Then in 1958 Roy’s luck changed. He was offered a spot on an Everly Brothers show in Hammond, Indiana. It turned out The Everlys needed a song for their new single and asked Roy if he had anything. He sang his new composition "Claudette" and they asked him to write the words down. So he did, on the top of a shoebox. The Everlys' "Claudette" was released in late March 1958 as the B-side of "All I Have To Do Is Dream."
Soon Roy’s songs had been recorded by Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Nelson and Johnny Cash. Orbison had a knack for writing a great pop song.
Now signed to Fred Foster's Monument label, Roy was up and running as a solo artist. "Only the Lonely" peaked at No.2 on the Billboard Charts and became No.1 in the UK. "Only the Lonely” became the first song that truly probed the frightening potential of Roy Orbison's voice, and established his uniqueness.
And then he gave us "Oh Pretty Woman" which became his biggest hit. Few songs have boasted such a memorable guitar riff; the song sold about seven million copies in 1964 alone. Roy was now a true star; he toured with The Beatles in the UK, The Rolling Stones and toured with The Beach Boys in Australia.
Sadly during the mid-'60s Roy suffered two major personal tragedies: Roy and his wife Claudette shared a love for motorcycles; however, tragedy struck on June 6, 1966, when Orbison and Claudette were riding home from Bristol, Tennessee.
Claudette was struck by a semi-trailer truck and died instantly. Two years later, on Sept. 14, 1968, tragedy struck again when, horrifically, two of his three sons lost their lives in a house fire. Roy Dwayne Orbison was ten years old; his brother, Anthony, was just six. Unable to write songs in the wake of such crushing loss, Orbison nonetheless continued to tour, seeking solace in music and in the support of fans.
The last two years of Orbison’s life were among his most productive. In 1987, he began collaborating with Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne on a new album. At the same time Lynne was completing production work on George Harrison's album Cloud Nine, and all three had lunch one day when Orbison accepted an invitation to sing on Harrison's album. They contacted Bob Dylan, who allowed them to use a recording studio in his home. Along the way, Harrison had to stop by Tom Petty's house to pick up 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 Traveling Wilburys, representing themselves as half-brothers from the same father.
Now that’s the way to form a band!
The Wilburys gave Roy a new lease on life and he took on a heavy workload during the following year. After performances in Germany, the UK and the US Orbison became ill and died of a heart attack. He was just 52 years old, but his spirit seemed far older and wiser than his chronological age. Roy appeared older that he actually was.
Roy wasn’t a rock 'n' roller, and he wasn’t a cheesy pop artist, he was ‘The Big O’. He had the biggest voice, and sang like nobody else. He wrote some of the best classic pop songs and was known for his motionless performances. Roy didn’t dance or move when he sang. He didn’t have to.
I’ll let this other singer have the last word on Roy:
"In 1975, when I went into the studio to record Born to Run, I wanted to make a record with words like Bob Dylan, that sounded like Phil Spector’s production, but most of all, I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison. Now, everybody knows that nobody sings like Roy Orbison". — Bruce Springsteen
Dee Dee Ramone