Roy Orbisons

 Tuesday, August 02, 2016 12:54:10 PM


Roy Kelton Orbison, the ‘BIG O’ was born in Vernon, the seat of Wilbarger County in north Texas on April 23rd 1936 at 3.30pm and died December 6th 1988.

Roy was the 2nd child born of Nadine Shultz (a nurse) and Orbie Lee Orbison  (a worker). When aged seven he moved with his parent to Fort Worth whilst Orbie was trying to find work in munitions factories during 2nd World War. Due to the spreading epidemic polio in 1944, Roy and Grady his older brother were sent back to live with their maternal grandmother, a divorcee, in Vernon.  In 1946 all the family moved to Wink, near New Mexico. Roy thought he would ask for a harmonica for his 6th birthday, but Orbie bought him a guitar instead. His music prowess improved with uncles on both sides helping his learn his new found love for music.

His love for music came from within the family and at the age of 13 in 1949 he stated singing in his first band The Wink Westerners. His skills for writing music and playing guitar took off way back then. Just such a talented gentleman.

In 1954 he graduated from Wink High School, then enrolled in North Texas State College in Denton for one year and followed on to Washington State University, or  (Odessa Junior College in the fall of 1955) unsure of this fact: with subjects English & History.

He still continued working with his band with some appearance son TV where Johnny Cash spotted him advising to see Sam Phillips for a contract to record his music. Phillips did not seem all that keen, in fact he hug up on him saying ‘Johnny Cash doesn’t run my record company’ but changed his mind when hearing another recording some time later.

In 1956 Roy left college and the band changed their name to The Teen Kings and headed for Sun Records in Memphis. Often was 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.

Roy’s had a velvety smooth tenor voice, which could jump three octaves with very little effort, but his success went up and down. As we know there was no mixing apparatus or digitally enhancements in those day just plain good sound done manually and raw. His voice echoed sorry and his trade make dark glasses probably to hide his pain. He was definitely not blind and an incident one night lead him to pick up some sunglasses after leaving his prescription ones a plane leading him with his just too coll trademark, dark glasses and would remain with him forever a signature at his performances.

During  57’ Roy did not feel comfortable with the rockabilly tag or happy with the way Sam Phillips was handing his career, so Orbison returned to Texas with his new bride, Claudette Frady, from Odessa. He wrote Claudette for the Everly Bros and also penned song for Buddy holly Jerry Lee Lewis and Ricky Nelson.

His marriage to Claudette went too and froe, from hot to cold.  Roy was often absent touring for long stretches and Claudette being the sweet, young and very pretty was reportedly having affairs.  A divorce was inevitable eventuated and they were divorced in November, 1964.

Roy teamed up with  a songwriter Joe Melson in 1957 and together they teamed up together to do  dramatic rocks ballads, an unheard sound, and Pretty Woman, (selling over seven million copies) Running  Scared and Only the Lonely. His sound now so unique, a sound that carried him to the end of his days. He even toppled the Beatles in 1964 on UK charts soaring to No 1 British Charts and Billboard charts in US. His romantic ballads with amazing crescendoing falsetto and strings and with his twangy guitar and belcanto tenor he was definitely one of a kind. Roy wrote most of his hits and often produced them as well.

He toured with the Beach Boys in 1964 and in 65 came to Australia where I saw him.

While touring in England in March 1966 Roy was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident, breaking his ankle and performed the rest of the tour seating on a stool.

Three months later in 1966, he was riding motorcycles with his wife, when Claudette, was struck when a truck driver pulled out in front of her. She died an hour later at the age of twenty-five on June 6th 1966. 

Hits like 'Penny Arcad'e, 'Working for the Man' soared to No 1 in Australia, and we loved him.

Once again death came to his family with a house fire, killing Roy Jr (born 1958) Anthony (born 1962), Wesley his youngest was saved by his parents. Roy had been touring in UK.

 Roy refused to join rock 'n' roll revival shows and he seldom toured the US after the late 60’s.

Roy then met Barbara Anne Marie Wilhonnen Jacobs a German born girl in August 1968, in Leeds, England.  Barbara decided to move to US 1968 Barbara became his second wife on May 25, in Nashville in 1969 and he had a happy life with two new sons Kelton Orbison born in 1970 and Alexander born 1975. Together they built brand new house just one block away from where Roy's old house used to stand on Old Hickory Lake in Hendesonville, Tennessee.

More sadness was to follow Roy with is older brother, Grady, was killed in 1973 in an auto accident, while on his way to spend Thanksgiving with Roy. The love his family, friends and faith helped him through this tragic path of pain.  I am just amazed that Roy was able to pick himself up having endured and suffered so many horrendous tragic events in his life; and he seemed to overcame many of them, and still managed to give a gift to us with his smooth voice. Elvis Presley called him, “the greatest singer in the world.” Such kind accolade from the KING! 

Over along period of Roy’s career he realised that he had been a victim of dubious and questionable accounting practices by record companies and the publishers of his songs.  But being the quite nice guy he was he refused to rock the boat and hold them to account for their shady practices. During hard lean times in 1982 he decided to pursue theses issues after learning that Elvis was owed money also. He then sued Acuff-Rose publishers for $50 million in back royalties.  I am not sure he was successful in that.

A change in music styles meant he had no hits after 67 till the 1980’s. Blue Bayou made other artists rich, recording their version of this classic song. Roy’s schedule with his non stop ours played on his health and had a heart attack at age 41 and needed open heart surgery in January 1978 after a lifetime of heavy smoking , giving him a much needed lease on his career and life. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. He teamed up with K D Lang to his one of his hits 1961 hit 'Crying'; this I believed was fantastic rendition of this song. Their mellow magic blends made this song one of my favourites.

1988 saw A Black and White Night when Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Kd Lang  to name a few bringing him renewed success with a younger generation. I saw this recently on cable here in Australia; sadness overcame me whilst watching it.

This brought about a another unique gathering of the greats: Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynn forming the Travelling Wilburys, having this album in my collection even today i never tire of listening to it, I just can’t get enough of this music. He publicly only sang you ‘Got It’ in Antwerp, Belgium a few days before his untimely death. We all can recall the great video of ‘Handle me With Care. Around December 4th he headed to Nashville and died suddenly of a massive heart attack at his mum’s house near midnight (11.46pm) at the tender age of 52. Sadly my own dad died when 52, Yes Gone Too Soon! Spending his last hours flying toy aeroplanes and shopping.

Roy had experienced chest pains during the afternoon of that day. His wife Barbara directed Roy to be interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park, in Westwood California on December 15 1988, in an unmarked grave and it seems to still be like that today. I really think he deserves more.

Finding his grave: 1218 Glendon Avenue, Westwood, CA / 310-474-1579. Unmarked Grave #97. From Donna Reed's grave, notice that there are two large trees directly to the west (to your left when facing Donna's headstone). Roy's grave lies in the same row as Donna's, but between these two trees. On the left side of his grassy spot is a headstone which reads "Frank Wright Tuttle", and on his right is a small black marker which reads "Grandma Martha Monroe". Roy's grave is unmarked due to the wishes of the family.

Sadly he died as he was making a come back, now it is just unfinished business. 

After his death Roy received the award of the posthumous winner of the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. ‘Mystery Girl.’ and ‘You’ve Got It’ also received were posthumous hits status.

Elton John  and Bernie Taupin were quote saying  “ Roy was ahead of his time as songwriter.  Breaking traditions with his impressive four octaves, singing effortlessly, and strong and melodic.’

I look forward to Chris O’Neill’s book in 2008 on Roy, a second volume ‘Straight from the Heart’. Goodbye Roy, you have left a big hole to fill, in fact no one could fill your shoes.