Roy Orbison made it from Wink, Texas to Memphis, Tennessee by way of Johnny Cash. The two met in 1956 on the half-hour local TV show that Orbison hosted in Odessa, Texas. Cash was just starting out, on an early Sun Records package tour, but Orbison was a seasoned veteran of the oil town honky-tonk circuit. Barely out of high school, he had been playing for nearly seven years with bands like the Wink Westerners and the Teen Kings. Cash passed along Sam Phillips’ phone number in Memphis and encouraged Roy to call. Phillips hung up on him with a curt “Johnny Cash doesn’t run my company,” but Orbison was recording for Sun within the year. He did okay there, with his fiery rave-up “Ooby Dooby” climbing to #59 on the charts. But even as Orbison cut classics like “Chicken Hearted,” “Domino,” and “You’re My Baby,” his singles failed to chart. He wasn’t the best match for Phillip’s raucous slapback clatter. There was something haunted and otherworldly about Roy Orbison, something that existed far past the edges that Elvis skirted with “Blue Moon” and Charlie Rich flirted with on “Who Will the Next Fool Be.” He didn’t last long on Sun.

Orbison left Memphis in 1958 and landed in Nashville, where he worked briefly with Chet Atkins at RCA, and wrote songs for Acuff-Rose publishing. It was Atkins who introduced him to Fred Foster, who had just started the Monument label. Foster heard the power in Orbison’s voice, knew nobody had recorded it properly, and decided to frame Roy’s songs of lost love and loneliness with the reverb-drenched, string-heavy Nashville sound that Atkins had recently pioneered.

On March 25, 1960, Roy Orbison entered the RCA-Victor Studio in Nashville with a band that included guitar greats Hank Garland and Grady Martin, pianist Floyd Cramer, a full string section, and the Anita Kerr Singers. He came out with “Only the Lonely,” a song that would redefine rock ’n’ roll. Over a massive chorus of dum-diddy-doo-wah vocals, staccato guitar, and ringing strings, Orbison’s voice trembles and quavers. “Only the lonely, know the way I feel tonight.” The strings flutter as the song builds, with only Orbison’s solitary vocal to reveal the sadness of the lyrics. It was a sound that echoed Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways,” and that would later be heard in Phil Spector’s wall of sound and the Beatles’ tight harmonies. But nobody ever touched the drama of Roy Orbison on “Only the Lonely,” with his pleading, majestic falsetto, like a rockabilly Caruso inventing the three-minute teenage opera.

<BODY> <H1>Table of Contents</H1> <UL> <LI><a href="memphissoulsurvivors.htm">Memphis Soul Survivors</a></LI> <LI><a href="viviancampbell.htm">Vivian Campbell Def Leppard</a></LI> <LI><a href="royorbison.htm">Roy Orbison</a></LI> <LI><a href="thelonesomesisters.htm">The Lonesome Sisters</a></LI> <LI><a href="jessiemaehemphill.htm">Jessie Mae Hemphill</a></LI> <LI><a href="ericclapton.htm">Eric Clapton</a></LI> <LI><a href="">Back to Gibson</a></LI> <LI><a href="">Back Issues</a></LI> <LI><a href="">Buy the CD</a> <LI><a href="">Gibson Custom Roy Orbison ES-335 Limited Edition</a></LI> </UL> <Br /><br /> "Only the Lonely" from the new Sony-Legacy reissue <i>Roy Orbison Sings Lonely and Blue</i> </BODY>