Roy’s Other Pretty Woman

It’s been 20 years since Roy Orbison left us, but his wife Barbara is helping keep alive his legacy as a great artist, a great husband and a great father.

It’s hard to believe Roy Orbison has been gone 20 years, but with the recent release of The Soul of Rock and Roll 4-CD box set—107 recordings, demos, live recordings and 12 previously unreleased cuts lovingly compiled by Roy’s wife, Barbara, and their son, Roy Kelton Orbison—it’s safe to say that his amazing cultural contribution will continue to affect listeners for generations to come. The week of the box set’s release, Barbara took time to chat with CW about her relationship with Roy and his astounding career. Here’s part of what she had to say:

CW
I know you first met Roy in England when you were just 17 and got married four months later. What made you think you wanted to spend the rest of your life with him?
BO
Roy’s qualities were so transparent. They were so easy for me to see. First of all, he had an easiness to be around. There was no judgment being around him. I remember sitting down with him the first night when he invited me to dinner. And I love the way he invited me to the dinner, too. After I agreed to say hello at the discoteque and we sat down and started talking, something was said about his suit. He was wearing a Levi jean jacket, and it just didn’t go with any of his clothes. He said, “Oh my manager gave me that to wear to keep warm.” Then he said very fast, “If I promise to wear my best suit, would you like to join me for dinner tomorrow night?”
And I just thought that was so funny to ask someone like that. So I liked his sense of humor and his sense of word play. And that never left. We always connected on a really deep sense of humor and a play on words. And then the transparency . . . he was so honest. There was no pretense in him. He didn’t have any posturing, he was just who he was.
The first dinner we sat down and he said, “What would you like to drink?” And I didn’t know! So I just said, “What are you gonna drink?” And he said, “I want to have a Coca-Cola.” So I said, “Okay, then, I’ll have a Coca-Cola!” He was always himself. And I think that just totally took me by surprise. To really look at a man, and there he was. And he was easy to be with and he loved to laugh, and he was so honest. And I just knew I could trust him. And I did. I trusted him, and he never led me wrong.
Part of us getting together, too . . . I really had a really, really deep faith. And Roy did, too. And it was so apparent, and it was so easy for us to talk about who we were. We always laughed and said we really didn’t know one another. We got married after four months and we thought we knew everything about one another. And we would laugh later on. But there were things that never changed, and one of those was . . . our faith never changed. You can build anything on that. We asked, “How can we apply our faith in every action we take? How can we take God into every place we go?”
I tell my kids that all the time, “Just make sure you take God wherever you go. And you know what? You’ll never go wrong.”
CW
Can you believe he’s been gone 20 years? Does it seem like forever . . . or like yesterday?
BO
You know what? It feels exactly like you said it. At times it feels like so forever. I just say, “Wow, 20 years is forever.” And then by doing this box set, it doesn’t even feel like it was last year.
I really wanted to do this box set and set history right. Meaning I never really focused on, “What is this box set gonna do this Christmas?” or whatever. I was always saying, “So kids in school and teachers in 50 years who want to study about Roy Orbison or the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll. What could I put in this box set that would make their study more fun and more alive. That’s all I ever focused on—to get the history right and make it fun to read about something [the set comes with an 80-page book]. And then go to the CD and play it. And then look at the pictures and say, “Oh wow, so this was Roy Orbison. And there is Johnny Cash and there are the Beatles. There’s Rick Rubin and there’s T Bone Burnett and there’s Nashville . . . and Memphis. And to make it like play . . . in a playful way teaching kids.
And the other part I didn’t expect when I did this was to listen to, like for example, there’s a song on there called “Precious.” I remember Roy playing it to me after he had written it for me. I remember we went somewhere and he went into a studio to record it. I hadn’t listened to it in a long time. You know, little things like that. And then to look at the pictures. All of a sudden, instead of being in July of 2008, I went back 20 years. Because we have all these anniversaries. You know The Black and White Night was done 20 years ago, the Wilburys were 20 years, [the album] Mystery Girl . . . 20 years. It all happened 20 years ago. So this production looking at everything put me back where I really remembered where I was. Like three nights ago, September the 30, we were in LA doing the Black and White Night.
CW
Did he play songs often for you that he’d just written?
BO
He always wrote behind closed doors. The studio was always off-limits and behind closed doors. But of course he would come out and play bits and pieces. And if I wanted to come in, it was closed, but I came in any time. And sometimes I could see him struggle and sometimes he would say, “Listen to this.”
CW
Wouldn’t next year have been your 40th anniversary with Roy?
BO
I think so, it would have been. Yes, it’s coming up next year. We were married in ’69 in March. That is incredible.
CW
If a man from Mars landed and had never heard of Roy Orbison, what would you play for him to give a really good idea of who Roy was?
BO
I would definitely have to play “Pretty Woman.” I would definitely have to play “In Dreams.” Because that’s like . . . a complete Orbison song. I would probably put on it “You Got It” because that just shows Roy . . . the way he felt about this world. Anything you want, you can have it. That was a big philosophy for him.
Wow, I probably would put a song in there called “Crawling Back.” And I love that song because Roy is a man who sings about a love affair. And something has really gone wrong, the girl has really done him wrong. But he comes back. And it’s not out of weakness, but he comes back because he loves her. And I love that. I love the whole setup, and I love Roy’s voice.
So what else could I play of Roy’s that could show another part. Which one would you suggest as a fifth?
CW
I’d play “It’s Over.”
BO
I love “California Blue,” too. Because “California Blue” is a part of Roy that is the beginning of his life and the end in a way. Because it’s “Blue Bayou” and then it’s “California Blue.” And it’s something. I never could think about Roy without him calling the whole family all the time to watch sunsets. He was always on a sunset watch. And so that song sort of talks about that.
CW
When do you think Roy realized what his musical legacy would be?
BO
I don’t know when Roy knew he was gonna leave something behind. Johnny [Cash] and Roy would never talk about Sun Records until later, because those were the baby steps, you know? And Roy, we were already married and he was No. 1 all over the world, and he pulled up to a concert hall in Canada. And he had seen his name up in lights for millions of times. And he looked there and he said for the first time, “They’re coming to see me.” So I don’t know if he ever . . . he was so applauded. Roy and Johnny . . . what they had was so rare. Roy was a legend when he was 21 years old. Keith Richards always said, because Roy and the Stones toured when Roy was like 24 years old, and Keith would say, “I was 23, Mick was 23, Roy was 24 years old. The press always called me Keith. They called him Mick. They never called Roy ‘Roy.’ They always called him Mr. Orbison. And we were 23 or 24 years old.” And I said, “Wow, why did Roy get all this respect?” But it’s so true. Lots of people just kept on calling Roy Mr. Orbison.
CW
What would that little Roy Robison kid in Wink, Texas, think of the impact the Hall of Fame Roy Orbison had? Would he have been surprised?
BO
You know what? I think he was always that little kid in Texas! Because he came up in an oil town. And they were really rough. But Roy, from the time of 4 years old, learned to play the guitar. He had a radio show in that little town when he was 7 years old. He was a star all the time. And I think that’s where he learned it. That’s where he learned what it meant to have attention and to be loved. And I don’t think he ever outgrew that feeling of that little town in Texas. He had a dream from the time he was a young kid. And he loved films the same way.
And he went every Saturday. He had his radio show at 10 o’clock, and he was so small they had to put a stool for him to reach the mic. And later on when he was like 40 years old. “Barbara, I’m not telling you I played easy songs.” And he would play me some of the songs. He said, “They’re difficult. I don’t even know how I taught myself.”
But in the afternoon he would go to a double feature. I don’t even know what that means. I grew up in a different time and age. And he had enough to get a Coca-Cola and popcorn in between and go to the double feature. And he said somehow or another he knew that that road that led out of that little town of Wink went somewhere where the cowboys came from and the songs on the radio. And he knew, someday he was going to follow that road . . . and he did!

For more on Barbara Orbison, check out the Dec. 1 issue of Country Weekly.

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