Elvis Presley called him “The greatest singer in the world.” Paul McCartney said, “He was and always will be one of the greats of rock ‘n roll.” And, Dolly Parton admitted, “[She’d] never been more moved by a voice.”Roy Orbison was without a doubt one of the most respected and influential artists in rock ‘n’ roll.
For Orbison, it came naturally from the beginning. At age 6, the youngster asked for a harmonica for his birthday. Instead, he received a guitar. That same guitar went with him to win a talent contest on Radio KVWC in Vernon, Texas where he lived. KVWC gave nine year old Roy his own radio show in which he performed new songs each Saturday on a small footstool, since he was too little to reach the mic. Even song writing came easy to the prodigy, finishing his first song ‘A Vow of Love” a year earlier. According to Orbison, “Oh, Pretty Woman”–an American oldies classic and his biggest hit–was written in a mere 45 minute girl-gazing session. It was his organic talent that supported his competitive nature and type-A personality well.
Friendly rivalries against his high self-standards, and between shining chart stars like Buddy Holly, The Beatles, and Elvis Presley frustrated him until his single “Only The Lonely” hit number one in 1960. In no way was he a pacifist when it came to sales, “I was an avid follower of the charts,” he said, “I lived by them until ‘Only The Lonely’–and then I didn’t look at them anymore.”
His chart competitors were friends first and foremost. Presley and Orbison not only covered each other on a regular basis, but Elvis noted him as one of his biggest influences–not hard to imagine when comparing their deep and distinctive, melancholy styles. In 1963, after the success of his classic, “In Dreams,” Roy began an England tour with The Beatles, who were yet to be adored in the US. On opening night, The Beatles had to wait through a whopping fourteen encores before they could get on stage following Roy.
Then, there came “Oh, Pretty Woman” in 1964 selling about 7 million copies that same year. His sales said one thing, but his opening acts said even more. He toured with opening acts such as the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.