Legendary Roy Orbison Part Two
It’s been awhile since I did Part One, but I’m going to make up for it, in Legendary Roy Orbison Part Two. You say that you never heard of him, then read on, and I have an album at the end, you say that you want to read and hear more of Roy Orbison, well I do have Part One with and album on that one as well. If you still don’t have enough of him, well Part Three is in the works, and should be on my website, very soon, with yet another album. This blog Legendary Roy Orbison Part Two, will have Disc One and Part Three will have the Disc Two, so start looking forward for my blog.
1957–59: Sun Records and Acuff-Rose
The Teen Kings went to Sun Studio in Memphis, where Phillips wanted to record “Ooby Dooby” again, in his superior studio. Orbison had grown weary of the song and rankled quietly as Phillips dictated what the band would play and how he was to sing it. With Phillips’s production, however, the record broke into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 59 and selling 200,000 copies. The Teen Kings toured with Sonny James, Johnny Horton, Carl Perkins, and Cash. Much influenced by Elvis Presley, Orbison performed frenetically, doing “everything we could to get applause because we had only one hit record”. The Teen Kings also began writing songs in a rockabilly style, including “Go! Go! Go!” and “Rockhouse”. The band ultimately split over disputed writing credits and royalties, but Orbison stayed in Memphis and asked his 16-year-old girlfriend, Claudette Frady, to join him there. They stayed in Phillips’s home, sleeping in separate rooms. In the studio Orbison concentrated on the mechanics of recording. Phillips remembered being much more impressed with Orbison’s mastery of the guitar than with his voice. A ballad Orbison wrote – “The Clown” – met with a lukewarm response; after hearing it, Sun Records producer Jack Clement told Orbison that he would never make it as a ballad singer.
Orbison had some success at Sun Records, however, and was introduced to Elvis Presley’s social circle, once going to pick up a date for Presley in his purple Cadillac. Orbison sold “Claudette” – a song he wrote about Claudette Frady whom he married in 1957 – to the Everly Brothers and their subsequent recording of it was released as the B-side of their smash hit “All I Have to Do Is Dream”. The first, and perhaps only, royalties Orbison earned from Sun Records enabled him to make a down-payment on his own Cadillac. Increasingly frustrated at Sun, he gradually stopped recording. He toured music circuits around Texas, and then quit performing for seven months in 1958. In dire financial straits, his car repossessed, he turned to family and friends for funds.
For a brief period in the late 1950s Orbison made his living at Acuff-Rose, a songwriting firm concentrating mainly on country music. After spending an entire day writing a song, he would make several demo tapes at a time and send them to Wesley Rose, who would try to find musical acts to record them. Orbison attempted to sell to RCA Victor his recordings of songs by other writers, working with, and being in awe of, Chet Atkins, who had played guitar with Presley. One song he tried was “Seems to Me” by Boudleaux Bryant. Bryant’s impression of Orbison was of “a timid, shy kid who seemed to be rather befuddled by the whole music scene. I remember the way he sang then — softly, prettily but almost bashfully, as if someone might be disturbed by his efforts and reprimand him.”
Playing shows late into the night, and living with his wife and young child in his tiny apartment, Orbison often sought refuge by taking his guitar to his car and writing songs there. Songwriter Joe Melson, an acquaintance of Orbison’s, tapped on his car window one day in Texas in 1958, and the two decided to try to write some songs together. In three recording sessions in 1958 and 1959, Orbison and Melson recorded seven songs at RCA Nashville, with Atkins producing, but only two were judged worthy of release by RCA; Wesley Rose brought Orbison to the attention of producer Fred Foster at Monument Records.