Roy Orbison worked a long time to become an overnight success. Receiving his first guitar at 6 years old, Orbison said he was ruined for any other vocation by the next year. Texas oil country was not exactly fertile ground for the young musician, but his band was directed to Memphis, Tennessee and Sun Studios by Johnny Cash in 1956. Still, notoriety was elusive, and Roy toiled in obscurity for years until moving to Nashville and Monument Records in 1960. Then things happened real quick. He found his voice – which was part operatic, part crooner, and somewhat meta-human in range – and paired it with an orchestral drama for recordings that changed the sound of popular music.
Roy had bad eyesight and wore thick glasses. He had straw blond hair that was nearly white. He dyed it black and combed it into a pompadour. He only wore black. This was the time of Elvis (i.e. GOLD SUITS), but Orbison developed into this mysterious figure. His look was completed when he left his glasses on an airplane in 1963 while touring with the Beetles. He was forced to wear his prescription sunglasses on stage, which he found comforting to his stage fright, and his look was complete. Rarely, if ever, was he seen in public without his signature sunglasses after. Touring Europe at the time, he was bigger than the Beetles. He was bigger than the Rolling Stones (both groups were fans) and had songs like “Only the Lonely” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” in the top ten across the English speaking world. He was mobbed everywhere he went.
The second half of the 60’s and the 70’s were not kind to Roy. He suffered personal tragedies and professional setbacks. His mysterious persona made it easy for him to fall out of fans’ minds. But the rock community never forgot his influence or his voice. By the 80’s, some of the biggest names in music were covering his songs. David Lynch was using his music in films. On a lark he started a band called the Traveling Willburys with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dillon and Jeff Lynne. They were all fans. Lynne produced the last album Orbison recorded called Mystery Girl before his untimely death in 1988. He was the first deceased artist to have two albums in the top 5 since Elvis Presley. Orbison was able to enjoy his second act, if only for a little while. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by Bruce Springsteen. Of recording his seminal album Born to Run, he said “I wanted a record with words like Bob Dylan, that sounded like Phil Spector – but most of all, I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison. Now, everyone knows that no one sings like Roy Orbison.
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