100 Greatest Artists

37

Roy Orbison

Illustration by Mark Gagnon

By K.D. Lang

I've always compared Roy Orbison to a tree: passive and beautiful yet extremely solid. He maintained a sense of humility and sensitivity and gentleness uncommon to his era. He wasn't effeminate but extremely gentle. He was someone you felt entirely safe with, whether you were listening to his records or being around him. It wasn't like Elvis: It wasn't like your loins were on fire or anything like that. It's more like Roy was a private place to go — a solace or a refuge.

He broke the mold of the Fifties tough-guy thing, and even the style of his music was a kind of fine art for somebody from Wink, Texas. It was cosmopolitan in a mysteriously soft and romantic way.

Roy Orbison was like a folk opera singer. I think he was influenced by Spanish opera in structure and in feel. He also loved to express his voice in this upper range, in falsetto. He was vulnerable and strong at the same time. He was extremely earnest in his voice and his appearance, and yet he had this veil of mystery to him.

In 1987, Roy and I recorded a version of "Crying" for a movie called Hiding Out. We ended up recording "Crying" in Vancouver, which is where I lived. I walked into the studio, and it was like staring at the huge image of the Marlboro Man on Sunset Boulevard — so immediately ominous and present. We were rehearsing the song in the studio with the band, and Roy and I happened to be sharing a mic. When we got to a part where we were singing at the same time, we both leaned into the mic and our cheeks touched. His cheek was so soft, and the energy was so amazing. Not sexual but totally explosive, like the chemistry of some sort of kinship. I'll never forget what that felt like. I can hear that voice right in my ear. His vibrato was sort of fast and had a small waver within it, and that's what gave him the vulnerable sound. That voice.

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