The Soul of Rock and Roll (Monument/Orbison/Legacy) marks the first comprehensive collection of Roy Orbison’s career, and hearing the Vernon native’s work in sequence over four CDs is eye-opening. His operatic High Plains voice shines through the early bare-bones, amphetamine-paced sessions with Norman Petty and Sam Phillips. Yet moving from these to his Monument Records years (1959–1964) is akin to watching your black and white TV morph into a sixty-inch plasma right before you. There’s “Running Scared,” “In Dreams,” “Crying,” “Blue Bayou” (this was a B-side?); no one made records like this or has since. That such wide-screen works were live-in-the-studio creations makes them even more astounding. Personal tragedy derailed Orbison’s career for much of the seventies (his first wife died in a motorcycle crash, and he lost two of his three sons in a house fire), but he had an unprecedented comeback in the eighties with the Traveling Wilburys and superstar producers T Bone Burnett, Don Was, and Jeff Lynne. It’s mostly all here (regrettably, there’s only one Wilburys track), including twelve unreleased demos and live recordings, among them a fiery “Tutti Frutti” and a version of “It’s Over” that was made in 1988, just days before a heart attack ended the life of this Texas great.
From the February 2003 Issue Subscribe