Today’s episode is called RKO and RPO, that’s Roy Orbison and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We’ll be talking about the album, A Love So Beautiful. The album was released November 3rd, 2017 by Sony Legacy and especially by our Sony Legacy UK team. I met them last week and they’ve done such a great job and I just want to thank everyone down there at the office.
This album is primarily aimed at the UK and Great Britain, Roy’s done fantastically there over the years and there’s so much love for my dad. We’re kind of copying an album that Elvis Presley did in 2015 called If I Can Dream. That album was produced by Don Reidmand and Nick Patrick. The next year, 2016, they did another Elvis album The Wonder of You. After that, they contacted us in 2017 which is Roy’s year with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Those two guys, Don and Nick are great friends, very funny and supremely talented. They both have different gifts that they brought to this, but they honed their craft and developed a market for these Royal Philharmonic Orchestra albums. The album is great and is set to do fantastically. The first single was I Drove All Night with Ward Thomas. Lizzy and Catherine are 23-year-old twins from the UK, they say they’re country music although it’s very poppy and they did a great job singing the duet with Roy. That song charted at number twenty-eight, it was number one on the BBC radio playlist and it did fantastically well.
The second single is coming out right around now and its Love Hurts. A lot of people were surprised that Love Hurts was first recorded by Roy. It was the back of Running Scared in 1960 which was a number one in both the United States and in the UK. Roy was number one with Love Hurts which was also recorded by the Everly Brothers around the same time, but the song was written for Roy Orbison by Boudleaux Bryant. Boudleaux and Felice were Roy’s friends and part of the reason that Roy moved to Nashville. They wrote All I Have to Do Is Dream by the Everly Brothers. They also wrote the song Love Hurts specifically for Roy. Roy was living at their house at the time and because the Everly Brothers had the same publisher as Roy and Boudleaux Bryant they also got a shot in it. Later in the seventies the song was done by Nazareth and that is a version that everyone in England and around the world loves, a kind of scratchy throated version. Roy’s is still the best and is the original. This is going to be fun to see what happens with Love Hurts by Roy Orbison and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017. After that we have a Christmas song, Roy’s only Christmas song called Pretty Paper. This will be the Christmas time single, hopefully there will be a fourth single of A Love So Beautiful and even a fifth single later.
It will be closer to April when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be touring with Roy Orbison as a hologram presenting these songs. Roy and RPO as we call them his match made in heaven. It’s a 75-piece Orchestra, every one of those people is a master at their instrument and has put in years of sweat and hard work. They’re all so good, I could watch any one of them alone but all together they’re unstoppable. They’ve got a wide range, they can play jazz or country as well as classical. Recently they did the Jaws soundtrack and I miss that show.
The reason that RKO and RPO is such a good combination is that Roy invented orchestral rock back in the 60’s. That kind of music was taken up by Queen and Jeff Lynne. The dramatic invention came about on a specific song called Uptown. Fred Fosters wanted to have strings on the song Uptown as he thought the strings would make it kind of more sophisticated more “uptown.” So, he asked for strings and he thought Fred Foster couldn’t deliver but Fred went out and found a violin teacher and her two students and brought them in. At the time, everyone else in Nashville played fiddle so it was more of a country style and kind of a weepy Bluegrass style which was popular in Nashville. Those strings sounded like a whole orchestra on Uptown. Roy continued that through all the big monumental hits, there’s great orchestration in in Dreams, Crying, and Only the Lonely.
Later in the seventies, Roy toured with a sixteen-piece band behind him, but to hear seventy-five people, the sound is so big. When you redo some of these old songs you run the risk of damaging something or meddling a little bit, but you also have the opportunity to add
something and there is something added to these songs when you listen to them. The first fifteen or twenty seconds you don’t know which song it is and it’s kind of a game, “oh, which one is this?” “oh, it is Drove All Night.” They did a great job and these songs are now set up to last another fifty years into the future as classics on their own.
The packaging for A Love So Beautiful is great, it’s gray with the orchestra behind Roy standing like the Statue of Liberty holding his guitar. When you turn it over to the list of songs you might think that it’s a greatest hits package because you recognize all the songs, Dreams, Crying, Oh Pretty Woman, Dream Baby, Love Hurts, Mean Woman Blues, Only the Lonely, Running Scared, Drove All Night, You Got It, and so many more. What we did was we took Roy’s voice, isolated it and dropped all the backing tracks and rebuilt the tracks from the ground up. In a couple of cases we used the old parts or the guitar solo and a lot of the background parts did bleed through on the vocal, but they did a great job isolating the vocal. What you’re hearing is new, new drums, guitars and everything. On a song like Pretty Woman, one of the greatest rock songs ever written, Alex, Wesley and I had the opportunity to play on it with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Roy Orbison which was an opportunity we jumped at. Playing with my dad is the reason that Wesley plays guitar, I play guitar, and Alex plays drums and playing together has been our big lifelong dream and we got to achieve both of those. Our parts were recorded in the Roy Orbison studio in his US studio here in Nashville. They have a new name now, but they were written by Roy and it’s a place where Wesley and I grew up for a little bit in Nashville.
While we were recording, I felt Roy there, I said, “he’s here, if he’s anywhere he’s here right now with us.” Then to hear him over the headphones and play along with that great song, it was an amazing experience. We layered down quite a few guitars, I played a Gibson ES-175 through a Fender Deluxe Reverb. We took kind of a middle settings because we wanted it to be close to what they would have done in 1964. Wesley Orbison played the twelve-string acoustic guitar to kick off the song with a great riff. That’s the way they did the original, they layered guitar after guitar until by the time Roy started singing there were about six guitars. We even layered Les Paul and Fender guitars on there and played a whole army of little guitars. Alex is a great drummer, he’s our favorite drummer and he did a wonderful job.
We filmed this and it’s a beautiful video. On the video you will see our secret surprise which is Roy Orbison the third, my son, little baby Roy III was ten months old at the time and he played the opening notes that you here on Pretty Woman on guitar. He also played the tambourine on the part that breaks down where Roy says, “wait what do I see?” and he’s hitting a tambourine in there. We’re trying to get him into the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest guitar player on a hit album. Now, he is twenty months old and he’s developed a lot on guitar. We tuned the guitar to open and we tuned a Stratocaster to open-e and the song Pretty Woman begins in the key of E. We put it through a marshal stack in the other room, turned it way up and just gave him a guitar pick and let him go to town. The results were fantastic and very fun. In the video you see him playing so you know it’s him and at the end he does a little mic drop to end the song. I love the video so please look at it. I think there’s a connection in the blog that corresponds with this podcast. Every week or two when we do these podcasts there’s a blog that goes along with it which usually has pictures and links, so be sure to check those out. We are calling the podcast Roy Orbison Junior’s Rock and Roll Circus Blog. There’s a saying that developed in Britain back in the 60’s and 70’s, “there is only one Roy Orbison.” On A Love So Beautiful Roy Orbison is with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and we have three Roy Orbison’s on that one song, three generations of musicians, my dad, my brothers, and my son. It’s really a family affair and we’ve updated it in what I hope is a way that would make Roy smile and feel proud.
RPO, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded their parts in the Abbey Road studio room which was The Beatles room in London England. I was just there last week and it was beautiful to see. We walked across the street, Wesley, Alex and I did a little pose where you do
The Beatles pose. You have to wait in line, we had to wait in line with fifty people ahead of us and the whole thing stops up traffic. I’ve heard they’re turning it into a museum which should be exciting, and I can’t wait to go and hopefully the public will be able to go in and see where this magic happened in the next couple of years.
A side pitch is that we’re opening the Roy Orbison Museum in Nashville Tennessee in the fall of 2018. We’re opening right beside the Johnny Cash Museum, so we are in good company and we hope that you’re going to enjoy the museum as much as we’ve enjoyed building it. We’re still working on it and we’ve been working on this for ten years now. My mother Barbara started it all and we’ve had several locations that kind of fell through or wasn’t the right circumstances. Now we have all the pins lined up and we’re going to knock them down. Hopefully the Roy Orbison Museum will be the best museum in the world and we’re excited about that.
A Love So Beautiful was written by Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne and is included on the Mystery Girl album. There’s also You Got It that was written by Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy. Included is the bonus track Pretty Paper and a version of Drove All Night with just Roy singing for the people who want more of the original. It’s been just so much fun, a real labor of love and everyone involved did such a great job. We are hoping for a big success with this one and it’s doing well so far. The last time I checked it was number one on Amazon in the UK and it was number two on the national charts.
We did lots of press and newspapers and we did some great magazines, and everyone was very nice to us. We started in Los Angeles at the Grammy Museum and had a great night there. Then we went to New York where we did an event at the Gibson showroom. We flew down to Austin Texas where we did the ACL Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. Then we went back to Nashville and did a book signing where we pushed our po a bit. Then we went to the UK for a full week. After England I flew to Sweden to go meet with Sony Sweden to see how the album could be placed there and met up with a great friend of mine Adagas Baga. Adagas is a big-time producer and I think he’s interested in doing A Love So Beautiful for Swedish release or maybe a more modern release for Europe, so stay tuned for some surprises there and maybe another great song off this album.
Alex, Wesley and I just got back from the UK where one day we did twenty-four, fifteen-minute interviews in a row for the BBC with only a five-minute break in between. We did three an hour and we were there all day probably about ten hours. While we were in the UK we visited a lot of beautiful places that my dad had been to. One of those was the place where he recorded the song Pretty Paper. Pretty Paper was recorded in the downstairs room number two and I can’t even remember the name of the place, but I got to see it with my own eyes and surprisingly they hadn’t done anything to the room in sixty years. It is mostly a storage room at this point and it looks like kids have been playing basketball in there. That was the studio where David Bowie did his first songs and The Moody Blues was basically invented in that room. In one of the top ten dumbest moves in the music business, someone passed on The Beatles in that room. Jimmy Page most certainly recorded in that room as did a lot of classics. That’s the room where Roy Orbison recorded Pretty Paper. I’d always imagined what kind of place that was because I knew it was in London and it wasn’t in his normal studio, RCA Studio B in Nashville. Fred Foster flew over and he took Bill Justice, an arranger was famous for the song Raunchy from Sun Records. When Roy was at Sun Records he worked with Bill Justice, Sam Phillips and Jack Clement. For whatever reason Fred Foster took Bill Justice and they went over there to arrange the strings and that’s almost another beginning for the RPO album. They got more strings, they got the local orchestra and filled up the room. You can hear it on that Christmas song Pretty Paper that which would have been recorded around December of 1963. All these years later Alex, Wesley and I went down there, we put on Christmas hats took pictures and did some interviews from that location. We did a lot of other fun things in the UK and I can’t tell you all of them because it would just take too long but we got to meet a lot of
great people, old fans of Roy’s and lot of important business people and so far, it’s really clicking and connecting to a lot of people.
Another aspect of this Roy Orbison with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is the hologram tour. When we first thought about doing the tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Roy Orbison we knew we had a couple of different choices to make, we could put Roy on a screen in the back and isolate him (that’s a similar thing that they do with Elvis quite a lot) and I like that approach. The people who do these holograms approached us and we got the opportunity to combine two projects. So, beginning on April 8th, 2018 Roy Orbison will tour the UK again. It will begin in Cardiff Wales at the Motor Point Arena and then the tour will circle kind of clockwise all the way up through the Midlands, Plates-Leads, Manchester and will end with two nights in London. The show is selling out quick and already is a pretty big success. The hologram looks good, I’ve seen it and the same thing that’s been happening to your television sets the last ten years has happened with these holograms. They started off doing Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur at around 700 pixels, then it jumped to 1400. These new holograms are 4000-pixel HD holograms and it could be even higher than that by the time we get to April. This kind of technology bodes well for the future as a music fan and I look forward to the day that maybe we could see Hank Williams or Louis Armstrong or even the Traveling Wilburys all together doing a show. That’s the kind of potential that these holograms have and while it’s kind of the icing on the cake and a little bit of an extra thing on top it’s on a Bedrock of great songs that my dad wrote and his original voice played at full volume in these large auditoriums. Even in the dark, Roy Orbison’s Running Scared at loud volume will bring tears to your eyes with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing live. The hologram walks out to the center of the stage, turns and then goes into Only the Lonely. We’re sure it’s going to be a treat and something really to look forward to.
The tour is a global tour, it continues after the UK to Holland for one night, Belgium for one night, Germany for some nights, and ends up down in Australia and New Zealand with a nice run down there. There’s going to be great t-shirts and merch and I can’t wait to see all the things they’re doing around this, meet everybody in the RPO and see the look on the fans faces. I’ll be coming to all the shows and I hope to see you there. I think I’ll come out during intermission to sign some autographs at the T-shirt stands. It should be a great time and I hope everyone enjoys the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Roy Orbison. Be sure to check out RoyOrbison.com for dates and merch and you can buy a copy of A Love So Beautiful there or on my site Roy Orbison Junior where I’m also selling the RPO album because I played on it. We have other goodies in there to check out like my Roy Orbison Junior hats. It’s getting cold for the winter or if you’re listening to this in the summer and you need a baseball hat to keep the sun out of your eyes these hats are great, and I wear this hat myself. Thank you again, I hope everything’s doing good out there for you and the world and see you next time.
Today’s episode is called Birthdays. I was born October 18th, 1970 in Nashville Tennessee to Roy Orbison and Barbara Orbison. Some of my story is that I was created in Australia while my mom and dad were on their honeymoon. I was conceived overlooking the Sydney Harbor and the Sydney Opera House. They continued their honeymoon and went to Beverly Hills where they stayed at the hotel that’s in the movie Pretty Woman and then they went back to Nashville. I was born at 5:13 or 5:33 in the morning and strangely enough my brother Alex was born at 5:13 or 5:33 in evening. We were born on the same minute on a Sunday. I was born on a Sunday morning and in room at the time of my birth was Roy Orbison and his friend Johnny Cash. After the doctor, the nurse, my dad, and my mom held me, Johnny Cash would have been the fifth person to hold me as a baby. I consider that to be my first birthday.
Also born on October 18th is my great hero Chuck Berry. A very happy birthday to Chuck Berry. It was always debatable what day and year he was born but I think the consensus ended up being October 18th and I’ve always celebrated his birthday that day.
My first birthday…I only really remember the cake and that’s probably from seeing pictures of it. Wesley my older brother, John Carter Cash, and a nanny were there, and the cake was a round, yellow, smiley cake; I love smileys. My dad let me know years later that I would say “fmiley,” that was one of my first words and I couldn’t really say the “s” so I would say it through my nose. The cake was made by a woman who made cakes for Johnny and Roy. I remember I was with John Carter recently and I said, “do you remember the name of the woman who made those cakes for us?” He didn’t remember what I meant, and I said, “she made those great lemon cakes,” and he said, “oh yeah,” and then I said, “she made great coconut cakes.” She made these white cakes with coconut shavings on them. I remembered her name about a month ago, it was Miss Copeland; my mom would be happy that I remembered that. This is going way back when I was 1, 2, 3 years old. I got so excited when I saw Miss Copeland and she made me that great smiley cake so I’m forever grateful to her.
The next birthday that I remember of importance was my 5th birthday. Some years I would be a cowboy, a Viking, a fireman or whatever. I would wear that costume all the way from my birthday October 18th until Halloween or as far as I could go wearing it. I think my parents would hide it from me around November 10th. So, for about three weeks every year I would run around in sheets, a GI Joe costume, or whatever it was. That’s how I was traveling when I was in England, I was a cowboy for my 5th birthday. I was standing on the side of the stage and my dad said, “I have a special announcement to make, it’s my son Roy’s 5th birthday, Roy, come on out here.” I walked out, and he presented me with a guitar. I got my first guitar and my first guitar lesson on my 5th birthday. My dad gave it to me on stage as I was saying, and it was a magnificent birthday. He presented me with a guitar that was made by John Birch, it was a Stratocaster copy. While I was on stage the audience was clapping so much that I took a bow and my cowboy hat fell off, then the crowd erupted into more laughter and applause, so I played into the moment and I put back on the hat and took another bow and let it fall off my head again. It’s funny how kids can do that, you play into the crowd a little bit. I was happy to get the guitar and I think he let me speak and I said, “thank you,” in a high voice. We have a tape of that that I would like to play for you now. I listen to it every birthday, it’s my dad Roy Orbison on stage singing happy birthday to me.
That birthday was fantastic, my dad pulled out all the stops. It was right around the time they were making the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He had the Umpa-Lumpas there, they were orange with green hair. I had the real Umpa-Lumpas at my 5th birthday. The actors who played them were all big Roy Orbison fans and they came out to the show. We also had the band at the time and my mom there. I’ll never forget that birthday, I still remember a lot of it.
I’ll jump ahead to my 15th birthday when we had moved to California. I was 14 years old when we moved to Malibu and I saw skateboards everywhere, so that’s what I wanted. My mother and father took me to Rip City Skates in Santa Monica. They parked outside while I went inside for an hour and picked out all the wheels, bindings and the whatever it was I picked out. I came out with a Pal-Peralta which was popular at the time and is still a collectable. It was red with the skull and bones sword and I spent the next two years on that skateboard pretty much every day. While we were driving back with the skateboard they said, “where do you want to go to eat for your birthday, we’ll take you anywhere?” I said, “Jack in the Box.” We didn’t have Jack in the Box anywhere else but in California and for some reason I thought that was a great pick. We went to the Malibu Jack in the Box for my 15th birthday. I also got my first surfboard on my 15th birthday from Zuma Jay. There was a great surfboard store there called Zuma Jay, I believe it’s still there. Zuma Jay was a legend when I got to Malibu. We spent a lot of time in that store looking at the surfboards.
My 16th birthday was up in the hills of Malibu, we were staying in a house there at the time. I woke up and my dad was gone, that was one of the few birthdays that he wasn’t there, but my mom made up for it, she had cards and decorations everywhere. I was really shocked because I woke up in the morning and she’d spent all night long decorating, putting out the cake, and lighting the candles. It was just Alex, my mom, and I on my 16th birthday. I didn’t get a car for my 16th birthday and I don’t remember wanting a car for my birthday.
Afterwards, I started wanting a car, I don’t think my parents wanted to let me take off driving around LA in a car at 16 years old. By Christmas I got a fantastic car, a BMW. My first car was way too nice, I was way too spoiled but that was my first car. That was also my birthday present, but I didn’t really get it until Christmas. They played a joke on me that Christmas, they gave Alex all his toys and I had no toys, there was nothing under the tree for me, there was nothing anywhere; there were a couple of sweaters to be honest. I opened these sweaters and I was disappointed, Alex was getting great toys, then I’d open another sweater, and then Alex had a great toy. At the very end, I was nearly crying, my dad could see it, I was done with Christmas. Then he said, “look again,” and I looked down there and I had missed one little package; it was a very small little package with a bow on it. I was opening it, not even expecting anything, and there was a key, a car key that said “BMW.” I looked around the room and then I took off running and I didn’t say anything. I knew it had to be hidden in the garage since I didn’t see it outside. So, I’m running for the garage and my dad goes, “slow down, slow down, slow down.” They all got up and went with me, they went in first, Alex, my mom, and my dad and then they said, “alright come on in.” I opened the door and walked in and there was a brand new, shiny, black BMW with a giant red bow on it. They were all laughing, they were all in on it, even Alex knew about it. I didn’t know anything about it the whole time, I didn’t know how they snuck the car in, how they kept me out of the garage or anything. That was an extended birthday.
For my 18th birthday my dad was working so I didn’t see him, but I did get a hand-written letter that he wrote me that I still look at all of the time. It’s beautifully written and he says, “happy birthday, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it……your father, Dad.” I got a great letter that year and I missed seeing him, but he had to work late, I believe he was doing the re-records for the greatest hits.
Another super memorable birthday was my 26th birthday. I didn’t like to fly but somehow my mom talked me into flying to Paris. I think she told me she had to trick me again, she had to say there was business or something that we had to do. I believe she got me to London because she knew I loved London and then we got on the Eurostar and we went to Paris. I thought it was just going to be one day, but we stayed for the weekend. She rented this great roof-top apartment that overlooked the whole city, we had 360-degree views and we could see the Eiffel Tower. I just remember how sweet and fantastic she was, I guess I was really missing my dad and we didn’t have a very big family. It was just her and I walking up and down the river and going into little antique stores. We spent two hours in an antique map store looking at maps. We ate fish soup in a little restaurant, a little hole in the wall kind of place. We walked down these steps into a little tunnel area and ate down in that little tunnel. We saw the bridge where they have all those locks on the bridge and we saw the Notre Dame Cathedral; that was my 26th birthday. Looking back on it, it was one of the more memorable ones although it came again as a surprise, I didn’t know we were going to be in Paris for my birthday. That was one of my best birthdays, 26 years old, grown man, walking around with my mom in Paris. We had a great time.
I had a lot more memorable birthdays but I don’t remember them all immediately. I would have to look through pictures and think about where we were, but they were all great. That brings me to my birthday this year, I’m going to be in Los Angeles, California. We’re doing a Grammy Museum book signing for the new book that we’ve written. Alex, Wesley, and I wrote a book with Jeff Slate called The Authorized Roy Orbison. It comes out October 16th, 2017. On the 17th we’ll be at the Grammy Museum and that leaves me free on the 18th for my birthday. On my birthday we’ll be going to my parent’s grave site to put some flowers down there and say happy birthday to myself with them. We are going to the beach in Malibu and we may go swimming since there’s hot weather right now. Then we’ll end up in some nice restaurant with my family and some friends. We’re probably going to the Guitar Center in Hollywood, that’s one of my favorite places to go, I don’t know why but I can spend hours there. It’ll be going home; Los Angeles and Malibu are home to me.
It’s my birthday this week, October 18th and that’s why I did this Birthdays podcast, I thought I would tell you a little bit about myself and some of the highlights of birthdays I remember. It’s an easy one to do but thank you so much for letting me walk down memory lane and tell you some things that I experienced on October 18th. It’s kind of a celebration and this is part of my birthday present, doing a podcast for you. I hope you enjoy your birthdays and I hope I get to spend some birthdays with some of you guys. We’ll have to do some other birthdays, I’ll have to do my dad’s birthdays or my son, baby Roy the III’s birthdays; those are fun ones these days. To end, happy happy happy birthday and thank you for listening.
Today we’re going to be remembering our great friend Tom Petty. We’ll start with what Tom Petty meant to the Orbison family, how we first met, what my dad had to say about this great man, how they influenced each other, and the Traveling Wilburys of course. This week we got the sad news that Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys, the great guitarist, vocalist, song writer, front man, sometimes comedian and my uncle Charlie T. Jr Wilbury passed away. The day was October 2nd, 2017 and it was already a sad day, there were a lot of news headlines and then this one just pushed it over the edge. I was phoning my brother Alex to get the good news, every day I phone and say, “tell me something good,” “tell me the good news.” He said, “oh you haven’t heard, Tom Petty died,” a couple of curse words were exchanged over the phone and then the process of grieving started for the whole world.
There’s been a huge outpouring of love for the guy and I’ve been really happy to see that. Unexpectedly, people started to contact me, news agencies and I did a few interviews. One interview for Canadian CTV News (I was on the five o’clock news for that one) and TMZ here in America with Harvey Levin. It was brought about that maybe we should change direction for the podcast this week and do a special about Tom Petty. I was planning on doing something different but this seems appropriate. Let me begin by saying that I love Tom Petty, I love his family, all the Heartbreakers, they’ve always been there for my family, they helped with us through the grieving process. We spent a couple of Christmases with Tom Petty and after my dad died in 1988 we were in seclusion; it all happened right around Christmas so I don’t really remember that period.
The first Christmas that we spent doing anything would have been the Christmas of 1989 and we were over at Mike Campbell’s house of the Heartbreakers. The great guitarist, Mike Campbell who taught me so much in my early guitar years. We were at Mike Campbell’s house, everyone came over, even Benmont-Tenge the piano player who was a good friend of my dad’s. Backstage he would always find Benmont and my dad over in the corner talking. I got along with Mike Campbell because he played guitar and his daughter’s name was Bri, which at the time I was thinking mostly of the cheese (I love brie cheese). So it was Bri (I’m sure she’s grown woman now), Mike, his wife and us at their house with their piano and there were a lot of good memories that Christmas. Jeff Lynn was probably there but I really only remember the Heartbreakers at that time and Tom Petty. It was a sad Christmas, it was the first Christmas without my dad and my mom felt cheered up that Tom phoned and since we didn’t have any place to go he invited us for their family’s for Christmas. That’s one of my great memories of Tom Petty.
A story that Harvey Levine asked me about and that everyone seems to be asking about is the guitar that Tom Petty gave me for my 19th birthday. The story is that I was with my mom, Barbara Orbison and we were at Mike Campbell’s house on my birthday, that might have been ‘89 or ‘90, I think it was ’89. They came walking into the room with a guitar case and Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, and my mom opened the guitar case. I didn’t realize it was for me, I thought it was just a Tom Petty guitar that they were showing me. It was one of those kind of red sunburst Rickenbackers twelve-strings. I should know the model name but I don’t, it’s Rickenbacker 12:30 or something like that. It was a beautiful guitar and I still can’t believe it was for me, but it was. They said, “Roy I’m going to give you this guitar, Mike and I went down and picked it out and everything.” We all played it a little bit, I think even my mom did too. That day I also remember Mike Campbell went into the other room, he came out with a cd and said, “Roy, I really want you listen to this.” He knew I was into the blues and I think I was listening to Roy Buchanan the guitarist at the time. He said, “Roy you’ve got to start with this, Howlin Wolf,” and so he gave me a cd that I still have of Howlin Wolf’s greatest hits. Howlin Wolf had the guitarist Hubert Sumlin who was a kind of awkward, simplistic, but amazing player, rhythmically his note choice was unbelievable. Mike pointed me in the direction of Howlin Wolf and I’ve been thanking him ever since.
Tom showed me the twelve-string jangly-ness, I heard it on a lot of his records, on a lot of his albums and it’s something that I think Tom got from Roger McGuinn of the Birds. I know he worked with Roger, he collaborated and toured with Roger quite a bit; that was a big influence on Tom Petty. John Lennon also played Rickenbackers famously and twelve-string Rickenbackers somewhere. I always thought that John got it from Roy because my dad always played an acoustic twelve-string. There’s actually an acoustic twelve-string at the beginning of Pretty Woman, that riff that you hear, that’s one of the reasons it sounds so alive like it’s jumping out of the speakers. I always thought of it like a rubber band shooting you in the face, in that first riff of Pretty Woman, it comes out like a slap to the face because of the twelve-string. Almost as if it jumps out of the speakers like hands jumping out and giving you a hug. It would be complicated to explain why I think that John Lennon was attracted to twelve-strings because of Roy but I know a whole generation of people were attracted to the twelve-string because of John Lennon, and that’s a fact. I would say that Roger Mcguinn of the Birds picked it up from John, Tom picked it up from Roger, and I picked it up from Tom. It’s a nice little circle that I’ve got in my imagination.
The first time I met Tom Petty, I get asked that all the time and I don’t even remember; it would have been pretty casual though and probably with a group of people. It’s strange that I don’t remember it but I don’t remember the first time I met any of the Wilburys. The Wilburys were suddenly just there in our lives and they were at Roy’s shows and we were at their shows, they were at our house and we were at their house. I take it for granted that I know these guys, all of them and there’s so many stories. I can’t wait to do the Bob Dylan podcast, I’ve got things in there that even Bob doesn’t know; some confessions that I have to make about things that happened (although with Tom Petty I don’t have any of those).
There’s a famous picture taken of Tom Petty with my dad and George Harrison who has a towel on his head and Tom’s in the middle smiling. Tom was kind of the young guy of the group then, although I was the real young guy. In that picture I’m off to the right with short blond hair and Jeff Lynne was there too. The picture was taken at the Anaheim Theatre in the Round; I’m sure it’s got a little bit different name but it was the Anaheim Theatre. They called it “in the round” because the stage was circular and spun around the audience; it was one of my favorite concerts because of that. When I was around seventeen or maybe sixteen and we had to drive what I thought was a long distance from Malibu to get to Anaheim. When we get there Tom and everyone else is already there and they watched the show. We had been hanging out with him and Tom and Roy had already recorded “Handle with Care.” They came to the show to ask Roy if he would be in their band the Traveling Wilburys and Roy said, “yes of course;” even with that story there’s so much to tell. They came in and they asked everyone to leave the room, even my mom. My dad came and he asked my mom and everyone to leave the room, but strangely enough they didn’t ask me to leave the room. I think it was just because of the way my dad was around his children that wherever he was we were. They joked because all their wives managed them so they made all the managers leave and they had to do it in secret because they didn’t want any record companies, music business or music business people to ruin the creative aspects. They wanted to keep it quiet and they just walked into a record company with the album already made. They knew that they would get too much press, too much attention and they knew there was no way to keep it a secret. I was the only one in the room that day and they asked Roy to be in the Traveling Wilburys. Then I had to keep that a secret from my mom, my brother, my friends at school and everyone else. I was walking around school the next day smiling all day long because I knew a secret about the Traveling Wilburys. It was only a few more months before everyone knew the Traveling Wilburys and the album did great, it sold millions.
There was a great video they made for “Handle with Care” in downtown Los Angeles in a huge warehouse. There was amazing sun light streaming through these windows and the warehouse was kind of trashy; I couldn’t really imagine why we were down there at the time. It was a huge open space, there are so many things to say about it, so many memories. The Wilburys at the beginning walk in through a big gate and I was with them, we were walking all together and I was about to go through the gate when I realized that I wasn’t really part of the band. I wasn’t really part of that, I had to stop and they all walked in while I hung back. I didn’t get to see that entrance until later when I saw the video myself like everyone and else; they are walking in and you see the silhouettes, they’re carrying their guitars and the sunlight is behind them. When I saw the video, I realized why they were there, the place had a lot of character and it transferred to film really well. They had the guy stand in this circle, the camera spins around, Roy’s wearing funny red shoes and George Harrison is playing a Traveling Wilburys guitar (which I used to collect).
I used to be like the guy from Goldfinger with gold, I was going to get all the Wilbury’s guitars. I got quite a few I had twelve or fifteen of them at one point and then I started giving them away to all my best friends and that went pretty far. I actually gave one to the fellow who’s helping us do these podcasts, Luke Chalk, say hello Luke, “yeah hi.” Luke is a great friend, he’s worked for my family, my mom and the Orbison company for a long time now. Luke’s dad is Tony Colton of Heads Hands and Feet who played with Albert Lee, a great musician who wrote the song “Country Boy.” We love his dad and we love him and he’s got a great speaking voice, he’s English. Luke what’s your accent, it’s not east London, is it just a standard London accent? “It’s North London.” He’s got a good North London accent which some people like our old buddy Jack Clement used to say all the time “he talks like the Geico gecko.” That’s something he’d rather have buried, that joke, he’d rather it be buried but it’s a joke that will not die. When you hear him talk – we’ll we have to do a podcast on your dad and you sometime soon Luke, we’re going to turn a spotlight on you, there’s no place to hide. So, I gave one of these guitars to Luke, I gave one to my drummer friend Gavin and I gave one to my best friend Darey who died quite a few years ago. Slowly I’ve given most of them away, I’ve still got a few and if you haven’t checked them out, there these little (they don’t play well) half size guitars but George was really proud of them. George was friends with a lot of people and one of those was the head of Grech. He phoned them up and they made I think 500 of these guitars. I’ve tried to count how many there are, I know Tom Petty has one, Bob Dylan has one and we had one. There’s a lot of variety, they don’t play really well, they’re kind of toy guitars, cheaply made, they’re ¾ size so you have tune them up to A instead of E. I’ve spent years actually trying to convert one to be a player guitar, changed the hardware on it, changed the pickups and it still goes out of tune all the time.
George is playing one in “Handle with Care,” and they made a great video for “End of the Line,” which happened about three days after my dad’s funeral. That was very sad for everyone and I’m not even sure how they did it. It was sad that Roy died, then there was a little time and then we had the funeral. The Traveling Wilburys including Tom Petty were the pallbearers at Roy’s funeral. Three days later they were doing the video for “End of the Line” (which they had already booked previously). There was a rocking chair in the video, the rocking chair would be rocking and they’d have that Roy Orbison Gibson ES335 in the rocking chair. Of course, the first time I saw that rocking chair with the black Gibson in it I started crying and I still do. It’s really touching and amazing how thoughtful and considerate they could be. On that album Roy and Tom sing a duet called “Last Night,” it’s actually a reggae pop song. Roy’s kind of the narrator of the of the story, Tom’s telling this story about a girl, “da-da-da, last night” and then Roy comes in with the cinematic narration. Roy laughed for three days about this “I asked her to marry me, she smiled and pulled out a knife.” He couldn’t believe he was singing these lines, they were comedy.
There was a lot of comedy, we were always laughing and the Wilburys were doing Monty Python routines. Michael Palin wrote the liner notes for one of the albums and Eric Idle of Monty Python wrote the liner notes of another. The Traveling Wilburys were blessed with a Monty Python kind of feeling. Eric Idol is in one of the videos, the “Wilbury Twist” with John Candy (another great comedian whose kind of linked to the Orbisons). Dan Aykroyd was there with us when we gave Roy Orbison his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame January 29th, 2010; Dan came riding up in a motorcycle. Dan Aykroyd was also connected through John Belushi. Back around 1978, John Belushi came backstage to see Roy and he brought the Ramones. We had the punk band the Ramones, John Belushi and Roy Orbison and they all wanted to come meet my dad (to me they were just fans). Later I saw a video of John Belushi doing a Roy Orbison impersonation. He’s very famous for the joke Cocker One but he did he did this kind of thing several times and nobody seems to know about the Roy Orbison imitation he did. He’s wearing dark sunglasses, he falls over backwards while they’re playing, they lift him back up and he’s still singing “oh-oh-oh.” Dan Aykroyd saw that and he grabbed a pair of the dark Orbison glasses and put them on too. John Belushi was a Roy Orbison fan, Dan Aykroyd was more of blues guy, so he took it in a blues direction and that kind of became the Blues Brothers. John Belushi connected to Dan Aykroyd, Dan Aykroyd is a close family friend and he was best friends with John Candy.
Roy Orbison did SE TV in around 1980 and all those guys were there, John Candy, Eugene Levy and a lot of famous comedians. John Candy was a big Orbison fan and the director who did it, Hughes was also a great Roy Orbison fan. If you look carefully you’ll see a picture of Roy or reference to Roy in all of his movies. He made one movie called Only the Lonely that started John Candy. In Planes Trains and Automobiles, with John Candy and Steve Martin, Roy is in the background of the scene. The best scene in the movie is this funny scene about the pillows, “I’ve got my hand stuck between two pillows,” “those aren’t two pillows haha.” Roy is in that hotel room, he is above the bed in a poster on the wall. In “Wilbury Twist,” a great song on the Traveling Wilburys volume three (which was actually the second disc that Roy wasn’t on) starring Eric Idle and John Candy. Monty Python was all over the Wilburys.
Tom Petty was coming over to the house a lot, Roy was hanging out with him a lot and they wrote a couple of songs, great songs that became “You Got It” and “California Blue” and Roy was there during the writing of “I Won’t Back Down.” Tom played guitar on “California Blue” and he played guitar on “You Got It.” “You Got It” ended up being one of Roy’s biggest songs. The Heartbreakers of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they played on some of the songs as well. Mike Campbell produced half the album Mystery Girl, so the Heartbreaks and Tom Petty are all over Mystery Girl.
Another Tom Petty story that comes to mind really strong that was actually very important to me was the only time I sang with my dad in the studio that made it to tape which was on a song called “In the Real World.” It was song number two on Mystery Girl and we had a whole studio full of people, all the Heartbreakers were there. We were all in the room singing backups and slowly people had to drop out. My mom and dad sang the early parts, it’s mostly those two, my mom and dad singing. Towards the end there’s an ascending line that goes very high and no one could really sing it so people started leaving the room. I was in the control room, I wasn’t even in the recording room but my dad looked through the glass and said, “Roy Kelton come on out here.” He heard me sing all the time so he knew that I could sing those notes. The last four people there was me (I was on left to the microphone), Roy, Tom Petty, and Howie Epstein across from me. Howie Epstein was the bassist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Even Tom couldn’t sing this part so he left the room, that left Howie, me, and my dad. We sang those last couple of lines and then on the very last note no one could hit it but me and my dad and that’s us. When I listen back to it now it sounds kind of like a female voice because it’s so high and I was pretty young but we hit those notes and that’s one of my favorite parts of any song anywhere. I have a lot of favorites, over the course of these podcasts I’ll probably have a hundred different favorites but that’s a favorite memory with Tom Petty, singing with Tom Petty at the end of that song.
Howie, I could do a whole podcast just about Howie and how he became a good friend of ours. A side note about Howie, he dated Carlene Carter. I knew Carlene since childhood, she used to babysit me, she was June Carter Cash’s daughter and I love her; her daughter Tiffany is a good friend of mine too. Carlene had a big country hit around the time, “Every Little Thing,” I believe Howie produced that album. Tragically, Howie died and his funeral was held at McCabe’s Guitar Store of all places which is on Pico and Santa Monica California. There in the back in this little room, Jim Keltner (who is the drummer for the Wilburys), my mom Barbara Orbison, Tom Petty, his daughter, Carlene Carter and the whole staff of McCabe’s Guitar Store were back there and we had his funeral there in the guitar store. I went to Howie’s funeral, I still miss the guy and miss Tom Petty too, already and the world is going to miss those songs.
Tom Petty made songwriting seems so easy but it’s actually very difficult and it’s difficult to do with intelligence and conviction. “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” that was the song of the summer for me, “Free Fallin’” and I love the girl in the video skateboarding. They shot that down at the mall that we all used to go to, I think it was the Beverly Center California. I have so many memories of Tom Petty, some he was just there and I don’t remember enough, others were things that he told me. We talked about Elvis, we talked about John Lennon, we talked about Roy Orbison and we talked about rock n’ roll. Tom Petty was always about music and I went to see his live shows as many times as I could. The first time when he opened for Bob Dylan in the mid 80’s all the way to this last time on the 40th anniversary tour of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That was a great show, we went to one in Nashville with my family, my brothers Alex and Wesley, a couple of our friends, and our niece Emily all packed up and went to see Joe Walsh open for Tom Petty. We couldn’t figure out who we liked better, because I love Tom and I love Joe, he’s a longtime family friend. Joe Walsh’s wife Marjorie Bach is my mom’s best friend and she’s the sister to Barbara Bach who is married to Ringo Star of the Beetles. Our family histories go way back with all of these people and I was happy to see Joe that night, we got a nice picture, a family picture with Joe. The tragedy of Glenn Frey dying made me really happy that I saw the Eagles so many times and I was happy to see Joe again to see him back on his feet a little bit and now we’re in the same situation with Tom and it’s very sad.
I just looked up a little something that I could read about Tom’s death, it says: “Petty suffered a cardiac arrest early in the morning of October 2nd, 2017 and died that night at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California.” Not nearly as happy and as the news that he was born October 20th, 1950 in Gainesville, Florida. My birthday is October 18th, so I’ve always been a little bit close to him and I will always remember him and say a quick happy birthday Tom on October 20th. I know the world is going to miss him. As I’ve said before we can’t afford to lose too many of these kinds of greats like Tom Petty. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family and all the friends who love him and care for him. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of Tom Petty, I know there’s some good music hidden that they’re going to release. There’s always those albums, they say that about these great musicians, my dad included, they’re never really gone because the music is so good.
In closing I’d like to read a quotation from Tom Petty talking about my dad, it goes: “the first time that I heard him was on the family radio, I remember that he sounded very other worldly 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 the jet black hair,” Tom Petty. We used that quote in last week’s podcast entitled Quotations where we went through a lot of people talking about Roy. If you haven’t heard that, I refer you backwards and I refer you forwards, go listen to some Tom Petty, go listen to some Traveling Wilburys, especially volume one, especially “Last Night,” and shed a tear and laugh for Tom Petty. Thank you very much for listening again to Roy Orbison Jr’s Rock & Roll Circus podcast and I’ll see you next week.
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.
THE SOUL OF ROCK AND ROLL PART 3
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.
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
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.)
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.
BUT HEROES DON’T DIE.
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.
THE SOUL OF ROCK AND ROLL PART 2
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.
FRED FOSTER IN HIS OWN WORDS
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.
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.
INTO THE 1970s
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?
”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.
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.
”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.
THE SOUL OF ROCK AND ROLL PART 1
INTO THE 1950s
THE BIG O.
”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.
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.