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Roy Orbison Biography

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Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988), nicknamed "The Big O", was an influential American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll whose recording career spanned more than four decades. By the mid-1960s Orbison was internationally recognized for his ballads of lost love, rhythmically advanced melodies, characteristic dark sunglasses, and occasional distinctive usage of falsetto, typified in songs such as "Only The Lonely", "In Dreams", "Oh, Pretty Woman", "Crying" and "Running Scared". In 1987 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and posthumously in 1989 into the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Two misconceptions about Orbison's appearance continue to surface: that he was an albino, and that he wore his trademark dark glasses because he was blind or nearly so. Neither is correct, although his poor vision required him to wear thick corrective lenses. From childhood he suffered from a combination of hyperopia, severe astigmatism, anisometropia, and strabismus. Orbison's trademark sunglasses were a fashion statement arising from an incident early in his career. Orbison had left his regular glasses in an airplane. Due to go onstage in a few minutes and unable to see without corrective lenses, his only other pair of glasses were dark prescription sunglasses. "I had to see to get onstage", so he wore the glasses throughout his tour with the Beatles, and he continued the practice for the remainder of his professional career. "I'll just do this and look cool."

Orbison is best remembered for his ballads of lost love, and in the music community he is revered for his song writing ability. Record producer and Orbison fan Don Was, commenting on Orbison's writing skills, said: "He defied the rules of modern composition." Writer of many lyrics for Elton John, Bernie Taupin and others referred to Orbison as far ahead of the times, creating lyrics and music in a manner that broke with all traditions. Roy Orbison's vocal range was impressive (three octaves), and his songs were melodically and rhythmically advanced and lyrically sophisticated. Three songs written and recorded by Orbison, "Only The Lonely," "Oh, Pretty Woman," and "Crying," are in the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone named those three songs plus "In Dreams" on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." In 1989 he was inducted posthumously into the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame.

From the stage in Las Vegas in 1976, Elvis Presley called Orbison "the greatest singer in the world" , and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees referred to him as the "Voice of God." Multiple Academy Award–winning songwriter Will Jennings ("My Heart Will Go On," from the Titanic soundtrack) called him a "poet, a songwriter, a vision," after working with him and co-writing "Wild Hearts." Bob Dylan, later a bandmate of Orbison's in the Traveling Wilburys, wrote "Orbison … transcended all the genres. … With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. … [He sang] his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal. … His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, 'Man, I don't believe it.' His songs had songs within songs. Orbison was deadly serious–no pollywog and no fledgling juvenile. There wasn't anything else on the radio like him."

The seminal punk band The Ramones adapted some of his ballad style, as well as dress style.
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