Classic Rock

In Dreams: Remembering Roy Orbison

todayApril 3, 2024

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Roy Orbison Jr joins Vintage Rock in remembering his father and to celebrate The Big O’s remarkable legacy

Thirty five years after his death, the intensely emotional music and formidable voice of Roy Orbison remain as powerful as ever. When telling their stories, television and movie-makers continue to turn to timeless classics such as In Dreams, Crying, Only The Lonely and Oh, Pretty Woman.

While The Big O had more than his fair share of uplifting songs, many of his best-known hits were the complex, introspective ballads that revealed a melancholia befitting a man who suffered much personal sorrow. Following the heartbreaking death of his first wife Claudette in a motorcycle accident, Orbison tragically lost his two eldest sons, Roy Dewayne and Anthony King, in a house fire at his Tennessee home while he was touring the UK.

However, after finding love again with Barbara Jakobs, Orbison remarried in 1969 and was a dutiful father to his sons Wesley (the youngest child from his marriage with Claudette), Roy Junior and Alex, while living life as a relevant rock star. Today, Roy’s Boys continue to protect their father’s much-loved legacy.

Archetype Of Modern Music

“My dad’s energy is still going for me and my brothers,” Roy Orbison Jr tells Vintage Rock. “It is still going for the fans, too, and he would be humbled that people still care. However, for many, the music is about nostalgia and I believe that 1950s music can be more popular today than it ever was then. It is still the sound of rebellion, sexuality, freedom and art. Whether it’s Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers or Roy, they’re still the archetypes of modern music. But I think Roy is an enigma whose contribution is being forgotten and he’s almost been systematically written out.

“I know I sound like a son who is just trying to protect his dad, and I am, but Roy is virtually invisible now. There are still people listening to his music and having experiences which are real to them. Roy would be amazed that there is a lonely 12-year-old girl in somewhere like Russia, who has just had her heart broken for the first time and is listening to Crying. She might not know who sings it, but she’s having a conversation with my dad that she can’t have with her own parents.

A Man Of Humility

“People would ask Roy how he wanted to be remembered and he’d reply, ‘I just want to be remembered’. That might seem like a cop out, but what he’s saying is that he’s not his own judge and it’s for the future to decide. By the time I got to know him, when he was older, he had been through so much and was only concerned about being the best Roy Orbison he could possibly be.

“My dad was a special guy, a man of humility, who left the world a better place and it’s easy to brush him aside. He can be seen as that gentleman who wore black, experienced terrible tragedy and sang sad songs… the underdog loner who got the girl at the end of the movie. That is a valid perspective, but when you examine Roy, you realise he’s actually at the centre of rock’n’roll and his artistic influence is a great one.”

So, while the name Roy Orbison might appear to be disappearing from public view for those who cherished him most, the vulnerable and affecting nuances of his lyrics, coupled with the power of his vocals, will ensure he will not be forgotten and that his music will continue to transcend time.

‘The Caruso Of Rock’

The second of three sons born to Orbie Lee Orbison and Nadine Vesta Shults, young Orbison moved with his family to Fort Worth in Texas in 1942. When he was gifted a guitar from his father on his sixth birthday, music became his main focus and within a few years he had a weekly radio show with his group, The Wink Westerners.

“Whatever you listen to when you are young sticks with you,” Orbison Jr explains. “Roy was influenced by country artists like Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, as well as the Texan blues of T-Bone Walker. He was also picking up the AM radio stations from Mexico and you can hear those corrido stylings in his music. People say he was operatic and call him ‘The Caruso of Rock’, but Roy didn’t know anything of opera, it all came from the authentic music he heard from across the border.

“Then, on 5 July 1954, Elvis recorded That’s All Right and invented rock’n’roll. Presley influenced everyone and they all started singing with a rock voice. Roy, almost singularly, took a different direction when he heard the rock balladry that Elvis developed in songs like Love Me Tender. I’m fascinated how, in 1960, after Only The Lonelywas released and Presley left the army, they artistically leapfrogged over each other with Elvis recording songs like It’s Now Or Never and Are You Lonesome Tonight? There was a back and forth between the two of them and there’s many parallels: they recorded similar songs and both moved to RCA after starting out with Sun Records.”

Lone Star State

It was on Johnny Cash’s suggestion that Orbison approach Sam Phillips at Sun. Having changed the group’s name to the hipper-sounding Teen Kings, Phillips offered them a contract on his label after hearing their rockabilly version of Ooby Dooby. They travelled to Memphis where they cut the song for Sun.

“Roy was the bumblebee that cross-pollinated between Sun Studios and West Texas,” Orbison Jr says. “There’s a close connection between Buddy Holly and Roy. While Buddy lived in Lubbock and Roy was from Fort Worth, they were separated by a 30-minute drive with no town in between. They were 14 years old when they first met and they had this friendly teenage rivalry thing.

“Buddy did not get on Sun, but Roy was always going down to Memphis and coming back with something new. While they both inspired each other, I think Buddy was Roy’s first musical disciple. I know that in the UK Buddy came first, but when Buddy needed somewhere to record, it was Roy who told him about Norman Petty’s studio in New Mexico. Buddy Holly And The Crickets’ first album, The “Chirping” Crickets, had 10 tracks on it and two of those, You’ve Got Love and An Empty Cup (And A Broken Date), are both Roy Orbison songs. Sadly, Buddy died too young for that rivalry to really mature into what it would be now, absolute best friends.

“Buddy certainly made it okay to wear glasses and was the first to break the stigma. Before Buddy, the guy wearing glasses was the stupid or ugly guy, but he said no to all that. Roy started wearing sunglasses indoors or at night and people would try and beat him up for doing it.”

The Man In Black

“Ray Charles was blind and wore sunglasses,” he continues, “but Roy made it fashionable. Roy’s story was that he had been crying over the death of Patsy Cline and was wearing dark glasses to hide it. They had recently ended a tour together and she was a dear friend. After stepping off the plane he was travelling in, the press were taking his picture and he adopted the iconic look.

“Roy and Elvis were also the first males to dye their hair black. Roy had blue eyes and blond hair and he covered them. His sense of style cannot be overstated. There’s a new Addams Family TV show called Wednesday, and in it you see Morticia and Gomez singing In Dreams together. Watching this I realised how the filmmakers were doing something very clever by identifying Roy as the first Goth!”

Perhaps a reflection of the darker elements of Orbison’s music, his black clothes, hair and shades, made him one of the most distinct figures in the pantheon of rock’n’roll.

“Now the fans can argue all day about who invented the wearing black thing,” Orbison Jr opines. “If people want to argue about who ‘The Man In Black’ is, I think they’ve missed the message of both Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.

“John was a big bear-like man and he helped Roy with Sun Records at the beginning. Roy really looked up to Johnny like he was an older brother and they had a sibling rivalry. Roy was the first person in America to get a red Ferrari and Johnny was the second. They would race those big empty Tennessee highways, Johnny with his son Johnny Cash Jr by his side and me sat next to my dad. Johnny would gun it past Roy but slow down at a certain point to allow my dad to catch up and take the lead. They were both winners, but John Jr and I would argue over whose dad was the fastest.

“They were soulmates pushed together by fate, proud of each other’s achievements. Johnny moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, into the house right next door to ours to be near Roy. Johnny is my godfather and when he died I felt such a loss. He only just started to get the recognition he deserved towards the very end of his life and again when the Walk The Line film came out. Roy had his while he was still alive.”

Crazy Anglophile

With three No.1s, 12 Top 10s and 31 Top 40 hits, British audiences took Orbison to their hearts, and the feeling was mutual. With countless visits to these shores, Orbison experienced a special kinship with UK fans.

“My dad’s dominance in the early 60s was as big as Taylor Swift is today,” says Orbison Jr. “In Britain, Roy was, and still is to many, second only to Elvis. He loved the UK. But it’s deeper than anyone could suspect.

“He was a crazy Anglophile and a history buff. So, when I went on tour with him, we would go for a walk through Sherwood Forest, visit Blenheim Palace or stop at Stonehenge. There was something sophisticated about it all for a boy raised in the deserts of West Texas. He loved all the regional accents and the sense of humour… he was a big fan of Monty Python.

“The only people who ever really toured there were Roy, Chuck, Buddy, and Gene Vincent. Those guys are still beloved in Britain. Fans would chase dad and rip his clothes off, but they were always so loving and respectful. I believe the UK saved Roy’s life. When Claudette died, he retreated there and, after the boys died, he went there again. At home, meeting the same people, walking the same streets, and going to the same stores made life unbearable… He would also meet my mother in Leeds.

Rock Star Stuff

“He was a great friend and father. I was only 18 when he died, but I believe I actually got to spend more quality time with my dad than most people get to spend with theirs. Wesley, Alex and I were like a second chance for Roy after the loss of his first two boys.

“Growing up with him was very normal to me and the human experience was not that different from anyone else’s, however, I know I was spoiled. I remember this one time Roy went out in his car and came back driving a brand new fire truck… wearing a hat, ringing the bell, and parping the horn.

“Your dad is your hero, and I didn’t understand that not everyone had a father who was a superstar. The only other people we knew were Johnny Cash’s family, and it was the same for them. Because Roy was so famous, movie theatres and restaurants would open after hours for us. Not everyone had a thousand people outside the hotel screaming their name or girls asking for a kiss.

“There’s one story about Roy staying in the penthouse of a big hotel where the King of Saudi Arabia was also staying. Roy walks in, dressed in black, wearing sunglasses and carrying his black leather guitar case, which looked like it could have a high-powered rifle in it. They thought he was an assassin and raided his room with machine guns in the middle of the night. This kind of thing happens when you’re Roy Orbison… proper rock star stuff from beginning to end.

“We honour our dad today by making sure he remains cutting-edge, and we had the first ever touring hologram show in 2018. We made the Platinum-selling album A Love So Beautiful with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which featured my son, Roy Orbison III, playing the opening guitar on Oh, Pretty Woman when he was 10 months old. We work to keep the Roy Orbison name and legacy alive.”

For more news on Roys Boys and their father click here

Read More: Classic Album – Lonely And Blue

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The post In Dreams: Remembering Roy Orbison appeared first on Vintage Rock.

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