that’s what he meant. That he learned how to sing a dramatic ballad, not how to sound in a ballet but how to actually approach it without being corny.
Jeff Lynn of the Electric Light Orchestra and the Traveling Wilburys, ”It was a great thrill just to know Roy Orbison, so to play, sing, write hit songs with him and have him in the Traveling Wilburys was beyond my wildest dreams!”
About the traveling Wilburys, Roy Orbison said in an interview, ”I’ve been taken aback by the way things are going. I thought the Wilburys would be successful but nothing like as popular as it has been. It’s selling millions.”
Tom Waits, who played with Roy in Black and White Night, ”To me, his voice sounds like the wind forming words and being sent to you from across time. His voice is so alone it defies comparison. It feels like part opera, part mariachi, part lonesome yodel and part Irish tenor vis Texas. And there is something so tender, so private about his voice, it confides feelings you keep mostly to yourself. He sounds like a man who is man enough to cry. He feels new and like he’s been around for centuries. There is no one in music like him.”
Bruce Springsteen, ”Roy’s ballads were always best when you were alone in the dark. They were scary. His voice was unearthly.”
Chuck Berry, ”He had songs that I will remember forever. He had style.”
Glenn Danzig who wrote the song “Life Fades Away” with and for Roy, ”It was an honor for me to be able to write a song for Roy and to get to work with him on it at his home and in the studio. When he sang his voice filled the room and was bell-clear. I was floored. I remember playing his very rare and expensive Spanish guitar. When he told me how rare it was I started to put it down and he said, ’No, Glenn, great instruments were meant to be played.’ Hell yea!! Roy was the Real Thing.”
k. d. lang, ”We met in Vancouver to start the session (for ’Crying’). The most profound memory that I have of him is when we leaned into the microphone to sing the big part of the song where we sang together and our cheeks touched, His cheek was so soft but so electrifying, because his voice was coming out at the same time which was just huge and reverberated the whole space let alone his body and mine when we were touching; it was just electric.”
Eric Clapton, ”Roy Orbison was a great inspiration to me when I was growing up in music, He could do things with his voice that I could only dream of doing. His songs were masterpieces of construction.”
Here are some lines by Elvis Costello about Roy Orbison. ”I think such a lot of amazing things appeared when I was young and didn’t know the background story. I had no idea he had been on Sun (Records). The first records I’d heard were ’Pretty Woman,’ ’It’s Over’ and ’Running Scared’ would make a big impression on you. Later on I read that John Lennon had written ’Please, Please Me’ in imitation of Roy Orbison. I got access to American record stores and then I started buying Monument records. I started discovering all these unbelievable songs. My favorite is ’Crawling Back.’”
Of Course, Elvis Costello was on the Black and White Night show. It was so good. He did a great job. He played harmonica on “Candyman”, and he wrote the song “Comedians” that Roy did on the mystery girl album. The final version of comedians that appeared on mystery girl is quite different from the version that’s on the Elvis Costello album. He rewrote it to make it more “Orbisony”, and he and I remember my mom asking to give it a big ending. I’m not sure who came up with the bolero beat that they used on comedians. It could have been T-bone Burnett, could’ve been Elvis Costello and himself, most probably it was Roy himself.
Neil Diamond recalled, ”I first met Roy Orbison on stage in Melbourne, Australia in 1976. He picked up a guitar and kicked into ’Pretty Woman,’ one of the great records of my teen years. It took less than eight bars to realize that I was only excess baggage. So I backed off quietly and stopped singing altogether, letting The Master do one of his masterpieces alone.”
Neil Diamond was always very friendly with Roy. Roy did a great version of “Sweet Caroline” which was a fun song that he did around 1972 that Neil wrote. When I was a child, my favorite song was Chuck Berry “Roll Over Beethoven”, and that would be when I was about two years old. By the time I was about three or four, my favorite song was by Neil Diamond “Song Sung Blue”. I can remember singing that and my dad laughing. Ten years later, we lived in Malibu in the Malibu colony. My dad and Barbara and Alex and I were walking on the beach, and Neil Diamond was just laying there on a blanket with his wife. We stopped, I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t recognize him. Roy talked to him for about 10 minutes. Occasionally, Neil and Roy would talk walking out on the beach. So we still have a fun affinity for Neil diamond and he still going really strong.
Here is a quotation by Clint Black, the country star, ”Roy Orbison is one of the reasons I can sing the high notes! He made it cool, and he made it a challenge to do it in a cool way. And he’s probably the reason that artists today who wear glasses aren’t rejected out of hand. Imagine how many kids who wore glasses when he hit the scene were instantly made to feel cool. Cool, cool, cool. That’s Roy Orbison.”
Bill Dees was Roy’s cowriter on many of the great song like; “It’s Over”, and “Oh, Pretty Woman”. He was quite a character, and I’ll probably have to do a whole blog just on Bill Dees. I knew him from the time I was really small. I always love seeing him. He was kind of like a clown to me. He had a great sense of humor, he was very smart, and a little bit wild and crazy! We called him Wild Bill, Wild Bill Dees. Here is the quotation from Bill Dees. ”His voice was like a voice crying in the wilderness. He led ’The Lonely’ to love. And he is sorely missed.”
I’m sure Bill Dees had a lot more to say about Roy, but that’s summed it up pretty well. In later years, he came to visit us in Malibu, and Roy was still friendly with him. They lived together for couple of days in an apartment out in Malibu on the beach where Bill and Roy wrote this great song “Windsurfer”. It appeared on the album Mystery Girl. “Windsurfer” was a song that was kind of written about Alex and I because we would go out surfing and boogie boarding on the beach in front of the house every day. So it was only natural that Roy wrote a song about surfing and made it in a bit of an Orbison story.
Leonard Cohen was a big Roy Orbison fan. He liked the poetry of Roy’s words and the song structures. I met him in 1988 at my dads funeral. I had a great conversation with him alone as we sat at a roundtable in the lobby of the Wilton theater. It was really sad point my life, and he had lot to say. I remember we drink brandy together. That’s my that’s my Leonard Cohen story. But, in the rehearsal for his 1988 tour, he would tell the band to make it like Roy Orbison would do it. The musicians had a picture of Roy Orbison posted into their charts folder. That’s the kind a thing that Leonard Cohen would do. That’s the quote about Roy Orbison by Leonard Cohen, ”Make it like Roy Orbison would do it.”
Bob Dylan who was in the traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison Bob Dylan’s pseudo name in the Traveling Wilburys was Lucky Wilbury. Roy Orbison’s name was Lefty Wilbury. So Lucky and Lefty first met in the 60s. I always heard rumors that Roy was offered the song “Don’t think twice it’s alright”, but for some reason he passed on it back then and Bob Dylan did the version himself that everyone came to know and love. The rumor that I heard was that Bob Dylan wrote it for Roy Orbison. In his book chronicles Bob wrote, “I was always fishing for something on the radio. Just like trains and bells, it was part of the soundtrack of my life. I move the dial up and down and Roy Orbison’s voice came blasting out of the small speakers. His new song “Running Scared” exploded into the room. Orbison though transcended all the genres folk, country, rock and roll, or just about anything. His stuff mixed all the styles and some that hadn’t even been invented yet. He could sound mean and nasty on one line and then sing in a falsetto voice like Frankie Valley in the next. With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountain top, and he meant business. One of his previous song “Ooby Dooby” was deceptively simple, but Roy had progressed. He was now singing his own compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over the edge of a cliff. He saying like a professional criminal. Typically, he’d start out in some low barely audible range, stay there for a while, and then astonishingly slip into histrionics. His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like man I don’t believe it. His songs had songs within songs. They shifted from major to minor key without any logic. Orbison was deadly serious, no Polywog and no fledgling juvenile. There wasn’t anything else on the radio like him.” Bob Dylan.
Getty Lee, the lead singer and bassist of Rush, said, “the first song that made me interested in music was “Oh, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison. It was the guitar intro, that riff that I really liked and maybe listen in a different way.”
When I heard Getty Lee say that on TV a couple of years ago I kind of laughed because I was into Rush as a kid around 11 years old. Rush had great lyrics, and I always had to ask my dad what these lyrics were about. Songs like “Red Barchetta”, I would go to Roy and say what’s a red Barchetta? We would go listen to the song. He liked “Red Barchetta”. I remember there was a song called the trees in particular that I really liked. It had great guitar playing but it was the lyrics that I was interested in. Why were they writing about the maples versus the oaks? And why did they chop all the trees down at the end? What was the meaning of this parable? I forced my dad to listen to all these Rush songs and tell me the meaning of the lyrics. There were a lot of words I didn’t know. I learned the word grotesque from the song “Witch Hunt” by Rush. I’d say dad, what does the word grotesque mean? He would then as ask how it was used, and I would read through the album lyrics in the song “Witch Hunt”. I have fond memories of Rush with Roy Orbison, although I don’t know how much he really liked the band. He didn’t dislike them, but we listen to all the songs.
Another person that no one can really see the connection between is Roy and Neil Young. But Neil Young mentions Roy by name in songs, he has a picture of Roy on one of his albums. I forget which one but he has a picture of Roy hidden on the album cover. He plays a white falcon because the first show he saw when he was 13 years old in Canada was Roy Orbison. That would have been really early. That would’ve been even 1959. Roy by 1960, I think he painted that guitar black. So it would be right around the time of “Only the Lonely” that Roy was playing this rockabilly guitar, the white falcon.
Here’s a quotation by Neil Young. “This was many years ago 62 maybe, I saw him in Winnipeg. I saw him all over the place that year. Got to talk to him once outside a gig. He was coming out of his motorhome with his backing band the Candy Man. They had a profound effect on my life. I always loved Roy Orbison. I looked up to the way he was. I admired the way he handled himself. That aloofness he had influenced me profoundly. It was we carried himself you know, with this benign dignity. His music was always more important than the media. It wasn’t a fashion statement. It wasn’t about being in the right place at the right time and making the right moves. That didn’t matter to Roy just like it doesn’t matter to me. Anyways, I’ve always put a piece of Roy Orbison on every album i’ve made. His influence is on so many of my songs. I even had his photograph on the sleeve of Tonight’s the Night for no reason really, just recognizing his presence. There’s a big Orbison tribute song on El Dorado called “Don’t Cry”. That’s totally me under the Roy Orbison spell. When I wrote it and recorded it, I was thinking Roy Orbison meets thrash metal. Seriously.”
Elvis Presley held Roy Orbison in very high regard, publicly stating that Roy had the most perfect voice, and referring to him as the greatest singer in the world during one of his Las Vegas concerts.
Johnny Cash talking about Roy Orbison onetime said, “It was a particularly close friendship to. We were like brothers right from the start, and we stayed that way until the end. Johnny Cash and his autobiography wrote three full chapters on Roy. Chapters 5,6,and 7 where he details in a way that is so beautiful and only he can. A first person account of how he felt about Roy and highlights of their an early career at Sun Records. Johnny Cash was the one to recommend Roy to Sun Records and he helped him in a lot of different ways in the early years. Then, Roy helped him out in the 60s. So if you get a chance, please go read Johnny Cash’s biography chapters 5,6, and 7 for his first-person account about Roy Orbison.
And to end, we will use a quotation by me from the Soul of Rock Roll. “Roy Orbison stood alone at 5’11” inches and cast a long shadow over Rock and Roll. He never lost a childlike fascination with music and a humility that He was given admiration and money for what He would have done anyway for free. Music was what it was all about. The guitar was his best friend, and together they had a lot of fun. Mercy!!”
To close out the blog, let’s use a quote by my dad. It’s from his last interview in London. “”I’ve spent my lifetime trying to figure love out. Love ranges from just fascination to something almost spiritual. In the case with my wife Barbara it just keeps growing all the time…I’m sure that suffering makes you stronger, and gives you a chance to accept the love that people offer you. Jesus Christ keeps me centered and on the right path.”
The last picture in the booklet for the Soul of Rock and Roll shows Roy dressed in black in the sunlight sitting in a chair on the beach in Malibu holding a black guitar. It has a quotation under it as well. “The best songs in me haven’t been written yet.”
We will end it there. I love all those people who we had quotations by, and what they say gives a lot of insight into Roy Orbison and the way they reacted to Roy Orbison. Please check out the podcasts that go along with these blogs, and check out www.royorbisonjr.com for a lot of other stuff. Thanks again for reading and see you back here next time on Roy Orbison Jr.’s Rock and Roll Circus.