Had he lived, Roy Orbison would have turned 80 on Saturday, April 23. The singer, songwriter and guitarist brought his angelic and operatic voice to the world of rock ‘n’ roll, creating a unique body of work that included such memorable 1960s hits as “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Running Scared,” “Crying” “Only the Lonely,” “Dream Baby” and “It’s Over.”
The Texas-born Orbison began his music career when he was a child, singing on radio programs and at talent shows. During his teens, he played with locally successful country and rockabilly bands before he and his group The Teen Kings got signed to Memphis’ Sun Records in 1956. While in the Sun stable alongside such other music legends as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, Orbison enjoyed his first national hit, “Ooby Dooby.”
Roy’s main success, however, came after he signed to Monument Records. From 1960 to 1966, Orbison scored 22 top 40 singles, including all of the aforementioned hits.
Orbison’s career then experienced a downturn, coinciding with a number of personal tragedies. In 1966, his first wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966, and two years later a house fire claimed the lives of his two oldest sons.
In the late ’80s, Roy had a career resurgence. Orbison’s 1963 hit “In Dreams” was reintroduced to fans when it was used in director David Lynch‘s 1986 cult film Blue Velvet. The following year, Roy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he also recorded the star-studded concert special Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night.
In 1988, Orbison teamed up with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne to form the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. Roy was featured prominently on the group’s debut album, including on the hit “Handle with Care.” Later that year, he completed work on a new Lynne-produced solo album, Mystery Girl, which featured guest appearances by Petty, Harrison, Bono and many others. Orbison died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988, at the age of 52. Mystery Girl, which was released in February ’89, yielded Roy’s first top 10 pop hit since 1964, “You Got It.”
To commemorate Orbison’s 80th birthday, One of the Lonely Ones, an album of recently discovered lost tracks Roy recorded in 1969 that was released on CD and vinyl LP in December, will be made available to streaming services starting today, April 22.
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