Roy Orbison was known for his shyness which was unusual for a rock and roll artist, but when tragedy struck, the music star did not hold back in a secretly recorded album.
On April 23, 1936, Roy Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas, to father Orbie Lee Orbison and mother Nadine Vesta Shultz. His father was an oil well driller and mechanic, while his mother was a nurse.
When he was 20 years old, he recorded music with his hero, Elvis Presley, and lifelong friend Johnny Cash at Sun Records Studio in Tennessee.
He suffered from poor eyesight when growing up, and this was said to be a common trait for children in the Orbison family. Orbison started using thick corrective glasses recommended by his doctor very early on in life.
The music star also began dyeing his almost white hair black as he was very self-conscious about his appearance. He was also known to be very polite, quiet, and self-effacing.
In the early 1960s, he was well recognized as a Country and Western singer, also a rockabilly. He was known for his dark ballads and passionate voice, which was his trademark.
His music was described as Operatic, which earned him nicknames like “the Big O” and “the Caruso of Rock.” Orbison was characterized as one of the early rock and roll artists who showed vulnerability when at the time, rock and roll artists projected strong masculinity.
He shot to fame when he released songs like “Pretty Woman” and “Only the Lonely,” which charted at number 2. He admitted he liked how he sounded on the tracks – making his voice sing and ring.
Orbison went on tour with the “Beatles” in 1963 but left his normal dark, thick glasses, which he was known for on the plane. He was forced to wear Wayfarer sunglasses on stage, which were prescribed to him, and afterward realized he actually preferred them.
His songs at the time, like “Crying,” “Oh Pretty Woman,” and “In Dreams,” also enjoyed some level of success. In 1988, he and Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison co-founded the “Traveling Wilburys.”
Together they released a number of successful albums and songs like “You Got It ” in 1989. A romcom was named after his famous song “Pretty Woman” in 1990, and it proved to be a hit.
PERSONAL LIFE, TRAGEDY, AND DEATH
Orbison married his girlfriend, Claudette Frady, in 1957. They had three sons together named Roy DeWayne, Anthony King, and Wesley.
The couple divorced in 1964 when he accused Frady of infidelity. He admitted that not being around much, due to being on the road performing, affected his marriage.
They reconciled ten months later, but it did not last as they divorced again in 1966. Not long after, Frady tragically died in his arms after a motorcycle accident.
Orbison was on tour 18 months later when news broke that his eldest sons Anthony King and Roy DeWayne had died in a fire that also destroyed his house in Tennessee.
After these incidents, the artists reportedly found writing difficult, but he maintained a positive attitude and continued touring. His son, Wesley, being the youngest, was raised by Frady’s parents.
Orbison got married again on March 19, 1969, to German-born United States-based teenager Barbara Jakobs. She was an entrepreneur and music producer who he had met before the fire incident.
She came into his life when things were not going well and brought with her positive aura and a breath of fresh air. Together they had two sons: Roy Kelton in 1970 and Alexander in 1975.
They remained married till 1988, when Orbison sadly passed away. At the time of his death, the music star was enjoying a resurgence in his career and had intentions of writing an autobiography with plans for Martin Sheen to play him in a biopic.
He had a TV special, “Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night” by Cinemax cable TV. The music star also enjoyed late-career accolades as he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
He completed his album “Mystery Girl” in November 1988, an album with his group, the Traveling Wilburys, which turned out to be a success. He then traveled to Europe to receive an award and played in a show in Antwerp, Belgium.
He had complained to his friend Johnny Cash of feeling chest pains, and some days later, a manager at a club in Boston where he was playing became concerned about his health, but Orbison completed his performance.
On December 4, he performed at the Front Row Theater in Ohio then returned home to rest for a while before flying to London, where he was due to film two videos.
Two days later, he flew model airplanes with his children and had dinner at his mother’s home. He was reported dead later that day at the age of 52. He died of a heart attack.
Fifty years after his death, the studio MGM announced they would be releasing a “lost” never heard before album made by Orbison in 1969. He reportedly made the album after the death of his sons and wife.
The album was a reflection of the many dark years the artist experienced. It was restored by sound engineers, consisting of 12 tracks, and released on CD and 180-gram vinyl. The album was titled “One of the Lonely Ones.”
This was announced at the time where the studio was also planning to release an 11 album box set of the artist, which featured 152 of his music tracks between 1965 to 1973. The album was being released digitally after years of it being out of print.
They would also be released in a 13 CD set and a 14 Vinyl disc set. They would be titled the “MGM Years.” In addition would be non-album singles, b sides, and the soundtrack of “The Fastest Guitar Alive,” the only movie Orbison featured in.
ROY JR. SPEAKS ABOUT FATHER
Roy Jr. said he recalled a particular time he went to his father’s concert as a child and could not hold back his tears when he heard his father’s beautiful sound.
Seeing him, Orbison sent a studio manager to tell him to move back because he could not bear the sight as he had experienced too much heartache from past tragedies.
Roy Jr. described Orbison as a very emotional and sensitive artist and father. He said Orbison walking into a room would be like a ghost walked in. He admitted his father was addicted to the road as well, which was one of the things that affected his first marriage.
After learning of his children’s death, Roy Jr. claimed his father felt knocked down, but he remained unwavering because he believed he was not the only one who had been struck with tragedies in life.
Despite the ups and downs Orbison faced in his life, he remained optimistic, lived a great life, and was always fun, Roy Jr. declared. He collected cars, drove motorcycles, and played practical jokes.
Roy Jr. admitted they would be building the “Orbison Museum,” and he was also working on a biopic for him. He also does not go a day without thinking, seeing, or hearing about Orbison, and he misses him.
In collaboration with brothers Alex and Wesley, he released an autobiography titled “The Authorized Roy Orbison.” The three children refer to themselves as “Roy’s Boys.”
The book sheds light on who the artist was before his death, and it painted the picture of him as a loving husband, musical kingpin, and father. It contained more than 300 photographs. The book was released alongside the album “A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.”
Speaking to Rolling Stone Country, Roy Jnr. shared that his father was in the middle of writing a book before his death and his mother Barbara continued to work on it after his death, and it was left to them to finish it.
The children also wanted to use the book’s release to set the record straight on Orbison’s legacy as there was not a lot written about him because of his reclusiveness, and that caused a lot of wrong preconceptions about him.
Also included were pictures from his tour with the “Beatles” and how he started wearing his signature dark prescription glasses. Roy Jr. talked about Orbison writing songs about timeless subject matters like heartbreaks.
Roy Jr. noted that in a time where a lot of music is fake, Orbison was real and a hero. The book features remembrances from artists who looked up to Orbison like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Joe Walsh.