Born April 23rd, 1936, in Vernon, Texas, rock & roll icon Roy Orbison would have celebrated his 84th birthday today. A pioneering artist in the Fifties whose distinctive look and operatic voice gave rock and pop songs a stark, dramatic edge, Orbison was a superstar throughout the world, breaking through with hits including “Only the Lonely,” “Crying,” “Blue Bayou,” and “(Oh) Pretty Woman.”
After dominating the charts throughout the Sixties, Orbison had few hits throughout the Seventies but he made several television appearances in the U.S., including the ABC music series hosted by his fellow Sun Records artist, Johnny Cash. Fans still flocked to see him in concert. On October 3rd, 1972, at Melbourne, Australia’s Festival Hall, Orbison performed a show that would include all his major hits backed by a full orchestra. But perhaps the most surprising inclusions in the Big O’s set list were a pair of recent hits for other artists. Covered by a multitude of acts after its 1970 release, Orbison performed Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” during the show, which would air on Australian TV and eventually be released on video in 2005. The singer’s take on another recent hit, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” might lack the charisma and swagger of the original — which Diamond recently transformed into a coronavirus PSA — but Orbison’s frisky rendition is still a crowd-pleaser.
In celebration of their dad’s birthday, Wesley, Roy and Alex Orbison, collectively known as Roy’s Boys, will host a “Black & White Night Watch Party” on Facebook beginning at 4 p.m. ET this afternoon. The presentation of the landmark Black & White Night 30 concert special in its entirety will feature Orbison joined by Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Jennifer Warnes. The concert film was shot at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub inside L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel in 1987 and first aired on Cinemax early the following year. In 2017, a re-imagined, re-edited and expanded version was released and aired on PBS. Accompanying Orbison and the superstar lineup are veterans of Elvis Presley’s TCB Band, including James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jason Schef and Ronnie Tut.
The same year the special first aired, Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He died of a heart attack on December 6th, 1988, at age 52.