Roy Orbison was one of the most famous singer/songwriters of his generation. He had an incredible baritone voice, but could also hit high notes with ease. During his early career, he wrote songs for Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers and other greats of the time. As a performer in his own right, he toured with the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones and had a personal relationship with Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
Roy was born in Vernon, Texas in 1936 to a blue-collar family. When he was six years old, Roy wanted a harmonica for his birthday, but fortunately for the world of music, his father got him a guitar instead. Orbie Lee (Roy’s father) helped the youngster learn to play, as did his uncles Kenneth Schultz and Charles Orbison. Roy loved the guitar and learned to play “You Are My Sunshine” in just a few weeks. Soon, he was being allowed to stay up late to play and sing with the adults who would visit his parents.
By the time he was eight he was writing his own songs and the next year he entered and won a radio contest that led to him having his own local radio music show. When Roy was thirteen, his family moved to Wink, Texas and Roy formed a band with some friends known as the Wink Westerners.
Throughout his teen years, Roy wrote songs alone and with friends, played gigs wherever he could find them and appeared on several local radio and TV shows. In 1958, Roy and his group played for a TV show in Midland, Texas. They performed a rock and roll song that Roy had written called “Ooby Dooby.” It became almost instantly popular and Orbison and his group, now known as the Teen Kings, signed a deal with Sun Records.
It was not until 1960 when “Only the Lonely” was released that Roy achieved international fame. Soon after that, his biggest hit of all “Oh Pretty Woman” came out. In fact, many sources claim that it is the most popular single of all time. Life was good for Roy for a while but personal tragedies like the deaths of his young wife and two of his sons made it hard for him to write for several years. His faith and conservative values helped him overcome his difficulties, as did his marriage to his second wife, Barbara. But Roy did not identify with the “sex and drug” themed music of the 60’s and remained without a hit for several years.
His career was rejuvenated in the late 70s when other artists began to cover his songs. Van Halen had a huge hit with “Oh Pretty Woman” and Linda Ronstadt did well with “Blue Bayou.” Orbison began touring and writing once more and won a Grammy for a recording with Emmylou Harris of “That Lovin’ You Feeling Again.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and continued performing and composing until his death from a heart attack in 1988.
Roy’s favorite guitar to use when writing a song was his 1962 Epiphone Bard 12-string acoustic. He wrote “Oh Pretty Woman” with it and many more best sellers, as well. In 2009, Epiphone released a limited edition “Oh Pretty Woman” guitar that is a faithful reproduction of the one that Roy played. It has a solid spruce top and mahogany back, a rosewood bridge, and vintage tuners. The back of the head features a replica of Roy Orbison’s signature and the musical notation for the first measure of the famous riff that is heard at the beginning of “Oh Pretty Woman.” Roy’s widow, Barbara was intimately involved in the production of the Epiphone and she has said she hopes that “the next generation of artists will feel inspired to write another great rock n’ roll song thanks to the Epiphone signature Roy Orbison 12 string acoustic guitar.”
Singer/songwriters like Roy Orbison only come along at rare times in history, but if you desire to have a sound like his, you might want to consider using a self-study method of guitar lessons to help you develop your skills. There are several excellent courses available to fit any style of play. Metal Method is great for anyone with aspirations to be a lead guitarist. Learn and Master Guitar is a DVD-based course that covers every style of music, and Guitar Tricks offers comprehensive lessons online. With diligence, persistence, and hard work, you just might rock the music world like Roy did.