(Music: "Running Scared" by Roy Orbison)
June 5, 1961 - June 11, 1961
Along with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison recorded for Sam Phillips' Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Like his label-mates, he is one of the most influential figures of the rock era. Devotees of Orbison's music include the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.
Many of Orbison's songs are based on personal experience. A self-confessed introvert, Orbison and his writing partner, Joe Melson, wrote "Running Scared" in five minutes, just slightly longer than it takes to sing the song. But they had spent several non-productive writing sessions working on it.
Orbison almost gave his first national hit, "Only the Lonely," to Elvis and the Everly Brothers before recording it himself. After writing the song with Melson, the two collaborators took "Only the Lonely" to Memphis to play it for Presley. But they arrived from Texas at 6:00 a.m. and found people at Graceland still sleeping.
Elvis suggested they meet later that day in Nashville. Orbison and Melson drove there, but instead of waiting for Elvis, they played it for Phil Everly (the Everly Brothers had recorded Orbison's "Claudette," a song he had written about his wife). Too shy to tell Phil he wanted him to record "Only the Lonely," Orbison patiently listened while Phil responded by playing one of his new songs. Finally, Orbison just decided to record the song himself. It went to number two in America and number one in Britain.
Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas and raised in the town of Wink. His father, Orbie, worked in the oil fields and his mother, Nadine, was a nurse. His father gave him a guitar when he was six years old, and by the time he was eight he was playing on a Sunday morning country show on KVWC, a radio station in Kermit, Texas. At 13, he formed his own group, the Wink Westerners, with members of his high school band. In the next two years, he came to realize he was a better singer than a guitarist and started writing songs for himself.
At North Texas University, he was inspired by the success of fellow student Pat Boone. Roy liked a song written by two college fraternity brothers, "Ooby Dooby," and took his new group, the Teen Kings, to Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico, to record it. It was released on Petty's Je-Wel label, but it didn't fare well. Meanwhile, Orbison hosted a local television show and met Johnny Cash, who suggested Roy contact Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis.
Roy was signed to Sun and recorded a stronger version of "Ooby Dooby," which was his first chart entry. But Phillips wanted Roy to record rock and roll like the rest of the Sun artists, and Roy preferred to sing ballads. Through the Everly Brothers, Orbison came under the management guidance of Wesley Rose, who secured a recording contract with RCA. After a brief association with the label and producer Chet Atkins, Rose took Orbison to a brand-new label: Fred Foster's Monument Records. Although his first two recording sessions for Monument weren't very successful, it was at the third session that he cut "Only the Lonely," the first of nine top 10 songs he would record for Monument.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.