Roy Orbison gives me goosebumps. His voice is like no other in music history. His dark lyrics cut through my soul. His ability to speak about the emotions in all of us that few want to talk about still rattle me. Today is the thirtieth anniversary of his death.
His music had a beautiful sadness to it, much like his life. His was a voice was on loan from heaven. For far too brief. Songs like “Pretty Woman”, “Only the Lonely”, “In Dreams”, “Crying”, and many more still sound fresh and haunting, 50 years after they were released.
He wore dark clothes and glasses, for good reason.
He and his wife Claudette used to love to ride motorcycles. Roy wrote the song “Pretty Woman” about Claudette. On June 6, 1966 (6/6/66), a truck pulled out in front of Claudette and they crashed. Just 25 years old, Claudette died in his arms an hour later.
In September of 1968, Roy’s 11 and 6 year old son’s were killed in a house fire. Roy was way touring in England at the time. Later, Johnny Cash would buy the property and build a beautiful orchard on it.
Roy struggled for years, but made a come back in the late 1980’s. He joined up with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Bob Dylan to form “The Traveling Willbury’s”. At the same time, Roy released his comeback album “Mystery Girl”, which had the top ten single “Anything You Want” on it.
He recorded a special on H.B.O. titled “Roy Orbison, a Black and White Night” where he was joined by Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Lyle Lovett, and several others. America loved it……..he still sounded as good as ever.
Roy Orbison was back.
Thirty years ago today, Roy Orbison was in the midst of one of the greatest comebacks in music history. He spent the day building model airplanes with his son at his mother’s house.
On December 6, 1988 Roy Orbison had a massive heart attack, and died.
A few years ago, I went to visit Roy Orbison’s grave. It is located in the Pierce Brothers Cemetery in Los Angeles. He keeps impressive company like Ray Bradbury, Marily Monroe, Burt Lancaster, and many others.
Appropriately, Mr. Orbison’s grave is unmarked.
On April 23, 1988 Roy Orbison spent his last birthday on earth at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, at a Bruce Springsteen concert. Bruce had the crowd sing “Happy Birthday” to Roy. Then he said, “Without you Roy, this next song never would have been possible” and played “Born To Run.”
One Bruce Springsteen’s greatest lyrics in his greatest song is the opening to “Thunder Road” in which the boss mournfully proclaims:
“The screen door slams.. Mary’s dress waves.
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, hey that’s me and I want you only.”
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