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YouTube Gold: Roy Orbison

The man. The voice.

Roy Orbison On Thank Your Lucky Stars
American singer, guitarist and musician Roy Orbison (1936-1988) performs on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ television show for ABC Weekend Television at Alpha Studios in Aston, Birmingham in England in February 1965.
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

It’s probably still too early, but at some point, historians will revise their opinions of rock and roll and its influence on American and world culture.

Who knows what the long-term assessment will be? The impact has certainly been profound. A lot of the huge stars like Elvis Presley, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan could see their reputations change considerably. We already see this to some extent with John Lennon.

Another guy who is likely to be seen differently is Roy Orbison, at least partly because he’s so wildly outside the frame.

The other original stars of 1950’s rock and roll - Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and Bo Diddley - you couldn’t really mistake one for another but they were coming from similar places musically.

That’s not at all the case for Orbison.

Born in Vernon, Texas, Orbison got his first guitar when he was six and knew he had found his destiny. By the time he was a a teenager, he was starting to get paid and in 1956, he was signed by Sam Phillips of Sun Records, where Presley, Cash, Perkins and Lewis also got their start.

It soon became evident that Orbison had a freakish voice with a three octave range. In the 1960’s he cranked out a series of hits with the biggest of those being Pretty Woman, still a standard. He created a plaintive, ethereal sound that was utterly unlike anything in rock and roll.

But he had some terrible tragedies in his personal life and his career fell off. People lost interest for a long time.

In 1988, this show was played on Cinemax to rave reviews. Orbison was joined by musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, kd lang, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, T-Bone Burnett and others.

It was a huge popular and critical hit and Orbison’s career was reborn. He began to tour again and things were really looking up. He was in a group with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and George Harrison called the Traveling Wilburys.

Life was good again.

It wouldn’t last long.

Orbison had been having chest pains and had a heart attack in early December of 1988. He was just 52.

But what a body of work he left behind.