Roy Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) passed away from a heart attack 25 years ago today at the age of 52 after having dinner at his mother’s home. He mentioned to his long time friend Johnny Cash that he was having chest pains but his busy schedule caused him to put off seeing his doctor. Elvis Presley claimed Orbison was simply “the greatest singer in the world”, a sentiment that U2‘s Bono and countless others share. He recorded at the legendary Sun Studios with Sam Phillips, toured with The Beatles (or rather, they toured with him) and was a founding member of the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. If you look at a road map of the history of rock & roll there is a very smooth road called “Roy Orbison.”
A common question I’m asked is whom I consider the nicest person I have worked with and for years my stock answer was “Roy Orbison.” I literally have pictures of him kissing babies at the shoot. This entry isn’t as much about Roy Orbison as it is about the what happened after the shoot.
I was introduced to Roy Orbison when he was enjoying a new generation of fans during the Wilbury period. I was later commissioned by Virgin Records to photograph him for the packaging for what turned out to be his last studio album King of Hearts.
The shoot went well and sadly the album was released posthumously. When the label was supposed to return my original film they realized it had gone missing. Storerooms and production areas were turned upside down and eventually we had to face the fact that the originals were gone.
Ten years after that shoot I was purchasing a home and was dreading the fact that I would have to remove the tenant to whom it was rented. Just before my realtor and I went to do the walk thru I was told that the tenant was a photographer. Now I was going to have to evict a fellow shooter? Ouch.
As we arrived we were greeted by the tenant and I noticed a single 16×20 black and white print framed on the wall. After making small talk for a while I asked about the photo and he detailed his experience executing the shoot . After discussing photography for a while he asked what I did and I told him I was also a photographer. When he asked my name he got visibly anxious and started to trip over his words. As we left my realtor said “I didn’t realize you were so well known, did you see how he reacted when he learned who you were?” I explained to him that the only reason the tenant knew my name was that he knew who took that photo of Roy Orbison on his wall.
After a quick call to Virgin to see if they had ever heard of him I was informed that he had been an intern in their art department and I told them where they could likely find my originals. I had the film back two days later and I had a signed original print delivered to his door. Now he had two prints…but only one had an eviction notice printed on the back.
Message sent. Message received.
Thanks Roy for making that easy.