Dees co-wrote nearly 70 songs with Orbison, and also wrote songs recorded by Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Glen Campbell.
Born in Texas, Dees began playing ukulele when he was 5, according to a bio on his website. He first met Orbison as a teenager in the late Fifties when his high school band, the Five Bops, was invited to open for the singer at a pair of shows in Texas. The pair started writing songs together in 1962 after Dees, then married with kids, reintroduced himself to Orbison at a party after the singer performed in Dees’ hometown in Texas, and finagled an invitation to Nashville.
The 1964 single “It’s Over” was their first hit, reaching the top 10 in the U.S. and Number One in Britain. Their next hit was “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which Orbison’s wife, Claudette, inspired when she came into the room to inform Orbison she was going to the store. Orbison asked if she needed money, and Dees cracked, “Pretty woman never needs any money.” It’s said they wrote most of the song before Claudette Orbison returned from the store. They recorded it the following week, and released it as a single the week after that. (Dees has said he sang an uncredited harmony vocal on the track.)
The song was a massive hit, reaching the top of the charts in 22 countries. It also allowed Dees to quit his day job working at a warehouse to touring as part of Orbison’s band during a year that included two trips to Europe, a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show and appearances on British TV with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
Other songs the pair co-wrote included “Born on the Wind,” “Crawling Back,” “Communication Breakdown” and “So This Is Love.”
Dees died October 24th in Mountain Home, where he had lived since 1989. No cause of death was listed.