Roy Orbison is considered by many to be one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His smooth baritone voice and wide dynamic range can be heard on his hit songs, “Only the Lonely”, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, and “Crying”, just a few of the many songs that earned him the reputation as being one of the greatest singers of all time.
Roy Orbison was born on April 23, 1936 in Vernon, Texas. From an early age music was a large part of his life and he formed his first band at age 13. This first group wasn’t the average teenage garage band however, throughout 1949 the group appeared on the radio weekly. Upon graduating highschool in 1954 Orbison knew that he had a future in music, but it wasn’t until 1956 that he left college in order to pursue his dream wholeheartedly.
Following the advice of Johnny Cash, who heard Orbison’s band and liked them, the group sought out Sam Phillips of Sun Records. At first Phillips turned them down, but after giving them another listen he signed Roy Orbison to his first record deal. Orbison had some success with the song “Ooby Dooby”, but the rockabilly genre wasn’t where he wanted to be. Although Orbison left Sun records to sign with RCA, and then Monument Records, his early rockabilly work is considered by many enthusiast to be some of the finest recorded.
In 1963 Orbison began writing songs with Joe Melson, and later Bill Dees, who his collaboration with yielded some of his biggest hits, including “Oh, Pretty Woman”. Roy Orbison was an influence to many rock and pop artist even at this time in his career, including the Beatles, who he toured with in 1963. Orbison was originally the headliner on that tour with the Beatles, and even after the onset of Beatlemania, his shows still impressed the fans and his performances captivated the audience. It was during this time that Orbison created lasting friendships with John Lennon and George Harrison, his friendship with Harrison would later result in one of the greatest collaborations of his career.
Orbison enjoyed moderate success in the mid sixties, and toured with The Beach Boys in 1964, and The Rolling Stones in 1965. It was around this time however, that Roy Orbison suffered two of the greatest tragedies of his life. In 1966, his first wife was killed in a motorcycle accident, to be followed by the death of two of his sons in a house fire that completely destroyed the family home. These traumatic incidents would have been enough to end the careers of many performers, but Orbison carried on, and would later remarry and have two more sons with his second wife.
The late sixties and seventies were a rough time for Orbison, and he had no hits in America after 1967, though he was still quite popular elsewhere. The reprisal of his career that would come in the eighties almost wasn’t to be, Orbison suffered a heart attack in 1977 and would later require open-heart surgery to correct the problem, he was only 41 at the time. After recovering from the surgery Orbison recorded a duet with Emmylou Harris that won him a Grammy in 1981, and two crucial collaborations with some of the greatest songwriters in the business were to follow.
During the eighties Roy Orbison, teamed up with his old friend George Harrison to form The Traveling Wilbury’s with legends, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. The band was a supergroup of songwriters, the absolute best in the music industry. Orbison took on the name “Lefty Wilbury” in the group and lended both his voice and songwriting skills to the project. What resulted was nothing short of a masterpiece, and the song “You’ve Got It” became another of his most memorable hits. To follow up the Traveling Wilbury’s project, Orbison also did an album in 1987 with many other great artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Jackson Browne.
Sadly, the world lost Roy Orbison on December 6, 1988 when he suffered a massive heart attack. Although he left one of the greatest song catalogs in the history of pop music, the man that Elvis Presley once called “the greatest singer in the world” didn’t live to see the longlasting success of his last two projects. At the time of his death Orbison had two albums rated in the top 5, and a large American and European tour were scheduled for the following year. Shortly before his death Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, to be followed after his death with his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1991 Orbison won another Grammy, for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, and three of his songs “Only the Lonely”, “Crying”, and “Oh, Pretty Woman” are included in the Grammy Hall of Fame.