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Singer-songwriter Roy Orbison wrote romantic 1960s pop ballads like "Oh, Pretty Woman." In 1987, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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Born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas, Roy 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.
"I close my eyes, then I drift away, into the magic night I softly say. A silent prayer, like dreamers do, then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you."
"Pretty woman, I don't believe you, you're not the truth. No one could look as good as you, mercy."
Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas. A year before Beatlemania overtook the United States in 1964, the four lads from Liverpool invited Orbison to open for them on their English tour. On his first night, Orbison performed 14 encores before the Beatles even made it on stage.
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 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."
Born to a working-class Texan family in 1936, Orbison grew up immersed in musical styles ranging from rockabilly and country to zydeco, Tex-Mex and the blues. His dad gave him a guitar for his sixth birthday and he wrote his first song, "A Vow of Love," when he was 8.
In high school, Orbison played the local circuit with a group called the Teen Kings. When their song "Ooby Dooby" came to the attention of Sam Phillips, the legendary producer at Sun Records, Orbison was invited to cut a few tracks. In addition to a highly collectible album called Roy Orbison at the Rockhouse, their collaboration yielded a re-recording of "Ooby Dooby" that became Orbison's first minor hit.
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, 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."
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