4/23/1936-12/6/1988 A rock and roll innovator, Orbison formed his first band at age 13. The singer-songwriter dropped out of college to pursue music. He signed with Monument Records and recorded such ballads as "Only the Lonely" and "It's Over." Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Nearly one year later, in December 1988, he died of a heart attack in Tennessee. Roy Orbison, who didn't have the Beatles' looks, Sinatra's swagger or Elvis's pelvis, was perhaps the most unlikely sex symbol of the 1960s. He dressed like an insurance salesman and was famously lifeless during his on stage performances. "He never even twitched," recalled George Harrison, who was simultaneously awestruck and confounded by Orbison's stage presence. "He was like marble." What Orbison did have was one of the most distinctive, versatile and powerful voices in pop music. In the words of Elvis Presley, Orbison was simply "the greatest singer in the world." After Orbison landed a record deal with the Nashville based label Monument in 1960, he began perfecting the sound that would define his career. His big break came after he tried to pitch his composition "Only the Lonely" to both Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers, and was turned down by both. Deciding to record the song himself, Mr. Orbison used his vibrato voice and operatic style to create a recording unlike anything Americans had heard at the time. Reaching as high the No. 2 spot on the Billboard singles chart, "Only the Lonely" has since been deemed a pivotal force in the development of rock music.
Between 1960 and 1965, Orbison recorded nine Top 10 hits and another ten that broke into the Top 40. These included "Running Scared," "Crying," "It's Over" and "Oh, Pretty Woman," none of which adheres to a conventional song structure. When it came to composition, Orbison called himself "blessed ... with not knowing what was wrong or what was right." As he put it, "the structure sometimes has the chorus at the end of the song, and sometimes there is no chorus, it just goes ... but that's always after the fact—as I'm writing, it all sounds natural and in sequence to me."
As distinctive as his three-octave voice and unorthodox songwriting technique was, some have described his unglamorous style, as "geek chic." Stricken with both jaundice and bad eyesight as a child, he had sallow skin and thick corrective eyewear, not to mention a shy demeanor. On a fateful day during his 1963 tour with the Beatles, Orbison left his glasses on the plane before a show, which forced him to wear his unsightly prescription sunglasses for that night's show. Although he considered the incident "embarrassing," the look became an instant trademark. Sunglasses on Orbison became more popular than they were on Elton John, who is also known in rock circles for his ungodly eyeglasses of all kinds.
Orbison died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988. His posthumously released comeback album, Mystery Girl, reached No. 5 on the charts, becoming the highest-charting solo album of his career. Although he was only 52 when he died, Orbison lived to see his rightful place in music legendry restored.
Grammys: Best Country Performance Duo Or Group with Emmylou Harris (1980) Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Recording (1986) with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Phillips, Rick Nelson and Chips Moman Best Country Vocal Collaboration (1988) with k.d. lang Best Rock Performance by a Duo Or Group With Vocal as part of The Traveling Wilburys (1989) Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male (1990) Lifetime Achievement Award (1998)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1987)
Songwriters Hall of Fame (1989)
Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2010)
For a more indepth look at Roy's life and career, check his own website: www.royorbison.com
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