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Orbison, Roy (23rd April 1936-6th December 1988)

He was a singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer, nicknamed “The Big O” and often wearing trademark dark glasses, born Roy Kelton Orbison in Vernon, Texas, with the family relocating to Forth Worth, Texas, around 1942.

He was given his first guitar when he was six years old, even though he had apparently asked for a harmonica, but this would be a start of a lifelong career in music and he performed his first song “You Are My Sunshine”.  He and his brother were sent back to live with their grandmother in Vernon during a polio epidemic and while there he wrote his first song in 1944 called “A Vow to Love”.  In 1946 they moved once again to Wink and it was here that he formed The Wink Westerners, which was his first band, when he was thirteen years old.  He was already writing his own songs by this time and soon he and the band were performing weekly at a radio station in Kermit, Texas.

After his high school graduation in 1954 he went on to attend the North Texas State College followed by taking studies in English and history at Washington State University.  The Wink Westerners progressed from their weekly performances at KERB radio to land two other weekly half hour shows at KOSA and KMID and were also becoming known through local television appearances.  Two of their radio guest musicians were Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, who he would be pivotal in their success when he suggested they approach Sam Phillips with a view to getting a recording contract.  This didn’t happen overnight, but they did managed to land a contract after being heard and changed their name to The Teen Kings.

Roy left college behind him in 1956 and saw success that same year with his single “Ooby Dooby” which had been composed by some of his student friends.  His own songwriting was also getting noticed and the song “Claudette”, who was his first wife from 1957 and later killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966, became a success when it was recorded by The Everly Brothers and put on the B-Side of their No. 1 “All I Have To Do is Dream”.

For all his songwriting and various song releases at Sun, he wasn’t seeing the success he had hoped for and so left to join Acuff-Rose Music where he concentrated on writing.  This led to him being taken on by RCA and then Monument Records awarded him a contract after a referral from Chet Atkins.  He joined up with Joe Melson in songwriting collaboration and this would result in the beginning of a huge rise in his career.  He released the song “Uptown” which became a minor hit and then followed it up with the famed “Only the Lonely” which topped the UK charts and hit No. 2 in the US and would become one of the songs that everyone associates with him.

He would later have many other hit records including “Crying”, “In Dreams”, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, “Running Scared” and “You Got It”.  In his earlier hits he was often heard with his touring and backing group The Candymen, some of who co-wrote with him.  This band included the singer Bobby Goldsboro and Buddy Buie, who would later form the Atlanta Rhythm Section with various other members of the band.

By 1963 his fame had spread far and wide and he was the headliner on a tour of Europe with The Beatles, who he remained friends with for the rest of his life.  He was one of the people who urged them to appear in America, unfortunately unable to manage their tour due to his workload, and John Lennon and Paul McCartney have both cited him as an inspiration to them.

In 1964 he teamed up with his new writing collaborator, Bill Dees, and for the next two years he was busy touring again, first with The Beach Boys in the United States and then The Rolling Stones in Australia.  During those years his success in the UK was as much as it was in the US and on several years he was voted “Best Male Vocalist”.  Also in 1965 he signed to MGM and starred in their movie The Fastest Guitar Alive but this would not assist him in further success and 1967 would see his last chart hit in the US, although his popularity was still high in other countries throughout the world, often with his album releases.

1968 was a year that saw much tragedy for him as a fire at his home while he was on a tour of England resulted in the death of the eldest two of his three sons.  The same year was when he met his second wife in England and they married in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1969, setting up home close to the one that had just been destroyed and having two sons together.

Despite his lack of success in the 1970s as a singer, although still internationally touring, his greatest success as a writer came when Linda Ronstadt recorded the 1977 Grammy winning version of “Blue Bayou” with sales in excess of seven million.  That same year he had a heart attack at just 41 years of age and open-heart surgery followed on.  This seemed to open up a whole new period of success for him and he even recorded a disco album called Laminar Flowwhich include “Hound Dog Man” which was his own tribute to one of his admirers, Elvis Presley, who had dubbed him “the greatest singer in the world” in 1976.

The 1980s came around and he duetted with Emmylou Harris on “That Lovin’ You Feeling Again” which went on to get a 1981 Grammy Award.  He and his family moved to Malibu, Caifornia, in 1985 and his popularity was re-surfacing with his songs being included in films such Blue Velvet and Insignificant.  In 1987 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the speech given by Bruce Springsteen and the year following his death he was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Also in 1987 he recorded his previous hit  “Crying” as a duet with k.d. lang and once again he was the recipient of another Grammy Award.  The following year he had his own TV special called Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night, where he was joined by many stars who took on the role of supporting artists.

Also in 1988 he joined up with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty to become a member of The Travelling Wilburys who made an immediate impact on both sides of the Atlantic and at the same time recorded and co-produced his final solo album Mystery Girl which included the co-written track “She’s a Mystery to Me” by Bono and The Edge from U2.

He worked with countless people in the music business as a songwriter or singer/musician throughout the course of his career and some of these include David Briggs, Jackson Browne, Sonny Burgess, Elvis Costello, Glen Hardin, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Rick Nelson, Carl Perkins, Bonnie Raitt, Tommy Roe, J.D. Souther, Ringo Starr, Conway Twitty, Mike Utley, Tom Waits, Jennifer Warnes and Faron Young.

The albums he appeared on are far too many to mention the all, but some of them include his own At the Rock House, Big O, Exciting Sounds, Hank Williams the Roy Orbison Way, Many Moods of Roy Orbison, Milestones, Orbison Way, Orbiting with Roy Orbison, Special Deliveryand There is Only One as well as Last Mango in Paris by Jimmy Buffett, Duets by Emmylou Harris, Classic by Jerry Lee Lewis and Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty.

He gave his final live performance at Highland Heights, Ohio, at the beginning of December in 1988 and after going to Nashville on the 4th he spent the time relaxing and going on a shopping trip on the 6th and spending time with his mother.  That night he collapsed and died from a massive heart attack at just 52 years old.  He left behind him a powerful music legacy that influenced many of the major pop artists over the last four decades and three years after his death he was awarded the 1991 Grammy Award for “Best Male Pop Vocal Performance”.  The year after that Jeff Lynne produced an album of his studio sessions called King of Hearts and a decade after his passing he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

2006 his memory was still being kept alive with the release of the book Straight From Our Hearts which is made up of tributes and short-stories by fans. The second volume and CD The Essential Roy Orbison were released in 2008 to mark the 20th anniversary of his death.