Roy Orbison – Ooby Dooby

4th January 2022 · 1950s, 1956, Music, Rockabilly
Roy Orbison is another of those old-timers who I grew up thinking of as a career crooner – at least until I saw him live a year before his death after belatedly discovering his early rockabilly tunes.

This was his first single for them, recorded at Sun Studios in 1956. It’s no lyrical masterpiece but it really rocks – as does the B-side, Go Go Go.

It showcases the two things that made him special – his smooth voice and his underappreciated guitar playing, especially in those two short but skilful solos.

Orbison was a child prodigy, raised on country music (he especially loved Lefty Frizell) in a small Texas town called Wink, who had performed on local radio since the age of eight.

He formed his first band – The Wink Westerners – when he was 13 and they won a talent contest that earned them a weekly appearance on local TV.

One week they were joined on the show by Johnny Cash, who advised the young singer to approach Sam Phillips at Sun Studios. He did – and got a knockback from Phillips, who told him curtly that “Johnny Cash doesn’t run my record company.”

Orbison then gave up music and went to university, planning to work in the oil industry that dominated the area. But after seeing Elvis perform, and his fellow student Pat Boone leave to become a pop star, he dropped out of uni and rekindled his musical ambitions.

Orbison formed a new band, The Teen Kings, and recorded this song, Ooby Dooby, written by two of his fellow students, on the local Je-Wel label in March 1956.

He got his break when a local record store owner played it down the phone to his friend Sam Phillips, who swallowed his pride and signed the band to Sun Records, asking them to re-record the song.

It was only a minor hit, and he fared no better with subsequent Sun singles, but stayed with the label, writing songs for other artists (The Everly Brothers had success with Claudette, written about his future wife) until 1958.

Moving to Monument Records, The Big O became a big star in the Sixties, singing big emotional ballads, with his signature style of black suit, black hair and sunglasses.

He had a mid-career dip but his career was revived when his early hit In Dreams was famously featured in the David Lynch film Blue Velvet in 1986, mimed by Dean Stockwell.

Orbison then enjoyed a late career renaissance, re-recording his old material for a greatest hits album, hosting an all-star concert (Roy Orbison & Friends) and forming the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty).

In December 1988, just weeks after the release of their first album – and one year after I saw him live at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden – Roy Orbison died of a heart attack. He was 52.