Weatherford resident talks about life with his rock 'n’ roll dad
by Terry Evans
Wes Orbison, right, is interviewed by Dave Cowley for a radio show. (Photo by Terry Evans)
Preparing a program acknowledging the anniversary of Roy Orbison’s death, Cowley interviewed the songwriter’s oldest son. The Weatherford resident’s stories are interwoven with his dad’s music on a two-hour tape. Cowley said it should air at 6 p.m. this Saturday on KYQX 89.5 FM, if it isn’t pre-empted by a Lady Roos state-championship softball tournament.
Roy Orbison died of a heart attack Dec. 6, 1988, at his mother’s home in Hendersonville, Tenn.
"This year is the 20th anniversary of Dad’s passing," Wes Orbison said. "They recently released the Essential Roy Orbison CD that is a career-spanning compilation of about 30 or so songs. It starts with the early years at Sun Records and goes through the Monument and MGM years all the way to his last deal with Virgin Records. On that CD is the song I wrote for him, The Only One."
Orbison, who settled in Weatherford in 2006, told Cowley that his mother, Claudette, was the inspiration for Pretty Woman, one of his dad’s biggest hits. He said the song was born when his dad was sitting in their living room with fellow songwriter Bill Dees.
"She came through wanting to go shopping and asked Dad for money," he said. "Bill Dees said 'a pretty woman shouldn’t need money.’ Then he said 'Wouldn’t that make a good song title?’
"Dad said 'I don’t know about that, but Pretty Woman sure would.’ By the time she got back from the store they had the song written for her."
The song inspired a box office-smash movie starring Julia Roberts and Richard Geer. But the movie didn’t impress Orbison’s grandmother.
"My little grandmother was sitting with me when it came on the TV, and I said we had to watch it because dad’s song was in it," he said. "Just a few minutes into it she was looking for the remote. She said 'I don’t want to watch this ’cause they’re making that girl out to be a prostitute.’ She knew the song was about my mother, and she didn’t like what the movie did with the character."
But Claudette Orbison, who died in a 1966 motorcycle accident, also was the inspiration for Claudette. The song was a blip on Roy Orbison’s hit list, but became a huge hit for the Everly Brothers, Cowley said.
Losing his mom was the first of tragedies that marked Wes Orbison’s early life.
"Two years later we had a house fire that killed my two older brothers," he said. "It was a custom-built home, and the front doors opened to the inside. That was an obstacle when the house was burning."
Orbison said his grandparents were taking care of him and his brothers while their dad was on tour. Trying to escape the fire, the five of them "got in a tug of war with the door and couldn’t get it open."
Ultimately, the doors exploded open, Orbison said.
"When it did, it blew me and my grandmother and grandfather, holding me in his arms, into the front yard. My two older brothers, Roy Dewayne and Tony, were thrown back into the house. They didn’t make it out."
Orbison said that, despite tragedies, he has many good memories from his early life as well.
For instance, Johnny Cash bought a house across the street from his grandparents’ home, and became one of Wes Orbison’s inspirations.
"Growing up in Hendersonville was terrific," he said. "Next to the house was a game reserve that had every kind of animal you could name."
In school, Orbison said classmates openly wondered what his family was like, but misunderstood who his father was.
"They’d say 'Isn’t your dad that country music star?’" he said. "I’d have to pause and say he never had a hit country record at that time. We didn’t go to the football games as father and son, didn’t do the things around town that others did. Some people figured he thought he was too good. It wasn’t that; he was just always on tour."
On his memories surrounding the song Crying, Orbison said he hadn’t been asked about that a lot in the dozens of interviews he’s done about his dad.
"I remember him saying that it wasn’t cool to wear sunglasses at night and also not cool for a man to cry," he said. "But he got away with both of those. I also remember an interview he did when he said that the song was from a true experience."
But the Roy Orbison song that probably is his son’s favorite is Working for the Man.
"I really like that one," he said. "He wrote it about his dad, Orby Lee, a foreman in an oil field. Dad went out on the job with him for a day, and I think they caught him napping under the water tower. Needless to say he wasn’t cut out for that work."
The nut didn’t fall far from the pecan tree. Wes Orbison is still writing songs, and stays active in the industry by playing bass with "an old rock and roll band called Stage 3. We’re going to play in Wink, Texas, where Dad went to high school. We’ll play the third week in June for Roy Orbison Day there. Our guitar player, Sonny Bachman, booked that gig because he thought it would be cool."
Orbison said he has mixed emotions about the gig.
"It’s all fine and good to have a father who’s an icon," he said. "But it would have been nice just to have Dad with me at times, too."
Orbison said it’s gratifying when people tell him what his dad’s music meant to them.
"It’s easy to relate to because I listened to all those albums faithfully while I was growing up," he said. "Then he recorded a song of mine and established me as a songwriter. The Only One went on the Mystery Girl album in 1988, the year he died."
Orbison said the timing of his dad’s death was ironic.
"He had just told me he was going to spend a whole week with me for the first time in my life," he said. "He died that night."
Weatherford Telegram, May. 28, 2008-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(Thank you so much, Barb!)