Roy believed God, music, time and love could cure all things. Something had happened to give Roy the hope of love. Just when He needed it most, He met the girl who would become his wife and constant companion. Roy married Barbara Annemarie Wellhoener Jakobs on May 24, 1969.

When Roy would say ”Barbara saved my life” in interviews, everyone knew He meant it literally. In Barbra, He had found what He was looking for, the once in a lifetime soulmate love that only happens in dreams.

In his live shows, Orbison always had a few extra rockers to add to his ”ballad heavy” string of hits. ”Land Of 1000 Dances” from a 1972 show in Australia is a good example, recorded with his backing band of the time, The Art Movement.

In the 1970s, Roy poured his energy into his family. With his parents, surviving son Wesley K. Orbison, and two new sons, Roy Jr and Alex ”Orbi” Orbison, Roy and Barbara found fun in life again.

Even during his ”Lost Years,” Orbison was still quite active. Winning a Grammy Award for his duet with Emmylou Harris, ”That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again.” Touring with the Eagles in 1978. Doing benefits like Farm Aid, and appearing on The Dukes Of Hazzard with Daisy Duke.


INTO THE 1980’s

Jerry Lee Lewis,

Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison got together one last time. The album was called Homecoming, and what a glorious reunion it was. Carl Perkins gave the best vocal performances of his career. Johnny wrote his best lyrics. Jerry Lee was still wild, and Roy Orbison was still emotional. The songs somehow sound better today than the day they were released in 1985. Roy’s solo song, ”Coming Home”, contains a spiritual quality.

A picture was taken at Sun of Carl, Johnny, Jerry Lee and Elvis and dubbed ”The Million-Dollar-Quartet”. It would have been ”The Million-Dollar-Quintet”, except that Roy was in Texas at the time. The name ”The Million-Dollar-Quartet” was considered for the reunion band, but out of respect for Elvis, they called themselves ”Class of ’55”. Along with the death of Elvis Presley, ”Class of ’55” was the end of the beginning of Rock and Roll. The songs conjure up these friends as a Big Train from Memphis, with Elvis as the engine in the front, Carl in the next boxcar, Johnny the next, Roy the next, all the cool cats from Sun next, and Jerry Lee as the caboose to tear the whole thing down. The passage of time shows just how special that train would prove to be.

In the movie Blue Velvet director David Lynch pointed out the darkness inherent in any Roy Orbison song. In this case, the beautiful song ”In Dreams” would be re-imagined as a nightmare. Lynch also made a Spanish version of ”Crying” called ”Llorando” the set piece for his movie Mulholland Drive.

There never was a band that had more fun than the Travelling Wilbury’s. Like a musical version of Monty Python, Nelson Wilbury, Otis Wilbury, Lefty Wilbury, Lucky Wilbury and Charley T. Junior humbly made music history, notably by actually making great music.

George Harrison had befriended Roy when The Beatles were the supporting act for the English leg of Orbison’s 1963 world tour. That friendship came back full-circle when Tom Petty (who was working with Orbison various projects – The Heartbreakers are all over the album Mystery Girl, Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra (Roy’s trusted friend and producer) and Bob Dylan (the best lyricist ever, among other things) formed the dream band.

George Harrison was only in two bands for all He achieved in his mighty career. George is still a Beatle, and He is still a Wilbury. Thy Wilbury Done.

Roy’s spotlight song on the Traveling Wilburys album ”Not Alone Anymore”, is one of his best vocals. It soars like an Angel.

”You Got It”, is so catchy, it’s almost not fair to the listener. It’s like one big chorus. You can hear how big Roy’s love was by the conviction of his voice. The words of a man who promises the world and can deliver. It’s the true life serenade of Roy to Barbara Orbison.

When Roy and Bono of U2 worked together, Bono turned out a gem of a song. ”She’s A Mystery To Me” has a wonderful rhythm and many classic Orbison elements. It sounds like it could be from Orbison’s classic Monument period, yet is as modern as what it is-a U2 song with Roy Orbison singing.

Roy’s life in the 1980s on the beaches of California was his golden period. From his Pacific Ocean front porch, He could see the beauty of the sunset or hear the thunder over Kanan Dume. He always said the sky there has a special blue color. When He was on the road, a certain time of day always made him miss Barbara. He would look up at the sky and wish He was seeing the cloudless blue sky of California. Like a latter day ”Blue Bayou,” Roy captured the emotion of longing again with ”California Blue.”

Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night was captured on audio and black-and-white video. No color footage exists. The sounds are vivid enough without it.

Great Rock and Roll guitarist James Burton throws cascades of colorful notes across every song. Alex Acuna and the rest of Elvis’ TCB Band playing with Roy gives the show a ”Holy Elvis” quality. Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello Bonnie Raitt, k.d. lang and T Bone Burnett turned in heartfelt renditions with a unique chemistry. (Orbison worked frequently with super-talented T Bone Burnett, who was also the musical director for Black and White Night.)

On top of all of this was Roy himself, giving the performance of a lifetime. New songs like ”(All I Can Do Is) Dream You” burn with the fire of a young man alongside classics like ”Oh, Pretty Woman.”

Bruce Springsteen helped Roy many times, in many ways. In his early days, Bruce had opened the show for Orbison and would later write ”Roy Orbison singing for the lonely” in his song ”Thunder Road.” It was Bruce Springsteen who inducted Roy into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 with a riveting speech. Roy loved The Boss’s live shows and received a surprise when Bruce sang ”Happy Birthday” to him from the stage in Los Angeles.

Springsteen’s integrity was well known to Roy, and it was an association and friendship that made Roy very proud.

Thank you Bruce!

Right ’til the end, Roy always liked upbeat Rock and Roll. ”Heartbreak Radio” could be a song from his Sun days recorded in the year 2050. It’s the same old boogie-woogie in disguise.

Jeff Lynne’s talents graced ”I Drove All Night.” His deep understanding of music allowed him to match Roy’s voice in ways no one else was ever able. Roy could sing flawlessly over anything Jeff played, and Jeff could play perfectly behind anything Roy sang. They worked well together, and Jeff added yet another chapter of genius to Roy’s life.

Roy’s last great long-term songwriting collaboration was with fellow Texan Will Jennings. With Will, Roy created his most mature works. The point of view in these songs isn’t old-it’s ancient. ”Wild Hearts Run Out Of Time” was written for a movie about Marilyn Monroe, but the song is so personal, with Roy singing lines about being ”in the dying of the light” and ”in the sunshine of your mind,” that in retrospect it seems autobiographical. It would be a heart attack that claimed him too early in life.

”Life Fades Away” is a spooky song. In the opening lyrics, Roy sings, ”My time has come, the clouds are calling/December Wind has come my way. ”Produced by Rick Rubin, the song begs the question of what great songs the relationship might have yielded. With Orbison, Rubin began a new direction in his series of successess. Rick put the song on the soundtrack for the movie Less Than Zero. Seeing Roy and Slayer on the same album is the type of cool factor Rick is so good at. Working with Roy led Rick to Johnny Cash.

Roy Orbison was buried December 1988, in the most famous cemetery in the world. His pallbearers were the Traveling Wilburys. The sky was raining.


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.





INTO THE 1960s


Roy Orbison on the radio during the years 1960-1965 at Monument  must have been a thrilling ride as Roy outdid himself again and again. Each time making the song bigger and louder, the notes higher and longer, the arrangements more natural. These were the days of singles; you got a B-side, but still the A-side was all that mattered. It was a high-wire act. With Roy as the lyricist and songwriter, singing and playing the songs, they hit like a complete package.

And hit they did.

In this period, Roy Orbison was undeniable. Biggest record sales. Biggest audiences. Biggest tours. Manhandling the charts worldwide.

Orbison was the only American to chart regularly during the British invasion.

”Only The Lonely” hit #2 on the American charts and #1 on the U.K. charts. Roy was strengthened by the amazing talent He had surrounded himself with. There was Fred Foster, president of Monument Records. Fred Foster believed in Roy’s talent.



How many times have you had to make a decision on the spur of the moment that not only changed your life but the lives of countless others? This happened to me early in 1959, when I received a call from Wesley Rose, head of Acuff-Rose Publications, one of Nashville’s leading song publishers.

Wesley was also managing Roy Orbison, a young singer who had just had his short-lived contract with label giant RCA Victor terminated apparently by a mutual agreement between Wesley and RCA. During our telephone conversation, Wesley asked if I would be interested in signing Roy to my less than 1-year-old Monument label.

The only knowledge I had of Roy was limited at best, as I was only somewhat familiar with two of his songs, ”Ooby Dooby” and ”Rockhouse,” which he had recorded with Sam Phillips’ Sun label. Wesley wanted an immediate answer from me, and after only a moment of considering the possibilities of such an undertaking, I agreed to add Roy to Monument’s fledgling lineup.

I was to meet Roy for the very first time at our first Monument session, which was set for a 10 a.m. start at the RCA studios. Ten o’clock came and went as the musicians and I waited for Roy to arrive. Around 10:20, someone called Wesley’s office to help us locate Roy. As it turned out, no one at Acuff-Rose had told Roy he had a session scheduled, and he was asleep in his hotel room.

Someone there roused him and rushed him over to the studio. After being introduced and shaking hands, we got started around 11; not the way for an artist and producer to begin, but that’s how it was. ”Paper Boy,” backed by ”With The Bug” from that session, was released as Roy’s first Monument single.

Oh, I liked Roy personally during the brief time we spent together following that initial meeting. He seemed sincere, sensitive and eager to please. We were both determined to get off to a better start for our next session, and we agreed to schedule a week together to get to know one another and to better prepare for whatever lay ahead.

He came to Nashville from his home in Texas and I from mine in Maryland, and we proceeded to become friends and mutual admirers. We selected “Uptown”  a song of his that was different from what he had been doing. To expand the image of ”Uptown,” I visualized using the great tenor sax man, Boots Randolph  to supply the pivotal background fills. Roy asked to use a string section for an even greater ”Uptown emphasis.” This proved to be problematic. We were in Nashville, where you could find plenty of fiddle players, but hardly any violin players. Anita Kerr did find four violin players, and she arranged their parts so they sounded like the string section that Roy had asked for.

”Uptown” was released to a more favorable response than the first single, charting midway on the national charts and selling about 100,000 copies. The table was set for release number three. By the time ”Uptown” was winding down, Roy and I were in constant communication as to the direction the next recording would take, and specifically the song selection. I told Roy this would be one of, if not the most important record of his career. Both radio and the public seemed ready to get on board for his trip to stardom.

We arrived in Nashville in late February/early March 1960 and went immediately to work.

We were staying at the now long-gone Anchor Motel on West End Avenue, and I was walking across the parking lot to the coffee shop for breakfast one morning, humming bits and pieces of some of Roy’s songs. A background vocal figure from “Come Back To Me, My Love,”  a song of his about the tragic death of a teenage sweetheart on her birthday, was completely captivating, but we had decided not enough time had passed since “Teen Angel,”  a song with a similar theme, had been a huge hit.

Roy also had a song called “Only The Lonely” which was constructed with a 32-bar rubato verse, making the main body of the song very short. To those not familiar with the term rubato, it means out of tempo or ad-lib. Anyway, here I am going to breakfast humming to myself ”dum, dum, dum dumby doo wah,” and instead of continuing with ”Come Back To Me, My Love,” I sang ”Only The Lonely” then ”dum dum,” etcetera, followed by, ”know the way I feel tonight…” and so on, inserting the vocal figure between the phrases until, unable to contain my excitement, I rushed over to Roy’s room and woke him up shouting, ”We have it! You have a smash hit!”

Explaining what had just transpired in the parking lot, Roy grabbed his guitar and saying, ”Let’s see if it works,” started running it down. I could see his excitement building to equal mine, and when he finished he asked, ”When can we do it?” I said, ”Immediately,” and was able to get the musicians and studio the very next day. Anita Kerr was once again the arranger and this time had found six violinists who could play in tune.

Now, if I may, I feel the need to address some of the limitations we faced when recording in 1960. First of all, we only had two-track tape machines to work with; there was not stereo yet. There were no overdubs-everything had to be recorded in one take. Luckily, we Put Roy’s voice in the middle and even today it sounds like stereo. The lead vocals had to be mixed in with the entire orchestra. When done properly, the singer would appear to come out of the middle of the two speakers with the band split more or less evenly between the two sides.

Bill Porter was our engineer at RCA Studio B, which was peculiar, because there was no Studio A. When a larger studio was built and called A, we began referring to B as ”Little Victor.” All recording was done live, as there were no overdubs, because this was prior to multi-track machines.

As we began recording ”Only The Lonely,” I wasn’t happy with the sound we were getting on Roy’s voice. There were no headphones and no isolation booths for separating various sounds and instruments. The six strings and five backup singers especially were being picked up much too clearly on Roy’s vocal mic, affecting the clarity of sound on his voice. After struggling for a while with the problem, it was agreed between Roy, Bill Porter and me that something had to be done. But, what?

Little Victor wasn’t a large room, and the full rhythm section, five background voices and six strings took most of the space. There was, however, a metal coat rack along one wall, and I asked Bill if it would be feasible to put Roy in one corner of the room and push the coat rack in front and cover it with coats to block the band from leaking into Roy’s mic. To his credit, Bill said, ”I’ll try anything.”

We covered the rack with coats, plus some blankets found in the maintenance room, put Roy and a mic behind it and started rehearsing the song. Bob Moore  commented to Roy that they need to put ” Only The Lonely” into meter so that people could dance to it. Roy thought about it for a minutes and then replied, ” I don’t want to dance to my songs. Let’s start from the top.”

It was better, but still not great. Bill had blended two types of echoes on Roy’s voice-an EMT chamber and a mono-tape machine slapback. From the first few notes with the new setup, all of us could feel the magic. Having only two tracks, when you finished to take, you also had the final mix-unheard of today.

We all gathered around listening to the playback, and with goosebumps on my arms, I turned to Roy and said,” There’s your first big hit!”

”How sure are you?” he replied.

”Sure enough to pay you for 1 million copies right now if you agree that’s all I’ll ever owe you for this record.   And I advise you not take it.”

Fortunately for him, he declined my offer, as it was a worldwide hit. By his own admission in the year preceding ”Only The Lonely,” his income had been measured in hundreds instead of thousands.

In the days and weeks following the release of ”Only The Lonely,” as it rapidly and steadily climbed the charts, and as we got the word that the record was taking off in Europe and Australia as well, a worldwide hit was assured. This was a time of excitement, pride, satisfaction and euphoria that neither of us had ever experienced before.

As a wise man once said, ”The only absolute happiness in this world is the knowledge of a job well done.” I believe there is some truth in that statement. But there was much more to be done. After all, Roy had done his job so well the world was now his stage, quite contrast the beginning of this journey in tiny Wink, Texas.

My greatest joy was seeing Roy grow in stature as a songwriter, singer and performing artist, all made sweeter by the fact that his growing stardom never went to his head, never made him condescending-as often happens-and never changed his core values. He was, put simply, a true original and, best of all, true friend.

While the hits kept coming, it doesn’t mean they all came easily. Roy was a perfectionist and never excepted less than the very best from himself and others as well. I was on the same page with that sentiment; therefore, our working relationship could not have been close. It is important to point out that Roy always recorded live and even as more modern technology arrived with three-,four-,eight-and 16-track machines, he never overdubbed his voice.

So then, that brings us to a turning point and the birth of the really ”Big O.” I had once asked him if he was familiar with Ravel’s ”Bolero,” and he was somewhat but asked if I had a recording he could listen to, which I did. He took one of the versions I had home with him, and his reaction was that it was fantastic. When he asked what I had in mind, I told him that a contemporary song with that rhythmic feel would have a good chance. He agreed and said he would give it a try. The result was ”Running Scared.”

While a true bolero is written in ¾ time, Roy’s genius came through, and he changed the time signature to 4/4, making it much more palatable as a pop ballad. Once again, we did our homework and rehearsed for many hours in the Monument offices. Anita Kerr came out for one of our long work sessions, and she became very excited about it and loved it, because it was ”so different.”

By now we had 12 strings, eight background voices, four horns and eight rhythm players. Prior to this session, Roy always sang high notes in falsetto voice. However, with this large orchestra and the way the song continuously built to its explosive ending, when he sang in falsetto voice, he seemed to disappear under the power of the arrangement. Keep in mind we only had the two-track machine, so I asked him if he could sing the high notes in full voice, and he allowed as to how that wouldn’t be possible. Well then, we would have to change the arrangement.

Since we both loved it and the excitement generated as it built inexorably to its climax-G above high C- he agreed to try. As the song took on a life of its’ own from the very first notes, I admit I began praying for a miracle-”Please let him be able to hit those high notes full voice…” I had neglected to tell the musicians what Roy was going to attempt, and when he sailed into the operatic realm in beautiful full voice, hitting every note perfectly, guitarist Harold Bradley came up out of his chair, but thankfully kept playing. All the players seemed awestruck at what they had just heard.

From that moment forward, Roy sang even the highest notes in his songs with ease. ”Running Scared” soared to number one on all the charts, and history of sorts had been made. That recording and Roy’s subsequent sessions single-handedly transformed the rather sedate recording culture of the music scene in Nashville to truly deserve the title Music City USA. Due to Roy’s influence, rock bands and talented musicians and producers from all genres of music found in Nashville’s ambience and professionalism ideal for making their music as good as it could be.

Roy’s prowess as a writer continued to grow, and he continued to bring in achingly beautiful songs like ”Crying,” ”In Dreams,”Blue Bayou,”  and ”It’s Over.” ”Running Scared” had set the bar so high that I felt obliged to make sure that each following record would be as great if possible. When he brought ”Crying” in, he asked me what I thought it needed. In our work sessions, we would go over every word and note of his new material, nitpicking if you will, until it was as good as we could make it. I told him the only thing ”Crying” needed was to be released.

That song was, to me, as perfect a piece of writing as I’d ever heard. So, we set the session date and went to the studio with the highest of hopes. Unfortunately, I felt that what we had at the end hadn’t come off. So, a second session was scheduled to try it again. Same result. As I was setting up the third session for ”Crying,” Wesley Rose told me to just give it up, that perhaps the sing didn’t have it. This was just one of the many instances during Roy’s time on Monument that Wesley and I disagreed. It had to make Roy uncomfortable, I’m sure, but my loyalty was to my artist, not his manager or publisher. The third attempt at ”Crying” resulted in the recording you all know and love, one of his most vibrant and soulful performances and one of my personal favorites.

As time passed and Roy grew from hit recording artist and songwriter into true legendary status, I was forever struck by the amazing, familiar and even spiritual relationship he had developed with his fans. I would occasionally take trips with him for some part of his tours. I remember one night in particular at a performance in London, at The London Palladium, that the depth of love his fans felt for him crystallized for me. His audience watched and listened as if mesmerized. They knew they were part of an event so rare and special it might not ever be repeated. There was a feeling of reverence engulfing the hall that night, and I shall never forget it.

Sometime around the beginning of 1964, my relationship with Wesley Rose was becoming more difficult to maintain on a cordial level. To add to the problem, Roy’s contract only had a few months remaining, and I was anxious to secure a new agreement, which would keep him as a flagship artist on Monument well into the future. All of my overtures in that direction to Wesley were rebuffed; his position being that there was no hurry. Around the last week of July or the first week of August 1964, Roy and Bill Dees, his co-writer at the time, came to my office with their new song, ”Oh, Pretty Woman.”

Needless to say, I was knocked out. The session was set for Saturday, August 13, which was unusual as we seldom ever recorded on Saturday. The session was held in my old studio, located on 7th Avenue North in the old Cumberland Lodge building, long ago demolished to make way for The National Life Insurance tower.

When the session ended, I told Roy it would be the biggest hit of his career to date. It was, reaching the number one spot in some 40 countries. It became clear to me during the chart run of ”Oh, Pretty Woman” that my chances of keeping Roy on Monument were slim to none. Wesley asked for things I could not agree to, for example, a guaranteed movie deal-impossible, because Monument owned no motion picture studio.

After ”Oh, Pretty Woman,” we were owed four sides under the existing agreement. Wesley said he would dictate what we could record and what we could release. I felt obliged to bow out at this point and let Wesley produce the four sides. Thus, ”Oh, Pretty Woman” was the last record I produced with Roy under that original contract. The parting of ways was very emotional for me and for Roy, as well. We were a great team. He made great and memorable music, with little help from me. I will treasure my memories of that wonderful time as long as I live. I am so proud to have been a part of it all.

As the years have passed, Roy’s music lives on with a strong life of its own, aided by the unflagging devotion of his enormous fan base and the timelessness of his music. Thank you, fans! Barbara Orbison has certainly done a magnificent job managing all aspects of his music and legacy. Thank you, Barbara, for allowing me to reminisce about those golden days and for allowing me to be part of this tryly incredible collection of Orbisonics.


There were Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, the wonderful husband-and-wife songwriting team, who took Roy under wing. The best musicians in Nashville added to the extremely high level of quality: Harold Bradley, Hank Garland, Jerry Kennedy, Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Charlie McCoy (Mr. Harmonica), Bob Moore and Buddy Harman Jr.

Roy’s publisher and manager was Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose. Roy and Wesley Rose shared a similar relationship to Fred ”Pappy” Rose and Hank Williams.

Joe Melson, Roy’s new songwriting partner, was already a great songwriter. The combination produced unique, extraordinary songs, great care going into them, like chiseling a statue out of stone. Songs like ”Only The Lonely,” ”Blue Angel,”  ”Running Scared,” ”Crying,” ”Blue Bayou” and ”The Crowd” speak for themselves better than any attempt to explain them.

By ”In Dreams,” all the classic Orbison elements are in place. When He could, He preferred recording his own songs, He ”got a better feeling of them that way, the most ”Orbison” song. He wrote it fading into sleep, and upon waking, He had it done and ready to go. He just had to pick up a guitar to check the chords He dreamt. ”In Dreams” was written while He was asleep. That’s about as magic as it gets in real life.

Magic is transferred to the tape on many Orbison songs.

”Crying” is rolling along, Roy says”…then you stopped,” and the music stops completely for a beat.

In the song ”Falling,” when Roy sings the word ”falling,” his voice drops from a high note to a low one.

In ”I Drove All Night,” Roy’s voice mimics a car engine shifting through the gears and fading into the distance.

Can things like this be planned?

Can you ever really harness fire?

Scattered among the selections on Disc Two are the songs considered to be Roy Orbison’s greatest hits, but Roy’s B-sides were often better than other people’s A-sides. Case in point, a song called ”Love Hurts,” which was buried on the B-sided of ”Running Scared.” Most people never turned the record over. ”Running Scared” was that good.

”Pretty Paper” is Roy’s Christmas song. Roy was one of the first people to do a Willie Nelson song (Wille still had short hair, so that tells you how far back it was).


INTO THE 1970s

”Mean Woman Blues”

is a standard of Rock and Roll. Roy’s new lyrics and re-working turned it into a Roy Orbison original. (In his live shows, Carl Perkins always included a hidden tribute to Roy by doing Orbison’s version.)

Was Orbison using rockers to set up his ballads, or ballads to set up his rockers?

Does it matter when you’ve got songs like ”What’d I Say” from a concert in Holland in 1965, Roy at peak form and belting out Ray Charles’ classic with his road band, The Candymen?

”It’s Over” was recorded March 10, 1964, and was Roy’s secret weapon. Whatever your favorite Roy Orbison song, ”It’s Over” will make you think twice. The chords, the dynamics, the drama, the naturalness could only be Roy Orbison. Unlike most of his other songs, this one isn’t covered too often.

He stood alone on stage, and barely moved, yet could bring people in his audience to tears. Even band members frequently missed parts because they choked up. Through his life, this tremendous talent He had for ballads eclipsed all other elements of his persona. The black clothes, upturned collar and dark sunglasses, the inventive songwriting, the tragedy in his life, his vocal talent, and the lyrics all became an extension of the sadness of the ballads.

With Elvis, wearing all black was sexy.

With Johnny Cash, wearing all black was cool.

Orbison blackness is a bit cooler, more blue-black, more lonely.

In the summer of 1964, Roy was playing a 12-string acoustic Epiphone guitar. He always wrote on acoustic guitars. He and co-writer Bill Dees were piecing together a song that needed a riff; the riff that Roy hit straight off was to become one of rock music’s greatest treasures.

Orbison made special arrangements for this song. He knew He wanted pounding drums to kick it off, so He brought a second drummer to the session so the drums would be twice as loud. He also wanted to shake up his usual recording team and brought a handful of guitarists. Billy Sanford and Jerry Kennedy were the two session aces Roy chose for the special session. The song, ”Oh, Pretty Woman,” reached number one globally.

Guitarists have been playing it ever since. Eddie Van Halen took the song to number 12 in 1982.

”Oh, Pretty Woman” has a wonderful quality; while you’re actually listening to it, it is the greatest song you have ever heard.

From Julia Roberts in the film Pretty Woman to Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, the song is in all your favorite movies too.

It has been to the United States Supreme Court and back.

Now, it’s on ringtones, YouTube, SingStar and Guitar Hero. If you really have to get your ”Pretty Woman” fix, it’s on MySpace and Facebook 24 hours a day. Little kids are rocking out to it right now.

Like Roy himself, ”Oh, Pretty Woman” changes into something new every few years.

Roy’s opening acts while touring in Australia every year form a little musical history of its own. Each band immediately borrowing certain elements of what they saw Roy do live:

With the Beach Boys in 1964.

With The Rolling Stones in 1965.

With the Yardbirds in 1967, spending time with Peter Grant, future manager of Led Zeppelin, and Jimmy Page.

”Ride Away” highlights Roy’s love for motorcycles. Roy was an avid motorcycle and automobile collector (at one time, He had so many cars He bought the local drive-in theater to store them all.) Early on, Elvis showed Roy his new Harley-Davidson. Roy had to have one. Later phone calls between the two usually included congratulating each other and talking about customizing Harleys. However, motorcycles would become a symbol of tragedy in Roy Orbison’s private life.

On June 6, 1966, Claudette Orbison died in Roy’s arms after being struck by a truck while they were motorcycling in Tennessee.

The second of Roy’s three sons with Claudette, Anthony King Orbison, asked him ”if Mama rode to Heaven on a Harley?” and Roy replied, ”Yes, Mama rode to Heaven on a Harley.”

”Crawling Back” sneaks up on you. After you’ve heard it a few times, it changes from a song of beauty and grabs you by the throat. The vulnerability develops to an almost unbearable level. Orbison could give you so many different pictures and shades of sadness.

Further tragedy struck when a fire destroyed his home on the lake in Tennessee, killing two of his three children. Roy Dwayne Orbison, who loved karate, was 10 years old and Anthony was 6. Anthony’s favorite television show was Get Smart.

Roy sold the land to Johnny Cash, whose house burned on the same spot in 2007.

One of Roy’s favorite houses in Malibu also would burn in 1993 with much of Roy’s belongings.

So to say fire was a curse and a monster is not far from the truth.

”Walk On” shows what Bob Dylan meant with the words: ”Roy sang like a professional criminal.” Orbison was a pro, and his intensity does feel like life or death. He seemed to know some things that can’t be taught. Studio footage of him singing ”Walk On” shows his hand tightening into a fist on heavy notes. His facial expressions projecting a ”now or never” attitude. He took his music deadly seriously.

Orbison was so popular that in addition to the first 1 million dollar contract ever, MGM offered him a movie deal. The movie is called The Fastest Guitar Alive and contains great video footage of Roy performing several songs. One of the best is ”Pistolero.” He fell in love with Southern California while filming the movie.

Roy believed God, music, time and love could cure all things. Something had happened to give Roy the hope of love. Just when He needed it most, He met the girl who would become his wife and constant companion. Roy married Barbara Annemarie Wellhoener Jakobs on May 24, 1969.


INTO THE 1950s


”The New Teen Sensation.” The Voice. The greatest singer in the world. Lefty Wilbury. The Soul of Rock and Roll.

There is only one Roy Orbison.

And there are many.

Blue-haired Rockabillys, Japanese leather rockers, All-America college girls whose favorite movie is Pretty Woman,

Elvis lovers, country music fans, 15-year-old Goths who paint their fingernails black, Pavarotti and classical music buffs, Ramones punk rockers, Johnny Cash disciples, and good old-fashioned Roy Orbison diehards who have stood by him from the beginning.

They all see a different Roy Orbison.

They all see their own Roy Orbison.

Roy Orbison stands alone on a lofty branch in the Family tree of Rock and Roll. Yet in the history of recorded music, He was closer to the roots. By the time He cuts his first single, ”Ooby Dooby” (Sun 242) in May of 1956 at Sam Phillip’s Mecca of Rock and Roll, Sun Studios, Orbison was already a veteran musician. With his own radio show for 10 years, and a television show in Texas with his band, The Teen Kings, his largest audience was over 10 000 people by the time He was 17.

His musical world was equal parts country and blues, with a few extra elements added in. The regional Mexican music that seeped in on the airwaves left an indelible stain on him very early in life (the Mexican music, itself a mixture of Spanish and American-Indian music, had dramatic rhythms and smoothly sung melodies). Another necessary ingredient was the profound effect on American cinema. John Wayne actually had a generation of kids like Elvis, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison believing they could do anything they set their mind to.

And do they did.

Roy carved the path for Buddy Holly to go to Norman Petty’s studios in Clovis, New Mexico, and Buddy cleared the way for the world to be proud to wear glasses.

The story of Roy Orbison could not be told without Buddy Holly.
Roy was from Wink, Buddy was from Lubbock. They played the same local venues and shopped at the same guitar shops. At times they were friends eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and trading guitar riffs as teenagers. At times ”cross-town” rivals cursing outside each others shows.

Buddy would cover many of Roy’s songs, including ”A True Love Goodbye” and ”An Empty Cup”.

Orbison’s time at Sun started the same sort of ”leap-frogging” and interaction with Elvis, Carl Perkins and Warren Smith. Roy was the next Rock and Roller at Sun Records. Coming later would be Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Riley and Charlie Rich, along with every other ’50s Rock and Roller outside Sun who would soon copy the Sun Records style (and all those that came after).

Jerry Lee Lewis first walked through Sam Phillips‘ doors during the Roy Orbison session for the song ”Rockhouse”. Soon Jerry Lee cut Orbison’s song ”Go! Go! Go!”. The actual name Roy used for the song was ”Down The Line.” Sam Phillips renamed it ”Go! Go! Go!” to add excitement. Sam did the same thing with Perkins’ ”Gone! Gone! Gone!” and Cash’s ”Cry! Cry! Cry!
Orbison also befriended the musical director Bill Justis and engineer/producer/songwriter Jack Clement, who would work with Roy in the future.

Sam Phillips had heard the world differently from other people. He wanted fast music with a beat. And He got it.

The sound was crisp, defiant and perfectly clear.

It still is.

In ”Ooby Dooby”, Roy unleashed two ”in-your-face” guitar solos in two minutes at speeds not played before at Sun.

Domino” is so raw that you can feel it about to break at any second.

Roy’s band, The Teen Kings, was already popular from their high school days. They were: Roy Orbison on guitar and vocals, Billy Pat Ellis on drums, Johnny ”Peanuts” Wilson on rhythm guitar, James Morrow on electric mandolin and Jack Kennelly on bass. The music they made was remarkably good. Bands like this are special, because they are friends to the start. They made great cuts like ”Rockhouse” and ”You’re My Baby” roll and rock. Then like all friends, they got in an argument, but this one was in Sun Records’ studio, and whoever owned the car took off with the band and left Roy high and dry in Memphis. Sam Phillips and Jack Clement took Roy next door to the cafe´ to calm him down. It hurt Roy a lot to lose his friends and his band and have to move on without them. He lived at Mr. Phillips’ house for several weeks at a time, working with regular Sun musicians-Roland Janes on guitar, Stan Kesler on bass and J.M. Van Eaton on drums.

Warren Smith was Roy’s good friend, Smith did Orbison’s song ”So Long I’m Gone”, and Orbison used Smith’s band on some of the Sun Records package tours put on by Bob Neal’s Stars Incorporated. Between tour dates, Roy stayed at Carl Perkins’ house. On a few occasions when Roy opened the show, He caused riots, and the show would be canceled before anyone else had the chance to play. They were banned from several towns, and things did get out of hand regularly.

Any stories you could hear wouldn’t measure up to the reality of what happened: Roy and Jerry Lee and Jack Clement buying three motorcycles on a whim one day. No licenses, no helmets. Elvis and Roy exiting a radio station and finding themselves in the middle of a fist fight between Johnny and Dorsey Burnette of The Rock and Roll Trio. Carl and Roy running down the street with girls ripping their clothes off.

Johnny Cash was there for every bump in the road of Roy’s life. Roy loved Johnny. Johnny loved Roy. Their friendship would fill many books. Most of their stories, they took with them. Orbison was the first to do a Johnny Cash song, ”You’re My Baby.” On the road at Sun, Roy and Johnny would be in one car, and Jerry Lee and Carl in another. Inside jokes, pranks, promises and bets with no money-If Heaven has a backstage, Roy and Johnny are probably still at it.

Claudette Frady was Roy’s teenage sweetheart. He wrote the song ”Claudette” for her. The Everly Brothers, Roy’s dear friends, covered the song in 1958. They released it as a B-side to the Boudleaux Bryant song All I Have To Do Is Dream That put ”Claudette” on every jukebox in America. In a way, it’s Orbison’s first big hit, except that ”Ooby Dooby” was number one everywhere Roy went in 1956.

Roy was a dreamer, and Claudette was the girl of his dreams. The kind of beauty to compete with the images He saw on the silver screen. In the desert of Texas, the cinema was the only window of opportunity to see that there was anything beyond the horizon. Women like Lana Turner didn’t exist in West Texas. But by all accounts, Claudette was special and more beautiful. In his high school yearbook, Roy wrote: ”To lead a Western band is his after school wish, and of course to marry a beautiful dish.” In September 1957, Roy and Claudette were married. Both of his wishes had already come true.

The ”1956 Guitar Pull Medley” is an interesting rarity that has Orbison playing Top 40 hits of the day, many of them by Elvis Presley. These are among the earliest cover versions of what would become the most classic of all Rock and Roll songs. It’s lucky for us there was a mobile recorder in West Texas that night. Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!

As they left Sun Records, Johnny Cash went to Columbia and Roy followed Elvis to RCA Victor. There, He worked with Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph. If you could go back to any particular place in time in music history, Nashville’s legendary Studio B with Mr. Guitar, Mr. Piano and Mr. Saxophone would be high on the list. Roy cherished working with Chet Atkins in particular as a personal highlight of his career.

RCA Victor proved to be a transitional period for Orbison. The ”calm between the storms” produced the song ”With The Bug.”

In ”Pretty One”, you can hear the swagger of Sun in the vocals giving way to the more sophisticated arrangements and singing style that Roy preferred.

It’s as though each song Roy ever recorded shows him learning to harness and control the tremendous power of his voice. The Voice.

At this time He still took off his glasses onstage and for publicity pictures, but this would happen less and less. Buddy Holly had softened the stigma of glasses for America. Soon Orbison delivered the knockout punch, elevating sunglasses to super-cool status and bringing them mainstream. He just took his simple-poorboy drugstore glasses and had a pair custom-made with dark lenses. Genius. Today even New York supermodels are wearing them as fashion statements.