Interview

Interview: Alex Orbison on Roy Orbison's MGM Years-part two

Roy Orbison

In part two an SDE exclusive feature (read part one here) to mark the release of the Roy Orbison: The MGM Years 1965-1973 box set and One Of The Lonely Ones album, Alex Orbison talks Elvis’s praise, MGM myths, his father’s phenomenal work ethic, plans for future Roy Orbison releases and more…

alexoIn the words of Alex Orbison…
The thunder

At the famous Overton Park Shell show in Memphis in 1956, Elvis told my dad: “I’ll never follow you on stage.” My dad was a whole other person then – he was running around stage, jumping up and down and playing lead guitar. Then the voice took over and everything else went away.

The jump in the power of his voice from his time at Monument Records to when he moved to MGM Records is astounding. From 1962 or ’63 he was just playing one-off shows or five or ten local dates, not real tours. Then Pretty Woman happened and the superstar Roy Orbison was born, and so the demand to go and play three sets a night.

At Monument, he was an unknown young guy striving to achieve, going for it and sometimes his voice isn’t as powerful. You can really hear in the MGM stuff – when he lets loose – it’s more of a thunder.

Listen to It’s Over (1964) and then Crawling Back which was recorded only a year later, and went onto his second MGM album [The Orbison Way, 1966], and he just goes so far, so high and so long. The difference is really, really amazing. In 1977, my dad went to see Elvis play a show in Vegas, and Elvis told the audience: “There’s Roy Orbison, the greatest singer in the world.”

MGM myths

The liner notes for The MGM Years box set are 60-pages long because no one has previously gone back to the time and checked the facts. The story was “Well, Roy left Monument, the records didn’t sell, and then he wrote himself out, so that by 1970, some records came out where he didn’t even write songs.”

I always work in a forensic way, and one major decision I made was not to listen to the legends and instead first go through the contracts, the tour dates, the recording logs, what had been released and where, and where my dad was at the times. Then I listened to everyone’s stories and tried to deduce what, knowing my dad, seemed closest to the truth.

There was a shift of focus from having singles at Monument to long-play records at MGM. The mode of operations at Monument was to search for singles and then compile them for a long-play record. At MGM, the albums have a lovely cohesiveness in their full form.

One of the biggest changes [when Orbison moved to MGM] was that Fred Foster and Bill Justis, the producer and engineer [respectively] at the Monument sessions, were no longer involved. Most of the other people stayed on for the MGM sessions, though,

MGM have been criticised for the amount of time they spent recording. At some point my dad’s co-writer, Bill Dees, felt rushed, and it came down to one specific incident which got a lot of press, where Roy was going on tour and they wanted a single, and so they had to record it that day. But I found that generally they spent at least as much time in the studio or even more time in some instances doing the recording.

In 1962, Roy was living in Nashville and largely just writing songs, going around town, spending every waking moment looking for these songs. With MGM he had the touring aspect; he wasn’t spending three months working on a single per se, but they were definitely in need of material, because the MGM record contract called for three records a year [Orbison’s contract started on 1 July 1965, so a year from July each year] to be released.

Where you had Roy Orbison releasing one record and then having it out for a year with Monument and having one single, say, he had more singles going in and out of the market [during his time at MGM] and there tended to be some confusion, because London Records distributed Sun Records, Monument and MGM. In 1965, when Roy had an MGM single, Monument would also release a single. In 1966, Monument put out The Very Best of Roy Orbison compilation album. On top of that Sun Records were putting out Orbison releases. Then a suit was filed and an agreement put in place that Monument would have a five-year no-release period.

But [for a while] there was a dilution of sales. His first three long-players were ten, 11, 12 in the UK charts and he was still having Top 40 singles. I feel that his MGM albums would have broken the Top Ten without a doubt, because the aggregate sales were so large.

Work ethic

My dad’s second record in 1972, Memphis, was his first record that didn’t have a Roy Orbison track on it. He had recorded a couple of songs and I guess he didn’t think they were appropriate for the overall LP so he left them off the record. But people go, ‘Yeah, by ’72 Roy’s written himself out, he was over the record deal, and then he just recorded these songs as an album-filler’. What people don’t acknowledge is, starting in 1972 to ’74, my dad went on a world tour that was perhaps his largest to date. The legend was – and I couldn’t get this confirmed – was that he was a candidate at the time to go in the Guinness Book of World Records for touring the most major cities around the world. On top of that, he was also trying to raise a young family, and recording.One thing that completely blew me away listening to the session tapes was his productivity. At no point did he not care. He was so involved, so wanted to do right, and took his job so seriously that he was overworked by any standard and tried to make sure that he brought the best out.

Take the session tapes for Southbound Jericho Parkway, which is like a seven-minute psychedelic odyssey, kind of a wild track, that my dad recorded that in 1969. I would have thought he would have said, “Alright, I want to hear this thing all put together with a scratch vocal so I know where all the parts are, then I’ll listen to, come into the studio and sing over it once”. Instead, Roy was in there for whole seven-hour days – multiple days – doing 40 takes of each individual part of the song to get it right before they put it together. Ridiculous. Even me, I was like ‘Man, take a break, will you? Go get a Coca Cola, let these guys work it out!’

Listening to that just blew me away, realising how hard my dad tried. Roy was definitely giving it his all at every point through this time at MGM and that’s part of the story that has never hit the light of day before.

Reappraisal

I hope that this box set will lead to a reappraisal of the MGM years. MGM was fractured from 1967, the releases were intermittent, and there was a big disappointment in 1972 when the Roy Orbison Sings record, which was supposed to be a comeback, did not do well. So basically the deal was over and it took another year for my dad to get off the record label.

The other thing is that people, such as Fred Foster and Bill Dees, both of whom I love like uncles, had been spurned from the MGM deal. Fred was left behind at Monument. Bill then gotten into odds with Wesley Rose, Roy’s manager, and was eventually kicked out of the vocal booth; sadly, you can hear him with Roy from Pretty Woman all the way until 1969. In unreleased records you can hear him with Roy, then he’s in with the choir and then he’s buried in the mix and then he left.

I know that was heartbreaking for my dad, so the memories of working for MGM were all cast in a somewhat negative light. Everyone was left had a bad taste in their mouth, so my dad never said: “This is good stuff, listen to it.” And Roy Orbison was all about the next record anyway; looking through the windshield and not in the rear-view mirror. No one’s ever said it’s worth giving the MGM stuff a listen before, and there’s 150-odd songs in this collection, with some real gems among them.

Walk On [on Roy Orbison’s Many Moods, 1969] is a song where my dad’s voice could be his absolute strongest ever. Then if you listen objectively and sonically to the unreleased material [on Only The Lonely Ones], some of the songs in there such as Leaving Makes the Rain Come Down, Sweet Memories, along with You’ll Never Walk Alone could be some of the better songs of his whole career. You know, even with Elvis, the Seventies’ era stuff is so fantastic and it is so much different from his earlier music. And if you’re looking for the powerful Roy Orbison voice and Orbisonic songs, with the choir and the strings and all that, there is tons of that from the front to back of the MGM catalogue.

As a family, it’s really some of our favourite stuff that we’d listen to around the house – outside of my dad, because he didn’t sit around listening to Roy Orbison records all day! – but for my mom, Barbara, Wesley, Roy Junior and myself.

Part of me just hopes that people will dig into, explore, find something they like and reappraise it. As a music collector myself, I don’t search out stuff that was the highest charting. I go through that first and then search deeper into the catalogue looking for the gems that people maybe don’t know so much.

Most true art isn’t discovered while the artist is living, and then even after they pass away it takes some time.

When you hear about the MGM records just not selling, the first thing is that every critic puts that up against Oh, Pretty Woman, the outlier of the catalogue which sold however many millions. You have to remember people who were already counting Roy Orbison out after his Greatest Hits record in 1962, saying, ‘Well that was a good run, Roy’. Then came It’s Over and Oh, Pretty Woman [in 1964] so he was already surprising them then.

MGM was a good run, but the 1972 record Roy Orbison Sings was a complete flop – let’s call it what it was – and that had to be heartbreaking for my dad.

I wasn’t as familiar with that record as others, and one of the great things about making this set was going through it and giving it another chance. And charts be damned, there are songs on there that, for me, are among my dad’s best, where his voice is strong from all the touring he did during those years.

tioophoto

In the pipeline

The promised King of Hearts deluxe edition is coming, but the MGM project took up considerably more time than expected, so it did push everything back a good year. It is my goal to have King of Hearts deluxe out within the next two years.

Before then, there will be another deluxe edition on the Sony side of the tracks, coming out in late 2016, early 2017. There is also more MGM material. The reason we called this box set The MGM Years, is because it is going to take us another year to collate the full MGM collection– I found so much more when I went through the source tapes.

For instance, there were a couple of songs that came outside of the record deal that are on The MGM Years because they’re what I consider extras, and if you put all the extras onto the CDs then you can’t print one vinyl record for each, and since we already have 14 vinyl records for a box set it’s already too confusing for the consumer. And it took three years to make this, and if we waited and brought it out in five years, it’d be so heavy you couldn’t pick up the box.

It’s hard to say exactly how it will be packaged together as yet, but there are more MGM masters that were recorded for specific purposes, not just alternate takes and stuff. I think people assumed that we were just going to put out a two-disc set with every unreleased record hodge-podged together, but I felt that would do a disservice to the original intent.

I’m going to try to do the rest of the MGM stuff in another creative way. The important thing is, no fan is ever going to see just a bunch of MGM release songs come out that aren’t attached to anything. It just confuses people, so they’re never going to see all the unreleased songs on one album that comes out. I’m going to go and put them where they’re supposed to be for the validity of the story.

We’re also looking forward to diversifying into areas outside music as well: Roy Orbison books, plays, documentaries, new forms of media… Our goal is also to get Roy more fans in the digital age. The scary thing is a lot of wonderful musicians from the past weren’t being looked after and they didn’t make the jump to My Space, Facebook and onwards. Since I was in young bands at the time and had told Roy Junior about My Space, we got Roy Orbison established on social media early on, then we jumped to Facebook, now we’re on Instagram. I think it’s important because that’s the paper trail, and artists that are missing that boat are going to be obscured forever.


Thanks go to Alex Orbison who was talking to Justyn Barnes for SuperDeluxeEdition. The MGM Years box set and One of the Lonely Ones are out now.

order_links

mgmyears

The MGM Years 1965-1973 / 13CD box

The MGM Years 1965-1973 / 14LP box

oneofthelonely

One of the Lonely Ones / CD Edition

One of the Lonely Ones / Vinyl LP Edition

track_listing

mgmyears

The MGM Years 1965-1973

There Is Only One Roy Orbison (1965)

  1. Ride Away
  2. You Fool You
  3. Two of a Kind
  4. This is Your Song
  5. I’m in a Blue, Blue Mood
  6. If You Can’t Say Something Nice
  7. Claudette
  8. Afraid to Sleep
  9. Sugar and Honey
  10. Summer Love
  11. Big as I Can Dream
  12. Wondering

The Orbison Way (1966)

  1. Crawling Back
  2. It Ain’t No Big Thing (With the Candy Men)
  3. Time Changed Everything (With the Candy Men)
  4. This Is My Land
  5. The Loner
  6. Maybe (With the Candy Men)
  7. Breakin’ Up is Breakin’ My Heart
  8. Go Away (With the Candy Men)
  9. A New Star
  10. Never (With the Candy Men)
  11. It Wasn’t Very Long Ago
  12. Why Hurt the One Who Loves You

The Classic Roy Orbison (1966)

  1. You’ll Never Be Sixteen Again
  2. Pantomime
  3. Twinkle Toes
  4. Losing You
  5. City Life
  6. Wait
  7. Growing Up
  8. Where Is Tomorrow
  9. (No) I’ll Never Get Over You
  10. Going Back to Gloria
  11. Just Another Name for Rock and Roll
  12. Never Love Again

Roy Orbison Sings Don Gibson (1967)

  1. (I’d Be) A Legend in My Time
  2. (Yes) I’m Hurting
  3. The Same Street
  4. Far Far Away
  5. Big Hearted Me
  6. Sweet Dreams
  7. Oh, Such A Stranger
  8. Blue, Blue, Day
  9. What About Me
  10. Give Myself A Party
  11. Too Soon to Know
  12. Lonesome Number One

The Fastest Guitar Alive (Soundtrack, 1967)

  1. Whirlwind
  2. Medicine Man
  3. River
  4. The Fastest Guitar Alive
  5. Rollin’ On
  6. Pistolero
  7. Good Time Party
  8. Heading South
  9. Best Friend
  10. There Won’t Be Many Coming Home

Cry Softly Lonely One (1967)

  1. She
  2. Communication Breakdown
  3. Cry Softly Lonely One
  4. Girl Like Mine
  5. It Takes One (To Know One)
  6. Just Let Me Make Believe
  7. Here Comes the Rain Baby
  8. That’s A No No
  9. Memories
  10. Time to Cry
  11. Only Alive

Roy Orbison’s Many Moods (1969)

  1. Truly, Truly True
  2. Unchained Melody
  3. I Recommend Her
  4. More
  5. Heartache
  6. Amy
  7. Good Morning, Dear
  8. What Now, My Love
  9. Walk On
  10. Yesterday’s Child
  11. Try to Remember

Hank Williams The Roy Orbison Way (1970)

  1. Kaw-Liga
  2. Hey, Good Lookin’
  3. Jambalaya
  4. (Last Night) I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep
  5. You Win Again
  6. Your Cheatin’ Heart
  7. Cold, Cold Heart
  8. A Mansion on the Hill
  9. I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)
  10. There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight
  11. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

The Big O (1970)

  1. Break My Mind
  2. Help Me Rhonda
  3. Only You
  4. Down the Line
  5. Money
  6. When I Stop Dreaming
  7. Loving Touch
  8. Land of 1,000 Dances
  9. Scarlet Ribbons
  10. She Won’t Hang Her Love Out (On the Line)
  11. Casting My Spell On You
  12. Penny Arcade

Roy Orbison Sings (1972)

  1. God Love You
  2. Beaujolais
  3. If Only for Awhile
  4. Rings of Gold
  5. Help Me
  6. Plain Jane Country (Come to Town)
  7. Harlem Woman
  8. Cheyenne
  9. Changes
  10. It Takes All Kinds of People
  11. Remember The Good

Memphis (1972)

  1. Memphis, Tennessee
  2. Why A Woman Cries
  3. Run, Baby, Run (Back into My Arms)
  4. Take Care of Your Woman
  5. I’m The Man On Susie’s Mind
  6. I Can’t Stop Loving You
  7. Run The Engines Up High
  8. It Ain’t No Big Thing
  9. I Fought the Law
  10. The Three Bells
  11. Danny Boy

Milestones (1973)

  1. I Wanna Live
  2. You Don’t Know Me
  3. California Sunshine Girl
  4. Words
  5. Blue Rain (Coming Down)
  6. Drift Away
  7. You Lay So Easy On My Mind
  8. The World You Live In
  9. Sweet Caroline
  10. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
  11. The Morning After

MGM B-Sides And Singles (2015) (double LP in vinyl box set, 1 disc in CD box set)

  1. So Good
  2. Born to Be Loved by You
  3. Shy Away
  4. Flowers
  5. Sugar Man
  6. My Friend
  7. Southbound Jericho Parkway
  8. Tennessee Owns My Soul
  9. She Cheats On Me
  10. How Do You Start Over
  11. So Young
  12. If I Had a Woman Like You
  13. (Love Me Like You Did It) Last Night
  14. Close Again
  15. I Can Read Between the Lines
  16. Sooner or Later

oneofthelonely

One of the Lonely Ones

  1. You’ll Never Walk Alone
  2. Say No More
  3. Leaving Makes the Rain Come Down
  4. Sweet Memories
  5. Laurie
  6. One of the Lonely Ones
  7. Child Woman, Woman Child
  8. Give Up
  9. The Defector
  10. Little Girl (In The Big City)
  11. After Tonight
  12. I Will Always

pre-order

mgmyears

The MGM Years 1965-1973 / 13CD box

The MGM Years 1965-1973 / 14LP box

oneofthelonely

One of the Lonely Ones / CD Edition

One of the Lonely Ones / Vinyl LP Edition

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11 responses to Interview: Alex Orbison on Roy Orbison's MGM Years-part two

  1. Martin Stacey says:

    Great stuff, thanks. Glad there is more coming.

  2. Galley says:

    I recently purchased the first three Moument albums on CD for my Dad. Sony/Legacy appears to have done a nice job with them, but I find it odd that they didn’t do “Orbisongs”. The Monument Years were recently released on vinyl and digital download, but not CD.
    I’m also looking forward to the Deluxe Edition of King Of Hearts.

  3. Dave says:

    Great insight to Roy’s time at MGM. So looking forward to the upcoming projects. Not sure what “….there will be another deluxe edition on the Sony side of the tracks” could be though?

    The MGM Years is a fantastic set. Thank you Roys Boys.

    • Brian says:

      Well, Sony owns the Monument albums, so since they skipped Orbisongs in USA so far, I’d guess that it’s that one. Seriously, how could they have skipped the “Pretty Woman” album up to this point?
      If it’s not that, then a much less likely possibility is the complete Monument albums in the same vein as the MGM years, which might include the ’70s Monument album never before on CD, Regeneration.
      My bet is on Orbisongs though.

  4. Shane says:

    Another great insight into the production of sets like these. I may very well purchase this after a trial test listen somewhere. Thanks

  5. Runicen says:

    Thanks for posting a great interview. I’m not even a Roy Orbison fan and this makes me want to pick up the MGM Years set.

  6. ab roos says:

    I really enjoy all the MGM albums in 2015 and I remember buying There is only one Roy Orbison in 1965 for the first time.How happy I was then and 50 years later I am happy again.The sound is brilliant.It is labor of love.Thanks Alex and all the others who were involved in this project.
    And to see my name in the booklet is a complete surprise and a real honor.

  7. Brian McCallum says:

    Looking forward to the promised new releases. The boys have done a great job so far in keeping the great mans music alive. I only hope that in whatever way the rest of the MGM stuff comes out, that we get to hear all of it. I will take Roys music in any shape or form, finished or unfinished, full song or bits and pieces. I just love the mans passion and vocal genius. Well done Alex, Wesley and Roy Junior.

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