On April 23, 1936, Roy Kelton Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas. For y’all that don’t have the map of Texas tattooed on your brain, Vernon is up in Wilbarger County near the Red River, about 50 miles west of Wichita Falls. One of my favorite history professors, Hunt Tooley, was from Vernon too. Not sure when his birthday is.
Whether Dr. Tooley was an Orbison fan or not is not known, but I can pretty confidently say that Mr. Orbison was one of the great singers and songwriters to hail from Texas and he was and still is loved by thousands of folks. One thing I should point out is that I always thought Mr. Orbison was blind. He was famous for always having dark sunglasses on. As it turns out, he was not blind, but he did have very, very, very bad eyesight.
He grew up in Wink, Texas, even more west than Vernon. Wink is way out west in Winkler County near Monahans and Pecos, about a hundred miles southeast of Carlsbad. He got his first guitar when he was six and since then music became a central part of his life and Roy started his first band, the Wink Westerners, there when he was attending Wink High School.
After high school, Roy attended North Texas State College in Denton, Texas for a while. That’s just north of Dallas and Fort Worth in Denton County and on I-35. North Texas State College is now the University of North Texas and they have a world famous music program there. He then went to Odessa Junior College.
In Odessa, the Wink Westerners changed their name to the Teen Kings.
He, and they, had their first hit after he left college in 1956. The song is Ooby Dooby and it was released by none other than the legendary Sun Records. You know Sun Records. They were the company that also released music by Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash, to name a few. Kind of like an early version of 301 Productions with its current lineup of great Texas musicians.
Roy went on to have several hits. Twenty-two Orbison singles reached the Billboard Top 40 between 1960 and 1966. He wrote or co-wrote almost all of his Top 10 Hits:
"Only the Lonely" in 1960, "Running Scared" in 1961, "Crying" 1961, "In Dreams" 1963, and "Oh, Pretty Woman" (1964). If you haven’t heard one of these or any Roy Orbison songs then you need to crawl out of the rock you’ve been under and get a little culture. Your ears will thank you.
Because of his greatness, Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. He also was recognized with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award along with five actual Grammy Awards.
He co-founded the great supergroup, Traveling Wilburys in 1988 with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. Sadly, Orbison died of a heart attack in December 1988 at age 52, a month before the release of his song "You Got It." It was his first hit to reach the US & UK Top 10 in nearly 25 years.
So here’s to the memory of Roy Orbison, born on April 23, 1936.
The Texas History Lessons Theme song, Walking Through History, was written and recorded by Derrick McClendon. Listen to his new album, Interstate Daydreamer! Available everywhere you find good music. Thank you Derrick! Twitter: @dmclendonmusic
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