Roy and Barbara Orbison
With his voice, his look and being known as one of the nicest guys in showbiz, many music fans and fellow musicians alike will agree that Roy Orbison was one of a kind. From the beginning of his career in Texas, playing the same venues as Buddy Holly, his time at Sun Records in Memphis alongside Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, causing riots at shows, his lifelong friendship with Johnny Cash, touring with the Beatles – you would think that alone would be enough to seal the legendary status that would follow Roy Orbison’s career up until and after his untimely death in 1988 at the age of 52.
The Beatles and Roy Orbison
“Roy Orbison was the only act that The Beatles didn’t want to follow.” – Ringo Starr
However, unbelievably, there was much more to Roy’s life, which included family tragedies, the ups and downs of the music industry and the eventual resurgence of his career in the 1980s. He collaborated with Emmylou Harris as a duet on “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again”, with the song going on to win a Grammy Award in 1981, “In Dreams” was featured in the 1986 David Lynch film Blue Velvet – which would in turn inspire Bono from U2 to write the beautiful “She’s A Mystery To Me”, in 1987 he re-recorded his 1961 hit “Crying” with k.d. lang, which earned him another Grammy and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Roy’s marriage to Barbara is another incredible story, alongside his musical career. Barbara, originally from Bielefeld, Germany, had been spending time in England when she met Roy in 1968 while he was on tour in Britain. She was eighteen when they married the next year. They went on to have two boys together, Roy Kelton Jr. and Alexander Orbie Lee as well as Wesley Orbison by Roy’s first wife Claudette.
In the ’80s she managed Roy’s career and was the Executive Producer of his 1987 album, In Dreams: The Greatest Hits. She was responsible for, and helped to produce the very successful 1988 TV music special, Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night, which featured Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Steven Soles with backing vocals by k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes and Bonnie Raitt and now there’s the release of the 4 CD Box Set, ‘The Soul Of Rock And Roll‘, compiled by Roy Kelton Jr., it includes liner notes, demos, live recordings and 12 previously unreleased cuts spanning his entire career. Today, Barbara continues to watch over Roy Orbison’s music and business affairs as well as her own music publishing company, “Still Working Music”.
At the beginning of my phone interview with Barbara, I was a little nervous, but eventually things settled and our conversation became relaxed, as though I was talking to an old friend. It’s amazing to think that the woman on the other end of the line was the inspiration for one of my favorite Roy Orbison songs, “You Got It”.
Jenny May: Did Roy have a lot of input on the backing vocal arrangements of his songs?
Barbara Orbison: He wrote all of those – he was quite an architect.
What was one of your favorite “Roy Orbison” moments – is there a particular live performance that stands out?
I loved him…they were all good moments…I always loved that he would hardly ever give encores, he was very tough to push into an encore, but sometimes the crowd, I mean they would always push him into one, two, but sometimes they would push him into seven encores of “Running Scared” or “Crying”. I loved it.
Who stands out as someone that Roy liked singing with the most?
He was a solo singer, but there was The Traveling Wilburys (Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan), or when he did the Black and White Night or the Class of ’55 (Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins), so you can really see that he loved being part of a group as well.
Were there many songs that he wrote about you?
Yes there were and there’s some on the Box Set, like there’s a song called “Precious”, “You Got It” was for me, there were many…”California Blue”.
What was one of Roy’s favorite performances by another artist, of one of his songs?
One of his songs…you know, of course he loved Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou”, Van Halen “Pretty Woman”, Tom Jones sang “In Dreams”…there were many people that have sung Roy songs…k.d. lang sang “Crying”.
The story about Bono and how “She’s A Mystery To Me” (watch Bono’s video interview) came together seems a very special story…
Yes it was special as we didn’t really know Bono, and we went to a concert because of a mutual friend of T-Bone Burnett. I had listened to the band, Bono and the U2 album, and I had seen them in LA, but Roy was on tour and we happened to be in London, and so when we walked backstage, it was like Bono had been waiting for Roy and he said, “Oh my God I can’t believe you walked in, I had been listening to ‘In Dreams’ all night long”, and they started writing the song together.
It’s beautiful. How did Roy feel about singing that – did he talk a lot about how that came together?
Bono and Roy met and they really became good friends through it and they would meet and talk and structure the song. So Bono came in to LA and produced that song and it was just so amazing.
Did the two of you spend much time in England together?
All the time.
Did you have a favorite place here?
We loved England. London would be our favorite place. Some of the coastal sites were great. It was like a second home. I mean, it still is, I’m calling you from my flat now.
I wasn’t sure where you were. Are you in London?
Not too far from me. I’m in Oxford.
I love Oxford too.
Yes, me too. With the release of the Soul of Rock And Roll box set, I know that your son had a lot to do with getting the songs together, but was there a special process of selecting the songs?
There was. The process was an incredible, tedious one, because you have to select everything that reflects the artist’s work, and the sense of history, and then you have to line them up. You know, with you being a musician you know that one song doesn’t flow into the other one easily. You can see that this 4 CD Box Set plays so well because Roy Kelton just lined it up where it would flow, he’s a musician, I just know by when he started working on it because I would see all these little pieces of paper that would say one song is 2.8 minutes one is 3.4 one is a ballad one has a guitar part in there that corresponds to the other one…you know, you will so enjoy, Jenny, listening to the CDs.
I’m looking forward to it, and it sounds like he put a lot of time and care in selecting the songs and the order of them.
Yes – and you know I can’t wait for you to write your blog, because we write blogs for Roy in America too. My son would love to see it when it comes out…there’s always so much of Roy coming out. We’re doing a big salute to him with bands and everything.
I can’t wait. In the first band that I sang with back when I was seventeen, the band would sometimes go out and do Roy Orbison songs for a night and he would pack the places. I sang back up with this other woman and it was one of the most exciting experiences, singing those parts.
They were quite difficult to sing, I always get that feedback, but do you still have some recordings from those nights?
I’ll have to get back in touch with the band to find out – but people absolutely loved going out to those shows.
Barbara wanted me to be sure to mention that there’s a BBC documentary in December 2008 and a BBC radio show with lots of good things coming out about Roy. She also has her special pet project: to petition for Roy Orbison to get a stamp in America. She asked that readers go to the website to sign up for the stamp petition. She said, “Bill Clinton, Bono, everybody has signed it, it’s totally safe.”
Roy Orbison – The Soul of Rock ‘n’ Roll on amazon.co.uk
The Soul of Rock and Roll on amazon.com
Roy Orbison Official Website
By: Jenny May