Roy Orbison in Vancouver, 1986

Thirty-five years ago today, on August 10, 1986, Roy Orbison appeared at the Legends of Rock’n’Roll show at EXPO 86 in Vancouver.

When Les Vogt and I were planning the acts for the Legends of Rock’n’Roll we thought our old friend would be a great headliner. He agreed without hesitation, saying “I will cancel some appearances and work with you, as you and Les were the only people to give me a bonus in my entire career.”

Les says, “We gave Roy a $1,000 bonus for a 1963 concert in Port Alberni, a gesture that he would later say had never happened to him before or since. Roy would never forget the only promoters to ever give him more than the performance contract had called for. Whenever Roy toured in Canada he insisted that Red and I be the promoters of any Roy Orbison shows that came near the Vancouver area.”

Roy was one of the original Sun Record Company recording stars, but his long stay with Monument Records brought his greatest success. By the time we booked Roy into Vancouver his list of top sellers was most impressive: memorable songs like “Uptown”, “Only The Lonely”, “Blue Angel”, “I’m Hurtin'”, the classic “Running Scared”, “Crying” and “Candy Man”. Roy Orbison charted 29 hits, establishing him as one of the biggest chartbusters of the early Sixties.

Les and I became good friends with Roy over the years and he appeared in Vancouver many times. When we were not the promoters we always found time to get together during his visits. Les became his de facto manager during a period when Roy was without a record contract. Roy was not alone at that particular time as the record business was going through some major changes. The artists who started rock and roll suddenly found themselves out of favor.

Les suggested Roy move from Nashville to Los Angeles. He did and his shows in and around the L. A. area were sold out. After the first show backstage, Roy was surprised to find people like Linda Ronstadt and others in the industry praising his talent. This gave him a new lease on life and he began his creative process all over again. From this “second wind” came his collaborative effort with the Traveling Wilburys and his new hits like “I Drove All Night” and “You Got It”.

I’ve interviewed Roy Orbison many times, but this one recorded in July 1978 is my favourite. In Part 1, Roy recalls his early days at Sun Record Company; Elvis‘ Texas performances and the unique sound of Scotty Moore’s guitar; Johnny Cash puts Roy in touch with Sam Phillips; the secret of the Sun Sound; Roy works briefly with Chet Atkins at RCA before signing with Monument Records in 1959; the success of “Uptown” and “Only The Lonely”; and the story behind recording “Running Scared”. In Part 2, Roy shares the story of “Lana” and its success a couple of years after leaving Monument; working with songwriter Joe Melson and writing solo; how great music makes a simple emotional connection; Roy moves to LA from Nashville and Linda Ronstadt records “Blue Bayou”. In Part 3, how lack of distribution and promotion affects exposure of a hit record; how the music industry needs to be aware of an artist’s enduring appeal to his audience; how badly the press treated Elvis until his death; Roy looks ahead to the next step in his career.

Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by Bruce Springsteen. He died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988, at the peak of his renewed popularity. Roy gets my vote as the nicest performer I ever met. He was a wonderful, honourable guy. We miss him and his music, but thanks to our podcast friends at Spotify, we’re able to include all of Roy’s biggest hits as well. They’re all here, from Roy’s first rockabilly-tinged 1956 hit “Ooby Dooby” to his k.d. lang duet “Crying” and an amazing “Blue Angel” with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Here’s Roy Orbison, thirteenth in a series celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Legends of Rock’n’Roll!