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Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician known for his impassioned singing style, complex song structures, and dark, emotional ballads. His music was described by critics as operatic, earning him the nicknames "the Caruso of Rock" and "the Big O".
- Early years
- Early career
- Later years
- Later career
Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936 at 3:30 pm, in Vernon, Texas. Nadine, his mother, was a nurse. Orbie Lee, his father, a worker. Roy was their second child. For his sixth birthday, Roy asked for a harmonica, but fortunately his daddy gave him a guitar. Orbie Lee is generally credited with teaching Roy to play guitar. However, he also learned from Charlie Orbison, Orbie Lees brother,
Wade Lee Moore and Dick Penner where two college friends of Roys at Denton and they had written The Ooby Dooby. Dick Penner arranged for them to record his song at Jim Becks studio in the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, which is South-East of Denton. Beck had been instrumental in the discovery of Lefty Frizzell and Marty Robbins for Columbia Records, so the band headed for Dallas to record Ooby Dooby and Hey, Miss Fannie which appears to be a duet of Roy Orbison and James Morrow. The session took place at some point during the summer of 1955 before the boys returned to West Texas. Roy was convinced that they would be signed to Columbia Records, which never happened. Orbison had been approached by local entrepreneur Weldon Rogers, who had an associate by the name of Chester C. C. Oliver. They were just starting up the Je-Wel label and wanted to record Roy and the band. Roy was anxious to take Rogers and Oliver up on their offer and Je-Wels first recording session was hastily arranged for March 4, 1956 at Norman Petty Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. This time, Roy and The Teen Kings, recorded The Clovers Trying to Get to You and Ooby Dooby. The single was released two weeks later circa March 19, 1956. That same day, Roy took a copy to Cecil Hollifield in Odessa. He was a well-know record dealer in West Texas. Poppa Hollifield liked the record and played it on the phone to one of his connections in Memphis. The guy on the other side of the line asked him to send him a copy. His name was Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records. A few days later Poppa telephoned Roy to say that Phillips wanted the Teen Kings in Memphis in three days to record for Sun Records. Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings arrived in Memphis on Monday, March 26, 1956. The next day they re-recorded Ooby Dooby, Trying to Get to You and Go Go Go (Down the Line). Bob Neal, owner of Starts Inc., signed the group to a booking and management contract. They kicked off with an experimental tour of Southern drive-in movies theaters, performing on the projection house roofs between film showings. Most of the time touring with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, Faron Young, Johnny Horton and then Jerry Lee Lewis and other Country and Rockabilly stars. Back in Texas, Roy had been writing with Joe Melson, and after a false start they came up with Uptown which was recorded and released in late 1959. Uptown sold better than any other Orbison record since Ooby Dooby, peaking half way up the Hot 100. The sound was something different. It had strings as opposed to fiddles, which were not very common in Nashville. In Authorized Bootleg Collection, Orbison Records brings together four complete Roy Orbison live concerts recorded between 1969 and 1980. Previously available only as ragged, passed-around tapes and inferior bootleg pressings, these remarkable outings have been digitally remastered to deliver the most faithful sound reproduction possible (within, of course, the technical limitations of each performances time).
Orbison enrolled at Odessa Junior College in the fall of 1955 wanting to major in Geology but then changed to History and English. Soon, the band moved in together to a duplex in Walnut Street in Odessa. With a couple of new members they renamed themselves The Teen Kings as they were playing more and more Rock and Roll. They got a second weekly local TV show on Saturdays from 4:30 to 5 PM on KOSA-TV, Odessa, Channel 7, which was part of the national CBS network. Johnny Cash and also Elvis Presley came in town to perform around this time and appeared on Roys TV show. Roy asked Johnny for advice on how to get a record released and Cash gave him Sam Phillips telephone number in Memphis. He called Mr. Phillips who hung up the phone saying, Johnny Cash doesnt run my record company.
The Everlys Claudette was released on late March 1958 as the B-side of All I Have To Do Is Dream. The A side went to number 1; Claudette peaked at Number 30. At this point, his songs were also recorded by Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rick Nelson. A duet of Crying with k.d. Lang was released as a single and on video. It also gave Roy another Grammy Award. His collaboration with Jeff Lynne was becoming very prolific. Jeff had just produced George Harrisons Cloud Nine and was working on Roys and Tom Pettys material at the same time. That led to the Traveling Wilburys project which became a huge success. The group features Roy, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. The record was released in October and entered the Top 10. This was also followed by a beautiful video for their first single Handle with Care. Roys new solo LP was already finished and scheduled for release in January 1989. Roy landed in Europe in mid-November and appeared on the Diamond Awards Festival in Antwerp, Belgium on November 19th as the main attraction of the evening. The show was filmed and Roy sang to a playback of a brand new song, You Got It. It was obvious that Roy had a new band and he looked better than ever sporting a ponytail. Roys new look was outstanding and even a bit shocking. He was Roy Orbison again.
The challenge to consolidate Only the Lonely was a difficult one. The follow-ups, Blue Angel and Im Hurtin, were cloned too closely from Only the Lonely, and it took another few tries for Orbison and Melson to come up with something special.
In May 1963, and with the success of In Dreams, Wesley Rose eventually accepted an invitation for Roy to tour England on a bill with The Beatles, who meant nothing in the United States at that time. The tour was sold-out in one afternoon. On the first night, Roy did fourteen encores before The Beatles could get on stage.
Roy Orbison was one of the few hit-makers to hold his ground, and even to increase his popularity in the wake of the so-called British Invasion. He did it by maintaining a matchless quality of releases, with an original variety of content, structure, tempo and rhythm. He was also an extremely subtle song craftsman, making changes during the course of a session, or between sessions, adding the final commercial gloss to a song.
Orbison toured Australia with the Beach Boys in 1964 and with the Rolling Stones 1965. Roy also toured extensively in Europe.
A dark period ensued as Orbisons private life began to unravel as well. In 1966, his wife Claudette, who he married in 1957, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Matters turned worse two years later when two of his three children died when his Hendersonville house burned down (Roy sold the lot to his best friend Johnny Cash. Cashs home at the exact same location would also later burn to the ground.) Roy found himself unable to write songs for a while, but maintained a positive outlook and continued touring. In late 1966 Roy started filming The Fastest Guitar Alive, which was his only leading role. His last Top 100 entry in the US for the rest of 1960s and 1970s was Cry Softly Lonely One in July 1967.
Roy had met a German girl by the name of Barbara Anne Marie Wilhonnen Jacobs in August 1968, in Leeds, England. She moved to the USA in late 1968 and they were married in Nashville on May 25, 1969, and start building a brand new house just one block away from where Roys old house used to stand on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
As his MGM contract came to an end in 1973, Roy signed a one-year contract with Mercury Records in 1974 without major acclaim, but as he would say, he always had a record in the charts in some part of the World. For example Penny Arcade was number 1 in Australia for weeks on end and Too Soon to Know was number 3 in England. After that brief stay with Mercury Records, Roy re-signed with Monument in January 1976 in an attempt to recharge his career in the midst of heavy touring on the Far East, Australia, Asia and Europe. Roy paid the price of heavy smoking, heavy touring and life on the road when he underwent open-heart surgery at the St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville in January 18, 1978, but he was back on the road three weeks later just to prove he could do it.
Key factors contributed to the rebirth of Roys career in the USA. A Grammy with Emmylou Harris in 1980 for That Lovin You Feelin Again, Wild Hearts Run out of Time being in the film Insignificance, the Class of 55 LP with fellow Sun record mates, his move to Malibu, California in late 1985, he re-recorded his greatest hits for an upcoming LP for Silver Eagle from Canada, and the use of the song In Dreams in the film Blue Velvet, but for sure helped a big deal to put Roys music back in the map. Blue Velvet is considered a cult film and it helped Roy to become very contemporary again, as he always wanted to be.
Roy wanted to do a TV Special for a long time. A couple of them were recorded, for instance Roy Orbison at the Los Angeles Country Club and Live in Birmingham, Alabama but nothing ever came close to the beautiful Roy Orbison and Friends A Black and White Night Live. The event was taped at the legendary Cocoanut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The band was filled up with familiar faces. Among them were Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, k.d. Lang, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes, T-Bone Burnette, Jackson Browne, J. D. Souther, and they were backed up by Elvis Presleys TCB band which included James Burton on guitar. This Special was going to air on Cinemax cable TV on January 1988, and subsequently released on video. This became a landmark in Roy career.
He came back to America played his last show in Highland Heights, Ohio, had big European and American tours planned out already for the next year. He headed down to Nashville on December 4 and on Tuesday, December 6, spent time shopping for model airplane parts and flying them, but during the afternoon he complained of chest pains. Roy collapsed at his mothers house right before midnight. He was on top of the charts again, but he was dead at 52.
Posthumously released in 1989, Mystery Girl became the biggest selling album of his career. Two cuts from the album became hits: You Got It made it in the U.S. Top 10 and Bonos Shes A Mystery To Me climbed to the Top 30 in the U.K. In 1992, Virgin released King of Hearts, a collection of previously unreleased songs, and The Very Best of Roy Orbison in 1996, which documented his career from its beginning through the last years of his life. Roys legacy continues to grow as his wife; Barbara devotes her time to managing his estate and releasing Orbison products on her label, Orbison Records. In January 1998, she issued Combo Concert, which is a collection of previously unreleased live recordings from Holland and France made in 1965. A companion video of the same name features a black and white film of the original Dutch television broadcast. In 1998, nearly ten years after his death, Barbara accepted the Recording Academys Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed upon Roy for his unparalleled contribution to the recording industry.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death, Orbison Records released the ultimate box set, which included the Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night CD, and video, the In Dreams CD, and a pair of Roy Orbison signature sunglasses.
In 2004 Orbison Records released the entire MGM Series. Other exciting projects included three new DVD releases, including one never before seen live concert from Australia and the ultimate collectors DVD. We are also working on a ground breaking Roy Orbison Duets Project and an extended Black & White Night SACD and DVD audio. Dont forget the return of the greatest super-group of all-time : THE TRAVELING WILBURYS!
With the untimely passing of Barbara Orbison in December of 2011, Orbison Enterprises is now managed by her sons Alex and Roy Kelton Orbison, Jr. Stay tuned as there are lots of exciting Orbison times ahead as we push onward in carrying on the legacy of The Soul of Rock and Roll Roy Orbison.
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Oct 07, 2020 · Born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas, Roy Orbison formed his first band at age 13. The singer-songwriter dropped out of college to pursue music. He signed with Monument Records and recorded...
- April 23, 1936
- 3 min
- December 6, 1988
Roy Orbison, (born April 23, 1936, Vernon, Texas, U.S.—died December 6, 1988, Hendersonville, Tennessee), American singer-songwriter who was best remembered for his soaring voice, one of the most operatic in all of rock music, and for his carefully crafted ballads of loneliness and heartache.
Roy Orbison was born on April 23, 1936 in Vernon, Texas, USA as Roy Kelton Orbison. He was married to Barbara Orbison and Claudette Frady. He died on December 6, 1988 in Madison, Tennessee, USA. Spouse (2)
Sep 02, 2020 · In 1965, after more than a decade of struggling to become the musician he dreamed of being and joining the ranks of the budding rock 'n' roll royalty, Roy Orbison began to see his fame fade. His popularity had skyrocketed with hits like "Workin' for the Man," "Only the Lonely," and — who could forget?
- Cody Copeland
- I See What You Did There. Let’s start with the elephant in the room—despite the very widespread belief to the contrary, Roy Orbison was not actually blind.
- What Are the Chances? So, if he wasn’t blind, what was the real story behind Orbison’s trademark sunglasses-clad look? Well, according to Orbison himself, the reason behind his on-stage appearance was that he didn’t have a manager or stylist, so he just went out there wearing whatever he felt comfortable in.
- A True Legend Never Dies. After his death, Orbison became the first deceased singer since the one and only Elvis Presley to have ever had two albums hit the top five on the charts at the same time.
- No Working for the Man for This Kid. As far as he was concerned, Orbison’s entire life path was decided the very moment that his dad first handed him a guitar as a gift for his sixth birthday.
Jul 29, 2018 · Roy Orbison had one of the greatest voices in music production history (Image: REX/Shutterstock) Legendary singer Roy Orbison died due to his addiction to yo-yo dieting, a new TV documentary has...