by Robert Wilkinson
April 23 marks the birthday of one of the greatest musical talents of the 20th Century. A contemporary of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins at Sun Records, "Roy the Boy" was one of the more unlikely looking rock stars ever to leave his immortal mark in music history.
As a kid growing up in the 50s and 60s, Roy Orbison's (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) soulful music and soaring voice impacted me and my music sensibilities tremendously (and apparently Bruce Springsteen and millions of others as well!) It is said that as a result of his 1963 UK tour, he inspired a young John Lennon to write the Beatles’ breakthrough smash hit "Please Please Me" trying to sound like him. One of the most important musical influences in my early life, it was a sad day when he checked out way too early in late 1988.
Thick rimmed dark glasses, dressed in black, often with a Cross Alisee' at his throat, he offered up musical tales of loss and redemption, loneliness and beauty, fear and triumph, across 4 octaves (sometimes more!) supported by both dramatic and rocking rhythms and melodies. He did not look anything like the rock and roll stars of his day, but he was a figure that everyone honored as one of the best of the best.
His life was tragic in many ways, and he endured the most painful experiences a human can go through. Yet he never abandoned his kind and gentle Taurus nature, and so his entire career was authentic in that when he sang of tragedy, he knew what he was singing about, and when he sang of triumph, he also knew that as well.
His voice is haunting, his music is beautiful, and he gave us some amazing tunes, both those he wrote and those he put his magic touch upon, making them come alive. For your enjoyment, Mister Roy Orbison!
We'll begin this celebration of Roy and his music with one of my favorite songs he ever did, co-written with Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. This performance footage was taken in Europe less than three weeks before he died. For your pleasure and enjoyment, the incredible voice of Mister Roy Orbison doing the awesome “You Got It.”
Here's Roy in Australia in 1972 doing his first major hit, "Only the Lonely."
Here are four original 1965 live “Monument” performances by Roy. First, his MONSTER HIT "Oh Pretty Woman." Then we follow it with the MAN singing the tune that brought him to the dance, "Only the Lonely." Wow. Here’s another big one from the same concert, "Dream Baby." We’ll close this triplet with the dramatic “Running Scared.” Simply Awesome!
Here’s a great treat and a fantastic live video performance featuring ALL the hits, and some obscure gems! From Austin, Texas in 1982, a full one hour performance by Roy Orbison Live on Austin City Limits
From the great television special "A Black and White Night Live," we'll kick off this treat with his #2 hit from 1960, the immortal "Only The Lonely," and follow it with the beautiful 1963 hit “Blue Bayou.” We'll follow these with Roy's first hit from long ago in 1956, "Ooby Dooby" and then from 1961, “Candy Man.” Though most associate the song "Claudette" with the Everly Brothers, Roy wrote it for his first wife. For your enjoyment, here's three in a row, featuring “Mean Woman Blues,” “Dream You,” and “Claudette." We'll finish with the closer of that show, his 1964 #1 hit, "Oh Pretty Woman."
It's a great production to watch in its entirety (it's for sale on various sites) and features Roy, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, James Burton and the TCB Band, with Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes, and k.d. lang on backing vocals. It's a half hour of pure gold featuring all the hits!
In his incarnation with the Traveling Wilburys, his name was Lefty. Here's Lefty, along with Nelson, Otis, Lucky, and Charlie T. Jr. in the original studio music video of "Handle With Care," and here's their video tribute to Roy whose guitar occupies the empty rocking chair in "End of the Line." Even though all the Wilburys wrote all their songs, it seems probable that given Roy sings lead, this one is his all the way! For your enjoyment, the soaring voice of Roy Orbison on "You're Not Alone Anymore."
And now, a few live performances of songs you may or may not have heard of!
From 1965 in Holland, Roy live performing his 1962 hit, “Sweet Dream Baby”
From 1966, Roy in a live performance of his 1963 hit, “In Dreams”
From the 1967 movie “Fastest Guitar in the West,” Roy performing “Rollin On”
From 1972 in Melbourne, Australia, here’s Roy live performing his 1962 hit, “Leah”
From 1981, Roy performing live at the Country Club in LA!
Though not musical clips, enjoy! Here's a documentary of the Wilburys talking about how it all came to be!
A few original studio versions of some of his greats:
"Love Hurts." (1961)
"Dream Baby." (1962)
"Running Scared." (1961)
Here’s a 13 minute Interview with Elvis Costello talking about Roy Orbison
We'll close this birthday festival with the intense "I Drove All Night" music video, which definitely communicates the heat that the young are privileged to feel.
Here are two special treats! First, from a long time ago, Roy Orbison singing Happy Birthday to one of his sons.
And here’s an audio only clip of Bruce Springsteen singing Happy Birthday to Roy Orbison at a show just before Roy died.
Here’s Roy Orbison’s final video interview, two days before his death.
From right before he died, the most extensive print interview he ever gave.Roy Orbison's Triumphs and Tragedies: Rolling Stone's Definitive 1988 Interview
So here's a Happy 77th birthday, Roy. Your music is still timeless, beautiful, and rocks! I'm sure you're having fun with Nelson "Spike" Wilbury as I write this. Thanks for the tunes, Lefty. RIP and have a rockabilly skiffle on me!
© Copyright 2013 Robert Wilkinson