Introduction and Early Life:
Hailed by his peers and critics alike as one of the greatest singers of all time, American singer-songwriter Roy Orbison was known for his operatic, soaring four-octave vocals, carefully crafted compositions, dark emotional ballads and trademark sunglasses. He pioneered a unique brand of country infused pop-based rock ‘n’ roll as his musical roots were planted in country and rockabilly. Orbison has sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
Roy Kelton Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas in 1936. His father was an oil well driller and car mechanic while his mother was a nurse. Orbison attended Denver Avenue Elementary School and developed an early interest in music. His first guitar was bought by his father on his sixth birthday. Some of Orbison’s major musical influences included Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb. A child prodigy, he started appearing on a local radio show from the tender age of 8.
Orbison graduated from Wink High School in 1954, and played with several bands in his school years; among them The Wink Westerners and The Teen Kings.
Career and Musical Achievements:
The Teen Kings were signed by Sam Phillips of Sun Records in 1956, after Roy Orbison sent a demo recording of “Oooby Dooby” on fellow performer Johnny Cash’s suggestion. The song peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to sell 200,000 copies.
In the next few years, Orbison mastered country-flavored ballads and joined renowned Nashville-based music publishing company, Acuff-Rose, as a staff songwriter in 1957. Among his earliest compositions was 1958 song “Claudette”, which was recorded by the Everly Brothers. Wesley Rose, one of the company’s owners, started handling Orbison’s career and helped him secure a recording contract with Monument Records in 1959.
Orbison released of a series of groundbreaking, commercially successful songs during the early 1960s that would influence his contemporaries as well as generations to come. A few of them include “Only the Lonely”, “Blue Angel”, “Running Scared”, “Crying”, “Dream Baby”, “In Dreams”, “Mean Woman Blues”, “It’s Over”, and “Pretty Woman”.
Orbison switched to MGM Records in 1965, in order to have better opportunities for film and television work. His record sales slumped significantly due to the move and his film career was a disaster. Adding to his woes, Orbison learned about the death of his wife in a 1966 motorcycle accident, and the 1967 loss of his two children in house fire.
Orbison’s recording career showed signs of revival by the late 1970s. He signed a recording contract with Elektra Records in 1978. His 1979 album, Laminar Flow, garnered highly favorable press reviews. His career underwent a major career resurrection when film director David Lynch included “In Dreams” in his 1986 film, Blue Velvet.
Orbison toured extensively, collaborated with other artists, and released In Dreams: The Greatest Hits with his new label, Virgin, in 1987. Mystery Girl (1989) became his highest-charting album, reaching #5 on the US Billboard 200, and #2 on the UK Albums Chart. Orbison died of a heart attack in 1988, regrettably at the peak of his career resurgence. His body was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.
Awards and Accolades:
Roy Orbison won numerous awards and accolades in his lifetime, and has been posthumously awarded many more. A few of them include five Grammy Awards, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1987), and Songwriters Hall of Fame (1989).
Roy Orbison’s personal life was marked by tragedy and despair. He divorced her Claudette Frady in 1964 over her infidelities. Although the couple sorted out their differences and remarried in 1965, Claudette unfortunately died in a motorcycle accident in 1966. While on the road in 1968, Orbison was informed his Hendersonville home had burned down, resulting in the death of his two eldest sons. He went into deep depression which led to his career decline.