Those who felt the heart attack that claimed Roy Orbison’s life in December 1988 stifled one of the most vital comebacks in rock & roll history, will find some comfort in next week’s release of the Roy Orbison Authorized Bootleg Collection on Orbison Records.| With Orbison’s widow, Barbara, serving as executive producer, this release pulls together four complete Orbison performances — Batley, England, from 1969; Hornchurch, England, from October, 1975; Stockton, England, from March, 1980; and Birmingham, Ala., from July, 1980 — into a four-disc, slipcase edition.
The collection is the first offering in a series of authorized live recordings. “The bootleg series has been on the release schedule for a long time,” Barbara Orbison says of the project. “Whenever I go to Europe, or when I’m in a record store here, I always find live recordings of Roy that are released by a bootlegger, and they charge so much for it. So I decided to take the four most bootlegged albums and to put them out into one CD set. It will be on the street for $24.98.”
Orbison has spent years poring through her husband’s material, choosing songs and editing out blemishes from the masters — primarily as a favor to his dedicated fan base. “It is truly for the fans,” Barbara says. “I only knew Roy by his live performances, because he didn’t listen to his own recordings. His live shows were so incredible. Each night when he stepped on stage, he just gave it his all. Roy would have cringed to have thought that somebody recorded those shows and then bootlegged them. He used to feel very uneasy when a fan would come and give him a bootleg to autograph. He would say to his manager, ‘Where did this come from?’ But, you know, it was fan-bought, so he had to smile.”
In addition to stamping out bootlegs with this set, Orbison Records has other projects on the burner in varying stages of development. Next up will be the November DVD release of Black and White Night, a star-studded Orbison concert from 1987 featuring Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and k.d. lang.
The four performances included in the box draw attention to Orbison’s reverence for other songwriters. Covers of the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda,” the Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming” and Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper” all appear with Orbison’s inimitable accents. Barbara would like to organize a similar tribute to Roy. “I would love to do a project that’s a tribute to Roy Orbison, the songwriter,” she says. “If you asked Roy, he would have said, ‘I love my voice, I’ve always considered it a gift from God, but sometimes the songwriter Roy Orbison gets angry at the singer Roy Orbison.’ That voice has prevented many contemporaries and new artists from taking a song of his. And Roy would have said he thought the songwriter Roy Orbison was never really as applauded like the singer.”
But such a project hasn’t moved beyond a proposal at this point yet. “There are certain artists and friends that really appreciated Roy that said, ‘Anytime, phone me,'” she says. “But it’s such an undertaking.”
In the meantime, Barbara might look to the vaults again for a tribute by other artists. “I have a great concert, when his friends got together for the Roy Orbison tribute in 1991 at the Universal Ampitheater,” she says. “Everybody from Dwight Yoakam to the Byrds to Pete Townshend to k.d. lang to Bonnie Raitt to NRBQ. And John Fogerty, everybody came. But I haven’t put it on CD form yet.”
This month will also see the launch of a revamped www.orbison.com, run by Orbison fans under the supervision of Barbara Orbison Productions. In addition to information on all things Roy, the site also offers his albums and will include the Bootleg Collection.