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 his global top 10 hit, the awesome “You Got It.”
Here's Roy in Festival Hall, Melbourne, Australia in 1972 doing his first major hit from 1960 that hit #2 in the charts, "Only the Lonely."
We’ll close with something that shows off this man’s pipes! Here Roy matches range with the equally amazing Art Garfunkel, who set the original standard! For your enjoyment, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
And now, back to when he hit his peak! Here are eight original 1965 live “Monument” performances by Roy. (Please excuse those that have obnoxious ads up front. Roy’s worth your patience!) First, his MONSTER 1964 #1 hit that sold 7 million copies, "Oh Pretty Woman." Then we follow it with the MAN singing the tune that brought him to the dance, "Only the Lonely." Wow.
For our final three from this show, we start with the majestic “Crying,” move straight into the soaring top 10 hit “It’s Over,” and close this triplet with his dramatic 1961 number 1 hit, “Running Scared.” Simply Awesome!
No lip-synching here!! From the Roy Orbison show in 1964, Roy performing "Crying." Then, from the Johnny Cash show in 1969, here's "Crying." Here's yet another take from Farm Aid in 1985 of Roy doing "Crying."
Last year I found a fantastic live video performance on Austin City Limits in 1982 featuring ALL the hits, and some obscure gems! This year the whole thing isn’t to be found, but I did find a few tunes that were only done here. For your viewing pleasure, from Austin, Texas in 1982, Roy Orbison sending this out to “a dear friend of mine,” "Hound Dog Man”
I found all the clips from the great television special "A Black and White Night Live," and I’ve put them in the set order for your listening pleasure! We'll kick off this treat with his #2 hit from 1960, the immortal "Only The Lonely," follow it with “Dream Baby,” and then the beautiful 1963 top 30 hit (#1 in Oz!), “Blue Bayou.”
Though most associate the song "Claudette" with the Everly Brothers, Roy wrote it for his first wife. From the Man with the Band, here’s “Claudette." We'll finish with the last two of the show, “It’s Over” followed by his iconic 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 great show 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 1966, at the London Palladium, Roy performing a medley of his hits! For your enjoyment, ”Oh Pretty Woman,” “In Dreams,” “Twinkletoes,” and “It’s Over.”
From the 1967 movie “Fastest Guitar in the West,” Roy performing “Rollin On”
From 1981, I found an audio-only set of Roy performing live at the Country Club in LA!
From 1986, an interesting live performance of “Sweet Dream Baby” (The audio has to be the sound board feed dubbed over the recording, since that cannot be a mic that far from the stage.)
From Letterman in 1988, here’s Roy live cranking out ”Mean Woman Blues”
Though not musical clips, enjoy! Here's a documentary of the Wilburys talking about how it all came to be!
Unfortunately, since last year whoever posted part 1 bombed it, and I cannot find it anywhere. Sorry.
A few original studio versions of some of his greats:
"Rock House" (1956)
"Love Hurts." (1961)
"I'm Hurtin'" (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 a song posthumously released that charted in 1992, 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.
This seemed like a fitting end to our tribute, since it shows the man’s grace, humility, and greatness. Roy Orbison on his gifts and blessings
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 78th 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 2014 Robert Wilkinson