Posted by purplemary54 on April 23, 2014
Today would’ve been Roy Orbison’s 78th birthday. He was one of the original greats of Rock & Roll, recording on the Sun label alongside the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, and he influenced just as many other Rockers as those superstars did. But Orbison hasn’t gotten the same recognition showier contemporaries have. He’s not as charismatic or good-looking, to be sure, but there’s something fascinating about him.
He wore black and dark glasses when performing most of the time. (According to Wikipedia, the sunglasses came about because he left his regular glasses on a plane, and found that he preferred them.) It gave him an air of mystery, a certain gravitas. The image came in handy, since his stage presence was, frankly, a little stiff. He didn’t dance around or chatter with the crowd. He didn’t clown for attention; he didn’t need to. He had that voice.
He was by turns wispy and melancholy, sexy and enticing, broken and desperate. Roy Orbison’s voice was one of the greatest instruments nature ever devised. That voice is what made it impossible to ignore him. Bruce Springsteen once said that he was trying to sing like Orbison on Born to Run. When Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne convinced Orbison to join up with the Traveling Wilburys in the 80s, they were dumbfounded that that magical voice would be singing with them. (They talked to him backstage after a concert, and were practically giddy when he said yes.)
Working with those legends (and some guy named Bob Dylan) in the Wilburys was a huge shot in the arm for Orbison’s career, but the revival had begun a couple of years earlier in 1986 when David Lynch used “In Dreams” in his surreal classic Blue Velvet. The next year, he recorded an unbelievable new version of his hit “Crying” for the soundtrack of Hiding Out, which became a slow-burning torch duet with k.d. lang. There was also a televised concert film, Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night. That’s where the clip of “Dream Baby,” probably my favorite Orbison tune, comes from. (It’s one of those perfect little songs–not a single extraneous or misplaced note.) He’d been honored earlier with his induction into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. 1988 saw him recording with the Wilburys, as well as a new solo album (with a song penned by Bono and The Edge, “She’s a Mystery to Me”).
In December of 1988, I was sitting in a doughnut shop, enjoying an iced devil’s food doughnut before I went out to the bus stop to catch the number 93, when word came over the radio that Roy Orbison had died. I don’t remember tasting the rest of that doughnut.