Barbara Orbison EXCLUSIVE interview

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 …

Roy and Barbara Orbison

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

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.

Barbara Orbison

Barbara Orbison

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.

Barbara and Roy Orbison

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.

Roy Orbison - The Soul Of Rock and Roll

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 Commemorative Stamp Petition

Roy Orbison – The Soul of Rock ‘n’ Roll on

The Soul of Rock and Roll on

Roy Orbison Official Website

By: Jenny May

Author: Jenny May

Jenny May is the founder of Band Weblogs. Based in Oxford, England (originally from New England), Band Weblogs was created in 2005. With a passion for music, Jenny May has performed with bands in the US and the UK, her music has appeared in films, she was a vocal coach for the Yamaha Rock School and has worked on music projects with musicians such as Jon Fishman (Phish), Fyfe Dangerfield (Guillemots) and Cisco Adler (Shwayze). Jenny is currently publishing music news, conducting exclusive interviews and writing music commentary for Band Weblogs and writing, recording and performing music with duo Purple May.

18 thoughts on “Barbara Orbison EXCLUSIVE interview”

  1. Any chance of ever seeing a film about Roy, such as Ray for Ray Charles and Walk the Line for Johnny Cash? The man is still and will always be big enough to have his life and songs transformed into film.

  2. I am in search of that concert for Roy Orbison which was produced by Don Was; and featured a performance by Sweet Pea Atkinson. The song is “It’s Over” Please let me know how I can get that recording. I believe HBO televised it initially. I lost that recording over the years and I would be so grateful if I can replace it. Wallace Begay

  3. As a young guy when crying came on the radio my girlfriend knew they was no talking until the song was over. ROY ORBISON was only the best, and until this day no one comes close to him. Dwight

  4. I was born in 1942 and at 15 Roy became one of my all time best singers. My goodness I tried to sing just like him but that was impossible because God only made one Roy Orbison, a God given wonderful voice, he was and is still the best singer that ever lived. Miss you Mr. Orbison

  5. It was 1956 or so. My buddy Roger would play Love Hurts over and over in his 1953 Chevy and from then on tried to fine Mr. Orbison on a station. My goodness I spent most of time trying to find Roy, later I found and still have a Monument record of Mr. Orbison. Why after all these years when I put the heads phones on and close my eyes I tear up? His voice and songs touched my soul.

  6. You are so right AL God had only one great voice and he gave it to our ROY along with a lot of heartache but HEY he took it all like the great man he was and came out on top Ijust love everything about him

  7. Sorry, could not sign the stamp petition. My e-mail adress was not accepted. I suppose, people from Europe cannot vote for such a petition?? But anyway – he was the best VOICE America ever had !

  8. The first time I heard “You Got It” I was “stopped in my tracks!” I couldn’t MOVE. It was so beautiful, the melody so haunting, the words so loving — just gorgeous. When I saw Barbara on TV in an interview, i understood perfectly why Roy Orbison was moved to write this song! I’m so glad they met so that we could all have that song in our lives. Same for Oh Pretty Woman and his first wife. I only wish he could have had another 52 healthy years. God bless him. I trust he’s making everyone happy singing in heaven…his voice always was sublime.

  9. Hello Barbara. I would like to start by saying that I am jealous of you. I was in love with your husband since I was ten years old. There is no doubt that he was one of the finest musicians that ever graced this planet. His interpretations of songs as well as his performances of his original music really could not be paralleled. Whenever I hear any of his songs it still brings me joy. Thank you for doing this interview and thank you for taking such good care of Roy. He is gone but he is not forgotten.

  10. It sounds very much like Buddy Holly is a backing vocal on “Only the Lonely” with Roy, I can’t find reference to it any where. I thought what a wonderful thing that would be to have his friend who was so famous backing him. My favorite of Roy’s by the way. Voice of an angel I think.

  11. C’mon movie moguls..let’s get a film out about only have to look on facebook and youtube to see how many thousands of fans he has. Even young kids love his pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease give us a bio film.

  12. Barbara, you are the luckiest woman in the world to have been married to such a wonderful man… He was truly a gentleman, like no other of his time… A good man is hard to find…… BEST VOICE EVER!!!! A film should be made of his life!!!!

  13. i have a voice like roy,the range @ power ,feeling,i play the guitar ok,im same hight as him,my auntie gave me my middle name as a baby,im a hopeless romantic but trying not to be,i avoid singing with sun glasses on unless its sunny – thier r to many wannabe roys (good on them) ,but i am roy – gavin roy,i also like 2 sing Queen,Elvis @ tryin g 2 do todays songs,ill act as the Big O

  14. me here again,i was in a care free mood that made me reflect on my singing Mr Orbison’s songs – my voice is not as beautiful as Roy Orbison cos im more of a straight forward singer but i know i do his songs proud,keeping his memory alive, even though i dont sing him much (less is more), i won a Rock’n Roll Competition over a year ago singing Pretty Woman, in a few months time i will put my self on u tube singing Running Scared, Crying, In Dreams 4 now – P S i like how Christina Perry sings Crying, i can create my own songs but there was no one like Roy Orbison B4 him, how he created songs @ sang them was new to the world – that is a mark of a genius.

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