The influential singer and songwriter left a more than thirty years legacy of absolute music classics
The legendary Roy Orbison was born 87 years ago today
Roy Kelton Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas on April 23, 1936. He came to prominence during the 1950’s with his blending of Country music and the back then new Rock N’ Roll style. Orbison was part of the Memphis label Sun Records batch of legendary artists during the mid 1950’s, that included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Between the late 1950’s and and the mid 1960’s, Orbison wrote and performed several memorable songs that are now absolute classics such as: “Only the Lonely”, “In Dreams”, “It’s Over”, “Crying”, “Love Hurts” and his signature song “Oh, Pretty Woman”. During that period he toured and played with bands such as The Beatles who were big Orbison fans and The Rolling Stones. Lacking the photogenic looks of many of his rock and roll contemporaries, Orbison eventually developed a persona that did not reflect his personality. He had no publicist in the early 1960’s, no presence in fan magazines, and his single sleeves did not feature his picture. Life magazine called him an “anonymous celebrity”. After leaving his thick eyeglasses on an airplane in 1963 while on tour with the Beatles, Orbison was forced to wear his prescription Wayfarer sunglasses on stage and found that he preferred them. The black clothes and desperation in his songs led to an aura of mystery and introversion. Towards the late 1960’s Orbison’s life suffered a series of unfortunate events, being the main ones losing his wife and two of his three children in a fire, also his career started to decline and during the 1970’s he was only regarded as nostalgia act with little importance to the music. But during the 1980’s that changed when some of the 1980’s contemporary best selling artists such as Bruce Springsteen started to name Orbison as one of their main musical influences and his songs started to have a resurgence due to being used in movies such as “Less Than Zero” in 1986. In 1987 that Orbison formed the supergroup Traveling Wilburys together with Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Tom Petty. The band achieved a big success and Orbison was in high demand for concerts and interviews once again, and was seemingly ecstatic about it. He began writing songs and collaborating with many musicians from his past and newer fans, (including K.D Lang with whom he did a duet with his classic “Crying”) to develop a solo album, “Mystery Girl”. The biggest hit from the album was “You Got It”, written with Lynne and Tom Petty. It posthumously rose to No. 9 in the US and No. 3 in the UK. After feeling sick from exhaustion due to being on constant demand again with the newly found success, on December 6, 1988 he spent the day flying model airplanes with his sons and ate dinner at his mother’s home in Hendersonville. Later that day, he died of a heart attack, at the age of 52. After his death he still continued to make chart success when his song “Oh Pretty Woman” had a resurgence when it was used as the theme song for the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman”. In 1992 he had another posthumous hit with “I Drove All Night” . After the unfair and inglorious 1970’s decade, Orbison found once again the recognition that he deserved during a short period of his life in the 1980’s, but now, 29 years after his untimely death, his legacy still grows stronger everyday, his unique sound and songs are among some of the most influential in Rock and Pop music and he’s praised by many new artists. Roy Orbison was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Look back at Roy Orbison performing “You Got It” in 1988
Listen to “Roy Orbison – The Ultimate Collection” featuring the best of Roy Orbison on Spotify
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