By Fred Starr
HOLLYWOOD(Hollywood Today)11/15/13/–Had he not tragically and unexpectedly died at the age of 52, Roy Orbison would be 77 years old today. Still, despite the fact that his life was comparatively short, Orbison managed to be an icon of music in his own time and continues to be a presence, both in terms of his enduring influence on other singers and through his breathtaking body of work. Now Roys Boys LLC, a Nashville-based alliance of Alex, Roy Kelton and Wesley Orbison, the singer’s surviving sons — Roy Dewayne and Anthony died tragically in a house fire in 1968 — has embarked on a mission to manage and protect their father’s name, likeness, image and musical legacy including the classic recordings he made over the course of an unparalleled career. The company’s logo incorporates an upright triple note representing Alex, Roy Kelton and Wesley and an inverted double note in memory of Roy Dewayne and Anthony.
Roy’s Boys was formed following the death of Barbara Orbison, Roy’s widow and the mother of Alex and Roy Kelton, to aggregate the intellectual property assets associated with Roy Orbison under one administrative “roof.” The idea was to gather a dedicated team, working with key partners including Sony and Universal, to provide the focus and drive necessary for the catalog to continue to thrive. Alex, Roy Kelton and Wesley Orbison are all musicians so they decided to bring a seasoned music business professional to their team and recruited Chuck Fleckenstein, a former senior executive at Sony Music, to join Roy’s Boys. Roy’s Boys’ plans are uniquely ambitious and, to a significant extent, are at odds with the conventional wisdom of more gradual, catalog reissues as some 21 albums are planned for release within a two year period.
Alex Orbison, Co-President of Roy’s Boys commented, “Roy Orbison and his music played a major role in the lives of so many over the course of his recording career and after his passing. Our hope is to bolster that relationship with thoughtfully curated releases and projects to ensure successive generations have the same sort of meaningful experience.”
To this end, Roy’s Boys, through Sony’s Legacy imprint as well as with Universal Music Enterprises, has announced an ambitious schedule starting this year, that will see classic as well as never-before-available Orbison catalog pieces released on an ongoing basis. Of compelling interest is the December 3rd release of The Last Concert – 25th Anniversary Edition. The set is, literally, what the title indicates: the very last concert performance by Roy Orbison, recorded December 4, 1988 at the Front Row Theatre in Highland Heights, Ohio, just outside Cleveland.
The Last Concert includes passion-fueled performances of 14 Orbison classics such as “Only The Lonely,” “Blue Bayou,” “Crying,” “Oh, Pretty Woman” and ten others. Orbison was in top form that night; just two days later he was gone forever. The special package includes a bonus DVD that features “The Last Interview,” a conversation with Tony Weber that was recorded directly after the performance, as well as a photomontage of shots taken at the concert by photojournalist Janet Macoska. There is also a collection of “late and great” performances of Orbison in concert shot in 1981 and 1986 at the Country Club in Reseda, CA and Rockefeller Hall in Houston, respectively. Performances include “Leah,” “Blue Angel,” “Working For The Man,” “Ooby Dooby,” ”Dream Baby” and more.
The package comes with an insightful 850-word essay by Alex Orbison who chronicles the circumstance of the epic concert that took place 25 years ago: the stage rotated 360 degrees and came full circle five times over the course of the show; Bruce Pearson, the band’s lead guitarist broke a string just before curtain and ended up playing Orbison’s own signature Gibson 335, providing the show with a different sonic ambiance than any that had come before. He delves into the period of renewed success and recognition leading up to the concert. Roy had recently been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame*, had recorded as a member of The Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, and had taped the legendary Black and White Night TV special and seen the use of his song “In Dreams” in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. It was a heady time for Roy Orbison and the exuberant concert was a reflection of that upbeat sensibility.
Slightly in advance of the release of The Last Concert, on November 26 (the Tuesday before “Black Friday”), comes The Monument Boxset. It’s a vinyl release for independent retail that includes the three classic Roy Orbison Monument studio albums – Lonely and Blue, Crying and In Dreams as well as Oh! Pretty Woman. That fourth album has never actually existed — until now. The title song went to #1 in 1964, but Orbison soon signed with MGM Records and Monument never saw fit to release an album built around that track but chose rather to ‘mine the hits’ with a Greatest Hits album instead. Now, at last, there is a fourth studio album from Orbison’s tenure at Monument consisting of tracks reflective of the period and as determined by the team at Roy’s Boys to be the songs that would have made that fourth Monument album. Even the cover art recalls the era, making The Monument Boxset one of the most unique vinyl collectibles of this, or any, musical season.
Concurrent with the December 3 release of The Last Concert is the re-release of the 1999 career-spanning documentary In Dreams on DVD. It’s a revealing program, running 90 minutes that includes classic performances, personal home movies and a career overview by Roy Orbison himself. Also appearing in the documentary are Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant, Bono, Jeff Lynne, Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb, Bill Wyman, Chris Isaak, Bernie Taupin, k. d. lang, Raul Malo, Dwight Yoakam, David Lynch, Martin Sheen, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris and others.
Earlier this fall, Roy’s Boys and Legacy re-released the long out of print album In Dreams – Greatest Hits. The original version was released in 1988 after the title song was used by David Lynch in Blue Velvet, a key element in building momentum for Orbison’s late career renaissance. The album is a compilation of re-recordings of Orbison’s classic Monument repertoire, released in response to the fact that the label had gone bankrupt, rendering the catalog unavailable for an extended period of time. Over the course of the history of recorded music, many artists have sought to rest control of their musical output by re-recording their respective catalogs of hits. Very few are able to convincingly equal earlier versions, the re-recordings usually considered inferior to the originals. This was certainly not the case with Roy Orbison whose voice was thought to have actually improved over the decades and who took advantage of improvements in audio technology.
Upon its release, In Dreams – Greatest Hits became a surprise hit, achieving RIAA Gold Album status at that time and has now received contemporary critical kudos. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Randy Lewis called the album ”one of the rare collections of re-recorded material that is as highly regarded as the artist’s original recordings because of the high quality of the newer versions.” No Depression’s Grant Britt wrote, “There’s just no excuse for not having this one in your collection.”
In addition, Legacy has just re-released A Black and White Night on DVD. It’s the TV special, filmed September 20, 1987, that brought together Roy Orbison with a group of notable admirers including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, T Bone Burnett, Bonnie Raitt, k.d. lang, J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne and others for a concert highlighted by unique performances of Orbison’s key repertoire. “The Big O” and his friends were backed by Elvis Presley’s TCB Band, including James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jerry Scheff and Ronnie Tutt.
Upcoming in 2014 from Roy’s Boys and Legacy is the long anticipated release of a renewed version of Mystery Girl, the studio album that Virgin Records released three months after Orbison’s death. It went on to be a worldwide smash hit, achieving Platinum status in the US, UK, Canada, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden and yielding the hit single “You Got It.” The updated version, due this spring, will include never before heard Orbison tracks, new video interview footage from those involved (Petty, Lynne, Mike Campbell, Steve Cropper, Jim Keltner and others) and a recently discovered, previously unheard, Roy Orbison vocal performance to which Roy’s sons have added their own vocals and instrumentation. More details about the important release will be made available in 2014.
The comprehensive nature of Roy’s Boys endeavors is underscored by the planned 2014 release, in coordination with Universal Music Enterprises of at least 16 ‘missing’ albums from Orbison’s tenure with the MGM label many of which have been out of print for decades. While these albums are basically unknown, except to the most avid Orbison aficionados, they include brilliant vocal performances set to top quality studio productions.
Music publishing is a key component of Roy’s Boys’ business. Roy Orbison Publishing Company is comprised of 286 songs written by Orbison from 1957 through 1988 including “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Leah,” “In Dreams,” “Blue Bayou,” “Only the Lonely” and others which have been covered by major artists including Linda Ronstadt, Norah Jones, Van Halen, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, k.d. lang, Tom Jones, Chris Isaak, Conway Twitty, the Everly Brothers, etc. A significant number of these copyrights have been licensed for use in such films as Pretty Woman, American Gangster, Dumb and Dumber, In Dreams, You’ve Got Mail, Star Trek: First Contact, The Thing Called Love, Indecent Proposal, Only The Lonely and, of course, Blue Velvet.
In the early 1990s, Barbara Orbison founded Still Working Music, an outlet for outside songwriters that has been the source of hit material for Taylor Swift, Brooks and Dunn, Joe Walsh, One Direction, Faith Hill, Rod Stewart, Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Gary Allan, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Diamond Rio, Darius Rucker, George Straight and Reba McEntire. The company controls over 5,000 copyrights from such highly regarded songwriters as Tommy Lee James, Terry McBride, Chase Bryant, Matt Nolen, Ryan Lafferty, Derrick Southerland, Liz Rose, Billy Burnette, Clay Mills, Danielle Peck, Jedd Hughes, Kaci Brown, Nathan Barlowe, Will Nance, and more.
Roy’s Boys has enhanced Still Working’s profile by adding five additional staff writers in recent months as well as a new creative director whose job it is to secure recordings of Still Working copyrights. In fact, “Didn’t Know Love,” one of the company’s songs, is a track on Celine Dion’s forthcoming Epic Records album release Loved Me Back To Life. Roy’s Boys has formed numerous publishing alliances to maximize the global reach of both Roy Orbison Publishing and Still Working Music.
*Bruce Springsteen inducted Roy Orbison into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 21, 1987. His induction speech included the following commentary: “He had the ability, like all great Rock and Rollers, to sound like he dropped in from another planet and yet get the stuff that was right to the heart of what you were livin’ in today, and it was how he opened up your vision. I’ll always remember what he means to me and what he meant to me when I was young and afraid to love. When I went into the studio to record, Born To Run, I wanted to make a record with words like Bob Dylan, that sounded like Phil Spector’s productions, but most of all I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison. Now, everybody knows that nobody sings like Roy Orbison.”
ROY REDUX: FULL SLATE OF ORBISON RELEASES THIS YEAR AND BEYOND FROM ROY’S BOYS
TITLES INCLUDE LAST CONCERT, IN DREAMS – GREATEST HITS, MONUMENT BOXSET, BLACK AND WHITE NIGHT, IN DREAMS DOCUMENTARY, MGM CATALOG AND UPDATED MYSTERY GIRL