A Rockapaedia Obituary
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Roy Orbison died of a heart attack on 6th December 1988 aged fifty-two. Roy had performed at the Front Row Theater in Highland Heights, Ohio, on December 4th. Exhausted, he returned to his home in Hendersonville to rest for several days before flying again to London to film two more videos for the Traveling Wilburys. On December 6th he had spent the day flying model airplanes with his sons and ate dinner at his mother's home in Hendersonville. Later that night Roy died.
A memorial was held in Nashville, and another in Los Angeles; Roy was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. On 8th April 1989 Roy Orbison became the first deceased musician since Elvis Presley to have two albums in the USA Top Five at the same time, with the Travelling Wilburys album at number 4 and his own 'Mystery Girl' at number 5. In the United Kingdom, Roy achieved even greater posthumous success, with two solo albums in the Top 3 in the chart dated to February 11th 1989, Mystery Girl at number 2 and the compilation 'The Legendary Roy Orbison' at number 3.
Roy was born on 23rd April 1936 in Vernon, Texas,U.S.A. a son of Orbie Lee Orbison, an oil well driller and car mechanic, and Nadine Vesta Shults, a nurse. Both of his parents were unemployed during the Great Depression and, searching for work, moved the family to Fort Worth, when Roy was a child. He attended Denver Avenue Elementary School until a polio scare prompted the family to return to Vernon but later they moved to Wink, Texas. Roy Orbison later described life in Wink as "football, oil fields, oil, grease and sand" and expressed relief that he was able to leave the desolate town. All the Orbison children were afflicted with poor eyesight; Roy used thick corrective lenses from an early age. He was not confident about his appearance and began dyeing his nearly-white hair black when he was still quite young. He was quiet, self-effacing, and remarkably polite and obliging — a product, biographer Alan Clayson wrote, of his Southern upbringing. He was readily available to sing, however, and often became the focus of attention when he did. He considered his voice memorable, if not great.
On Roy's sixth birthday, his father gave him a guitar. He later recalled that by the age of seven, "I was finished, you know, for anything else"; music would be his life. His major musical influence as a youth was country music. He was particularly moved by Lefty Frizzell's singing, with its slurred syllables. When he later joined the Anglo-American supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, he adopted the name of 'Lefty' Wilbury for his character. He also enjoyed Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. One of the first musicians he heard in person was Ernest Tubb, who was playing on the back of a flatbed truck in Fort Worth. In West Texas, he was exposed to many forms of music: rhythm and blues, Tex-Mex, the orchestral arrangements of Mantovani, and cajun. The cajun favorite "Jole Blon" was one of the first songs he sang in public. Aged eight, he began singing on a local radio show. By the late 1940s, he was the show's host.
In high school, Roy Orbison and some friends formed a band, the Wink Westerners. They played country standards and Glenn Miller songs at local honky-tonks, and had a weekly radio show. When they were offered $400 to play at a dance, Roy Orbison realized that he could make a living in music. After graduating from Wink High School, he enrolled at North Texas State College in Denton, planning to study geology so that he could secure work in the oil fields if music did not pay. After his first year of college, he returned to Wink and continued performing with the Wink Westerners. Three of the five members of the band moved to Odessa, Texas, and two new members were added to the group, which changed its name to the Teen Kings. Orbison enrolled in Odessa Junior College. The Teen Kings performed on local TV stations, played dances on the weekends, and attended college during the day. Orbison heard that his North Texas State classmate Pat Boone had signed a record deal, which further strengthened his resolve to become a professional musician.
While living in Odessa, Roy Orbison saw a performance by Elvis Presley, who was only a year older and a rising star. Johnny Cash toured the area in 1955, playing on the same local radio show as the Teen Kings, and suggested that Roy Orbison approach Sam Phillips at Sun Records, the home of rockabilly artists Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Cash. Roy Orbison telephoned Phillips and during their conversation was curtly told, "Johnny Cash doesn't run my record company!" While at North Texas State College he was persuaded to listen to a song called "Ooby Dooby", composed by Dick Penner and Wade Moore. The Teen Kings recorded the song on the Odessa-based Je–Wel record label. Phillips was impressed and offered the Teen Kings a contract in 1956.
The Teen Kings went to Sun Studio in Memphis, where Phillips wanted to record "Ooby Dooby" again, in his superior studio. Roy Orbison had grown weary of the song and rankled quietly as Phillips dictated what the band would play and how he was to sing it. With Phillips's production, however, the record broke into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 59 and selling 200,000 copies. The Teen Kings toured with Sonny James, Johnny Horton, Carl Perkins, and Cash. Much influenced by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison performed frenetically, doing everything they could to get applause because they had only one hit record. The Teen Kings also began writing songs in a rockabilly style, including "Go! Go! Go!" and "Rockhouse". The band ultimately split over disputed writing credits and royalties, but Roy Orbison stayed in Memphis and asked his sixteen year-old girlfriend, Claudette Frady, to join him there. They stayed in Phillips's home, sleeping in separate rooms. In the studio Roy Orbison concentrated on the mechanics of recording. Phillips remembered being much more impressed with Roy Orbison's mastery of the guitar than with his voice. A ballad Roy Orbison wrote called "The Clown" met with a lukewarm response; after hearing it, Sun Records producer Jack Clement told Roy Orbison that he would never make it as a ballad singer.
Roy Orbison had some success at Sun Records, however, and was introduced to Elvis Presley's social circle, once going to pick up a date for Presley in his purple Cadillac. Roy Orbison sold "Claudette", a song he wrote about Claudette Frady whom he married in 1957, to the Everly Brothers and their subsequent recording of it was released as the B-side of their smash hit "All I Have to Do Is Dream". The first, and perhaps only, royalties Orbison earned from Sun Records enabled him to make a down-payment on his own Cadillac. Increasingly frustrated at Sun, Roy gradually stopped recording. He toured music circuits around Texas, and then quit performing for seven months in 1958. In dire financial straits, his car repossessed, he turned to family and friends for funds.
For a brief period in the late 1950's Roy Orbison made his living at Acuff-Rose, a songwriting firm concentrating mainly on country music. After spending an entire day writing a song, he would make several demo tapes at a time and send them to Wesley Rose, who would try to find musical acts to record them. Roy Orbison attempted to sell to RCA Victor his recordings of songs by other writers, working with, and being in awe of, Chet Atkins, who had played guitar with Presley. One song he tried was "Seems to Me" by Boudleaux Bryant. Bryant's impression of Roy Orbison was of a timid, shy kid who seemed to be rather befuddled by the whole music scene. He remembered the way Roy sang then — softly, prettily but almost bashfully, as if someone might be disturbed by his efforts and reprimand him.
Playing shows late into the night, and living with his wife and young child in his tiny apartment, Roy Orbison often sought refuge by taking his guitar to his car and writing songs there. Songwriter Joe Melson, an acquaintance of Roy Orbison's, tapped on his car window one day in Texas in 1958, and the two decided to try to write some songs together. In three recording sessions in 1958 and 1959, Roy Orbison and Melson recorded seven songs at RCA Nashville, with Atkins producing, but only two were judged worthy of release by RCA; Wesley Rose brought Roy Orbison to the attention of producer Fred Foster at Monument Records.
Roy Orbison was one of the first recording artists to popularize the "Nashville sound", doing so with a group of session musicians known as the A-Team: guitarists Grady Martin, Harold Bradley, Fred Carter, Jr., and Ray Edenton; bassist Bob Moore; pianists Floyd Cramer or Hargus "Pig" Robbins; drummer Buddy Harman; and backup vocals by the Jordanaires or the Anita Kerr Singers. The Nashville sound was developed by producers Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley (who worked closely with Patsy Cline), Sam Phillips and Fred Foster. In his first session for Monument in Nashville, Roy Orbison recorded a song that RCA had refused, "Paper Boy", backed by "With the Bug", but neither charted.
According to musician and author Albin Zak, the studio, with sound engineer Bill Porter, who experimented with close miking the doo-wop backing singers, and the production by Foster, and the accompanying musicians gave Roy Orbison's music a "polished, professional sound and first to allow Roy Orbison's stylistic inclinations free rein . To augment the Nashville sound, Roy Orbison requested a string section in the studio. With this combination, he recorded three new songs, the most notable of which was "Uptown", written with Joe Melson. Impressed with the results, Melson later recalled that they stood in the studio, listening to the playbacks, and thought it was the most beautiful sound in the world. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll states that the music Orbison made in Nashville "brought a new splendor to rock", and compared the melodramatic effects of the orchestral accompaniment to the musical productions of Phil Spector.
"Uptown" reached only #72 on the Billboard Top 100, and Roy Orbison set his sights on negotiating a contract with an upscale nightclub somewhere. His initial success came just as the '50s rock-and-roll era was winding down. Elvis Presley was serving in the US Army, Jerry Lee Lewis had become disgraced after marrying his thirteen year old cousin, and Buddy Holly had died in a plane crash. Starting in 1960 the charts in the USA came to be dominated by teen idols, novelty acts, and Motown girl groups.
writing for the voice.
Influenced by contemporaneous hits such as "Come Back to Me (My Love)" and "Come Softly to Me", Roy Orbison and Joe Melson wrote a song in early 1960 which, using elements from "Uptown", employed strings and the Anita Kerr doo-wop backing singers. It also featured a note hit by Roy Orbison in falsetto that showcased a powerful voice which, according to biographer Clayson came not from his throat but deeper within. The song was "Only the Lonely". Roy Orbison and Melson tried to sell it to Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers but were turned down. They instead recorded the song at RCA's Nashville studio, with sound engineer Bill Porter trying a completely new strategy: building the mix from the top down rather than from the bottom up, beginning with close-miked backing vocals in the foreground, and ending with the rhythm section soft in the background. This combination became Roy Orbison's trademark sound. The single shot to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit number one in the UK and Australia. According to Roy Orbison, the subsequent songs he wrote with Melson during this period were constructed with his voice in mind, specifically to showcase its range and power. He told Rolling Stone in 1988 that he liked the sound of his voice and liked making it sing, making the voice ring, and he just kept doing it and he thought that somewhere between the time of "Ooby Dooby" and "Only the Lonely", it kind of turned into a good voice.
'Only The Lonely' transformed Roy Orbison into an overnight star. He appeared on American Bandstand and toured the U.S.A. for three months non-stop with Patsy Cline. When Elvis Presley heard "Only the Lonely" for the first time, he bought a box of copies to pass to his friends. Melson and Roy Orbison followed it with the more complex "Blue Angel", which peaked at number 9 in the U.S.A and number 11 in the UK. "I'm Hurtin'", with "I Can't Stop Loving You" as the B-side, rose to number 27 in the U.S.A but failed to chart in the UK.
Roy Orbison was now able to move his wife and son to Nashville permanently. Back in the studio, seeking a change from the pop sound of "Only the Lonely" and "I'm Hurtin'", Roy Orbison worked on a new song, "Running Scared", based loosely on the rhythm of Ravel's Boléro; the song was about a man on the lookout for his girlfriend's previous boyfriend whom he feared would try to take her away. Roy Orbison encountered difficulty when he found himself unable to hit the song's highest note without his voice breaking. He was backed by an orchestra in the studio and Porter told him he would have to sing louder than his accompaniment because the orchestra was unable to be softer than his voice. Fred Foster then put Roy Orbison in the corner of the studio and surrounded him with coat racks forming an improvised isolation booth to emphasize his voice. Roy Orbison was unhappy with the first two takes. In the third, however, he abandoned the idea of using falsetto and sang the final high 'A' naturally, so astonishing all there that the accompanying musicians stopped playing. On that third take, "Running Scared" was completed.
Just weeks later "Running Scared" reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 9 in the UK. The composition of Roy Orbison's following hits reflected "Running Scared": a story about an emotionally vulnerable man facing loss or grief, with a crescendo culminating in a surprise climax that employed Roy Orbison's dynamic voice. "Crying" followed in July 1961 and reached number 2; it was coupled with an up-tempo R&B song, "Candy Man", written by Fred Neil and Beverley Ross, which reached the Billboard Top 30, staying on the charts for two months. While Roy Orbison was touring Australia in 1962, an Australian DJ referred to him affectionately as "The Big O", partly based on the big finishes to his dramatic ballads, and the moniker stuck with him thereafter. Roy Orbison's second son was born the same year, and Roy hit number four in the U.S. and number two in the UK with "Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream?)", an upbeat song by country songwriter Cindy Walker. Roy Orbison's producer would later form the Candymen quintet, which was Roy's backing band from 1965 to 1970, while releasing a few singles and two albums of their own. Also in 1962, Roy charted with "The Crowd", "Leah", and "Workin' For the Man", which he wrote about working one summer in the oil fields near Wink. His relationship with Joe Melson, however, was deteriorating over Melson's growing concerns that his own solo career would never get off the ground.
Lacking the photogenic looks of many of his rock and roll contemporaries, Roy Orbison eventually developed a persona that did not reflect his personality. He had no publicist in the early 1960s, no presence in fan magazines, and his single sleeves did not feature his picture. Life magazine called him an "anonymous celebrity". After leaving his thick eyeglasses on an airplane in 1962 or 1963, Roy Orbison was forced to wear his prescription Wayfarer sunglasses on stage and found that he preferred them. His biographers suggest that although he had a good sense of humor and was never morose, Roy Orbison was very shy and suffered from severe stage fright; wearing sunglasses helped him hide somewhat from the attention. The ever-present sunglasses led some people to assume, then and now, that the stationary performer was blind. The black clothes and desperation in his songs led to an aura of mystery and introversion. Years later Roy Orbison said that he wasn't trying to be weird and he didn't have a manager who told him to dress or how to present himself or anything. But the image developed of a man of mystery and a quiet man in black somewhat of a recluse.
Roy's dark and brooding persona, combined with his tremulous voice in lovelorn ballads marketed to teenagers, made Roy Orbison into a superstar during the early 1960s. He had a string of hits in 1963 with "In Dreams", "Falling" , and "Mean Woman Blues" coupled with "Blue Bayou". Roy finished the year with a Christmas song written by Willie Nelson titled "Pretty Paper".
As "In Dreams" was released in April 1963, Roy Orbison was asked to replace guitarist Duane Eddy on a tour of the UK in top billing with the Beatles, whose popularity was on the rise. When he arrived in Britain, however, he saw the amount of advertising devoted to the quartet and realized he was no longer the main draw. He had never heard of The Beatles and, annoyed, asked hypothetically, "What's a Beatle anyway?" to which John Lennon replied, after tapping his shoulder, "I am". On the opening night, Roy Orbison opted to go onstage first, although he was the more established act. Known for having raucous shows expressing an extraordinary amount of energy, Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr stood dumbfounded backstage as Roy Orbison performed completely still and simply sang through fourteen encores. Finally, when the audience began chanting "We want Roy!" again, Lennon and McCartney prevented Roy Orbison from going on again by physically holding him back. Through the tour, however, the two acts quickly learned to get along, a process made easier by the fact that the Beatles admired Roy's work. Roy Orbison felt a kinship with Lennon, but it was Harrison with whom he would later form a strong friendship.
Touring in 1963 took a toll on Roy Orbison's personal life. His wife Claudette began having an affair with the contractor who built their home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Friends and relatives attributed the breakdown of the marriage to her youth and her inability to withstand being alone and bored. When Roy Orbison toured Britain again in the fall of 1963, she joined him. He was immensely popular wherever he went, finishing the tour in Ireland and Canada. Almost immediately he toured Australia and New Zealand with the Beach Boys and returned again to Britain and Ireland, where he was so besieged by teenage girls that the Irish police had to halt his performances to pull the girls off him. He continued to tour, travelling to Australia again, this time with the Rolling Stones.
Roy Orbison also began collaborating with Bill Dees, whom he had known in Texas. With Dees, he wrote "It's Over", a number one in the UK, and a song that would be one of his signature pieces for the rest of his career. When Claudette walked in the room where Dees and Roy were writing to say she was heading for Nashville, Roy Orbison asked if she had any money. Then Dees exclaimed "A pretty woman never needs any money". Just forty minutes later, "Oh, Pretty Woman" was written. A riff-laden masterpiece that employed a playful growl he got from a Bob Hope movie, the epithet "mercy" Roy Orbison uttered when he was unable to hit a note, and a merging of his vulnerable and masculine sides, it rose to number one in the fall of 1964 in the U.S. and stayed on the charts for forteen weeks. It hit number one in the UK as well, spending eighteen weeks total on the charts. The single sold over seven million copies. Roy Orbison's success was greater in Britain; as Billboard magazine noted that in a 68-week period that began on August 8th 1963, Roy Orbison was the only American artist to have a number-one single in Britain and did it twice, with 'It's Over' on June 25th 1964, and 'Oh, Pretty Woman' on October 8th 1964.
"Oh, Pretty Woman" proved the pinnacle of Roy Orbison's career in the 1960s. Following its release, he endured some upheavals. He and Claudette divorced in November 1964 over her infidelities, but the two reconciled and got back together ten months later. His contract with Monument was expiring in June 1965. Wesley Rose, at this time acting as Roy Orbison's agent, moved him from Monument Records to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, though in Europe he remained with Decca's London Records for a million dollars, and the understanding that he would expand into television and films, as Elvis Presley had done. Roy Orbison was a film enthusiast and, when not touring, writing or recording, would dedicate time to seeing up to three films a day.
Rose also became Roy Orbison's producer. Fred Foster later suggested that Rose's takeover was responsible for the commercial failure of Roy Orbison's work at MGM. Engineer Bill Porter agreed that Roy Orbison's best work could only be achieved with RCA Nashville's A-Team. Roy Orbison's first collection at MGM, an album titled 'There Is Only One Roy Orbison', sold fewer than 200,000 copies. With the onset of the 'British Invasion' in 1964-65, the direction of popular music shifted dramatically, and most performers of Roy Orbison's generation were driven from the charts.
While on tour again in the UK in 1965, Roy Orbison broke his foot falling off a motorcycle in front of thousands of screaming fans at a race track; he performed his show that evening in a cast. Roy's reconciliation with Claudette occurred when she went to visit him while he was recuperating from the accident.
Roy Orbison was fascinated with machines. He was known to follow a car that he liked and make the driver an offer on the spot. He had a collection worthy of a museum by the late 1960's.
Roy Orbison and Claudette shared a love for motorcycles; she had grown up around them, but he claimed Elvis Presley had introduced him to motorcycles. Tragedy struck on June 6th 1966, however, when Roy and Claudette were riding home from Bristol, Tennessee. She struck the door of a pickup truck which had pulled out in front of her on South Waters Avenue in Gallatin, Tennessee, and died instantly.
A grieving Roy Orbison threw himself into his work, collaborating with Bill Dees to write music for The Fastest Guitar Alive, a film that MGM had scheduled for him to star in as well. It was initially planned as a dramatic Western but was rewritten as a comedy. Roy Orbison's character was a spy who stole, and had to protect and deliver, a cache of gold to the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, and was outfitted with a guitar that turned into a rifle. The prop allowed him to deliver the line, "I could kill you with this and play your funeral march at the same time", with, according to biographer Colin Escott had zero conviction. Roy Orbison was pleased with the film, although it proved to be a critical and box office flop. While MGM had included five films in his contract, no more were made.
Roy recorded an album dedicated to the songs of Don Gibson and another of Hank Williams covers, but both sold poorly. During the counterculture era, with the charts dominated by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones, and The Doors, Roy Orbison felt lost and directionless, later saying that he didn't hear a lot he could relate to so he kind of stood there like a tree where the winds blow and the seasons change, but he's still there and he blooms again. Roy continued to tour and had previously made some smart real estate investments so money was never an issue for him again.
During a tour of The Midlands in England, on September 16th 1968, Roy received the news that his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, had burned down, and his two eldest sons had died. The property was sold to Johnny Cash, who demolished the building and planted an orchard on it. On March 25th 1969 Roy Orbison married German teenager Barbara Jakobs, whom he had met several days before his sons' deaths.
Roy Orbison continued recording albums in the 1970s, but none of them sold more than a handful of copies, and by 1976, he had gone an entire decade without a charting album. Aside from a few minor hits in Australia, he also failed to produce any charting singles after the 1960's. His fortunes sank so low that he began to doubt his own talents and several of his 1970's albums were not released internationally due to low USA sales. Roy left MGM Records in 1973 and signed a one-album deal with Mercury Records. Author Peter Lehman would later observe that his absence was a part of the mystery of his persona since it was never clear where he had come from and no one seemed to pay much attention to where he had gone. His influence was apparent, however, as several artists released covers of his songs, which proved popular. Roy Orbison's version of "Love Hurts", a song composed by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and first recorded by the Everly Brothers, was remade by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, again by hard rock band Nazareth, and by blues adept Jim Capaldi. Sonny James sent "Only the Lonely" to No. 1 on the country music charts. Bruce Springsteen ended his concerts with Orbison songs, and Glen Campbell had a minor hit with a remake of "Dream Baby". A compilation of Roy Orbison's greatest hits went to Number 1 in the U.K. in January 1976. The same year, Roy began to open concerts for the Eagles, who started as Linda Ronstadt's backup band. Ronstadt herself covered "Blue Bayou" in 1977, her version reaching Number 3 on the Billboard charts and remaining in the charts for 24 weeks. Roy Orbison credited this cover in particular for reviving his memory in the popular mind, if not his career. Roy signed again with Monument in 1976 and recorded "Regeneration" with Fred Foster, but it proved no more successful than before.
In late 1977 Roy Orbison was not feeling well and decided to overwinter in Hawaii. While there, he checked into a hospital where testing discovered that he had severely obstructed coronary arteries. On January 18th 1978 Roy Orbison underwent a triple coronary bypass. He had suffered from duodenal ulcers since as early as 1960 and had been a heavy smoker since adolescence. He felt revitalized following the triple bypass, but he continued to smoke, and his weight fluctuated for the remainder of his life. When Roy Orbison felt strong enough to perform again, Scott Mathews took him into the recording studio and produced a version of "Oh, Pretty Woman" for a national radio and television advertising campaign for Tone Soap, a woman's beauty bar. This proved to be a much needed financial windfall for Roy Orbison, as Mathews saw to it that the company paid well to license the use of Roy's original composition.
In 1978, Roy Orbison signed with Asylum and released one album a year later. In 1980, Don McLean covered "Crying" in a version which unexpectedly went to the top of the charts at first in the Netherlands, afterwards hitting Number 5 in the U.S.A. and staying on the charts for fifteen weeks; it was Number 1 in the U.K. for three weeks, and also topped the Irish Charts. Although Roy was all but forgotten in the U.S.A he took a chance and embarked on a tour of Bulgaria where he was astonished to find that he was as popular there as he had been in 1964. Roy was forced to stay in his hotel room because he was getting mobbed on the streets of Sofia. Later that year, Roy and Emmylou Harris won a Grammy Award for their duet "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again" , from the comedy film Roadie, in which Roy Orbison also had a cameo role.. It was his first such award, and he felt more than ever that the time was ripe for his full return to popular music. However, it would be several more years until this came to fruition.
In the meantime, Van Halen released a hard-rock cover of "Oh, Pretty Woman" on their 1982 album 'Diver Down', again further exposing a younger generation to Roy Orbison's legacy.
Roy Orbison's career was fully revived in 1987. He released an album of his re-recorded hits, titled 'In Dreams: The Greatest Hits'. A song he recorded, "Life Fades Away", written with his friend Glenn Danzig, was featured in the film 'Less Than Zero'. Roy and k.d. lang performed a duet of "Crying" for inclusion on the soundtrack to the film, 'Hiding Out', winning a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
However, one film in which Roy Orbison refused to allow his music to be used was 'Blue Velvet'. Director David Lynch asked to use "In Dreams", and Orbison initially declined Lynch's request. Lynch used it anyway. The song served as one of several obsessions of a psychopathic character named Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper. It was lip-synched by an effeminate drug dealer played by Dean Stockwell, after which Booth demanded the song be played over and over, once beating the protagonist while the song played. During filming, Lynch asked for the song to be played repeatedly to give the set a surreal atmosphere. Roy Orbison was initially shocked at its use.Roy he saw the film in a theater in Malibu and later said that he was mortified because they were talking about the 'candy colored clown' in relation to a dope deal and he thought, 'What in the world ...?' But later, when Roy was touring, we got the video out and he really got to appreciate what David gave to the song, and what the song gave to the movie, how it achieved this otherworldly quality that added a whole new dimension to 'In Dreams'.
Also in 1987, Roy Orbison was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen, who concluded his speech with a reference to his own album "Born to Run". He said that he wanted a record with words like Bob Dylan that sounded like Phil Spector but, most of all, he wanted to sing like Roy Orbison but now, he said, everyone knows that no one sings like Roy Orbison. In response, Roy Orbison asked Springsteen for a copy of the speech, and said of his induction that he felt "validated" by the honor. A few months later, Roy Orbison and Springsteen paired again to film a concert at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles. They were joined by Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes, James Burton and k.d. lang. Lang later recounted how humbled Roy Orbison had been by the display of support from so many talented and busy musicians. He said that Roy looked at all of us and said, 'If there is anything I can ever do for you, please call on me'. He continues that Roy was very serious and it was his way of thanking us.
It was also in 1987 that Roy Orbison began collaborating with Electric Light Orchestra lead vocalist and bandleader Jeff Lynne on a new album. Concurrently, Lynne was completing production work on George Harrison's Cloud Nine album, and all three individuals ate lunch together one day when Orbison accepted an invitation to sing on a song of Harrison's. They subsequently contacted Bob Dylan, who, in turn, allowed them to use a recording studio in his home. Along the way, Harrison made a quick visit to Tom Petty's residence to obtain his guitar; Petty and his band had backed Dylan on his last tour. By that evening, the group had written "Handle with Care", which led to the concept of recording an entire album. They called themselves the Travelling Wilburys, representing themselves as half-brothers with the same father. They gave themselves stage names; Roy Orbison chose his from his musical hero, calling himself "Lefty Wilbury" after Lefty Frizzell.
Roy Orbison was given one solo track, "Not Alone Anymore", on the album. His contributions were highly praised by the press. Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 spent 53 weeks on the U.S.A. charts, peaking at number three. It reached Number 1 in Australia and topped out at Number 16 in the U.K. The album won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group. Rolling Stone included it in the top 100 albums of the decade.
Roy Orbison was in high demand for concerts and interviews once again, and was seemingly ecstatic about it. He began writing songs and collaborating with many musicians from his past and newer fans, to develop a solo album, 'Mystery Girl'.
Mystery Girl was co-produced by Jeff Lynne, whom Roy Orbison considered the best producer he had ever collaborated with. Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison's son Wesley and others offered their songs to him. The biggest hit from the album was "You Got It", written with Lynne and Tom Petty. It posthumously rose to Number 9 in the U.S. and No. 3 in the U.K.
In 2014 a demo of Roy Orbison's "The Way Is Love" was released as part of the 25th anniversary deluxe edition of 'Mystery Girl'. The song was originally recorded on a stereo cassette player around 1986. Roy Orbison's sons contributed instrumentation on the track along with Roy's vocals; it was produced by John Carter Cash.
Although the video for the Wilburys' "Handle with Care" was filmed with Roy Orbison, the video for "End of the Line" was filmed and released posthumously. During Roy Orbison's vocal parts in "End of the Line", the video shows a guitar in a rocking chair, next to Roy's framed photo.
Roy Orbison determinedly pursued his second chance at stardom, but he expressed amazement at his success. He said that it's very nice to be wanted again, but he still could'nt quite believe it. Roy lost some weight to fit his new image and the constant demand of touring, as well as the newer demands of making videos. In the final three months of his life he gave "Rolling Stone" magazine extensive access to his daily activities; he intended to write an autobiography and wanted Martin Sheen to play him in a biopic. In November 1988, 'Mystery Girl' was completed, and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was rising up the charts. Around this time, Roy Orbison confided in Johnny Cash that he was having chest pains and said he would have to do something about his health, but he never did. He went to Europe, was presented with an award there, and played a show in Antwerp, where footage for the video for "You Got It" was filmed. He gave several interviews a day in a hectic schedule. A few days later, a manager at a club in Boston was concerned that he looked ill, but Roy Orbison played the show, to another standing ovation.