#1133: Communication Breakdown by Roy Orbison
Roy Kelton Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas in 1936. When he turned six his dad gave him a guitar. Both his dad, Orbie Lee, and uncle Charlie Orbison, taught him how to play. Though his family moved to Forth Worth for work at a munitions factory, Roy was sent to live with his grandmother due to a polio outbreak in 1944. That year he wrote his first song “A Vow of Love”. The next year he won a contest on Vernon radio station KVWC and was offered his own radio show on Saturdays. After the war his family reunited and moved to Wink, Texas, where Roy formed his first band, in 1949, called The Wink Westerners.
From 1951 into the mid-50s The Wink Westerners appeared with Roy Orbison on KERB in Kermit, Texas. The band performed at school assemblies and country jamborees sponsored by KERB. In 1953 they played at an International Lions Club Convention in Chicago. After high school, Roy Orbison met two friends in college named Wade Lee Moore and Dick Penner. They’d written a song called “The Ooby Dooby”. The Wink Westerners began to include the song in their performances, including on a TV show on KMID in Midland, which won them a half hour Friday night slot on KMID.
With the advent of Rock and Roll, the Wink Westerners renamed themselves The Teen Kings. In addition to the TV show on KMID, TV station KOSA in Odessa, Texas, gave them a half hour slot on Saturday afternoons. The CBS affiliate also had Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley guest star on Roy Orbison’s KOSA TV show. Johnny Cash got Orbison in touch with Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis. Orbison called Phillips who hung up the phone saying, “Johnny Cash doesn’t run my record company.”
Orbison had been approached by owners of Je-Wel Records who wanted The Teen Kings to make a record. The session took place in early March, 1956. This time, Roy and The Teen Kings, recorded The Clover’s “Trying to Get to You” and “Ooby Dooby”. The single was released March 19, 1956. That same day, Orbison took a copy to Cecil “Poppa” Hollifield in Odessa. He was a well-know record dealer in West Texas. “Poppa” Hollifield liked the record and played it on the phone to one of his connections in Memphis. The guy on the other side of the line asked him to send him a copy. His name was Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records. A few days later “Poppa” telephoned Roy to say that Phillips wanted the Teen Kings in Memphis in three days to record for Sun Records. Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings arrived in Memphis on Monday, March 26, 1956. The next day they re-recorded “Ooby Dooby”. Bob Neal, owner of Starts Inc., signed the group to a booking and management contract. They kicked off with an experimental tour of Southern drive-in movies theaters, performing on the projection house roofs between film showings. Most of the time touring with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, Faron Young, Johnny Horton and then Jerry Lee Lewis and other Country and Rockabilly stars. “Ooby Dooby” peaked at #59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 in Vancouver. However, follow-up singles failed to chart. The Teen Kings split up in December 1956 and Orbison stayed at Sun until 1958.
In March 1958, Roy Orbison was offered a spot on an Everly Brothers show in Hammond, Indiana. The Everlys needed a song for their new single and they asked Roy if he had anything. He sang his new composition “Claudette” and they asked him to write the words down. So he did, on the top of a shoebox. Soon Orbison was signed to Acuff-Rose Music Publishing in Nashville, and he also got a contract with RCA Victor where he briefly worked with Chet Atkins. The Everly’s “Claudette” was the B-side of “All I Have To Do Is Dream”. The A side went to #1 while “Claudette” climbed to #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to #1 in Vancouver. Orbison had more of his songs recorded by Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Ricky Nelson and Cliff Richard.
By the fall of 1959 Orbison got a new record contract with Monument Records. They released “Uptown” which had strings as opposed to fiddles, which were not very common in Nashville. It was Orbison’s biggest hit since “Ooby Dooby”. But his next release was a smash hit. “Only The Lonely” Climbed to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, #2 in Vancouver and #1 in the UK. His follow-up single, “Blue Angel”, gave Orbison his first #1 hit in Vancouver, while peaking at #9 in the USA and #11 in the UK.
Orbison had another #1 hit in April 1961 here in Vancouver and in the USA with “Running Scared”. The song debuted at #11 on CKWX and #9 on CFUN. It climbed to #1 on April 15, 1961, on CKWX topping the charts for three weeks. The songs’ production and the performance were unusual for the time, as Monument Records was willing to spend more money on production than many other record labels.
The hits kept on coming for Roy Orbison with “Love Hurts“, “Crying”, “Dream Baby”, “In Dreams”, “Candy Man” and many other Top 40 singles, including “Falling” and “The Actress”. On October 27, 1963, Roy Orbison appeared for his first time in concert in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. In 1964, Roy Orbison topped the charts in the USA and Vancouver with “Oh, Pretty Woman”. He also had a Top Ten hit with “It’s Over” in the spring of ’64. On November 28, 1965, Roy Orbison returned to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
In 1964, Roy Orbison topped the charts in the USA and Vancouver with “Oh, Pretty Woman”. He also had a Top Ten hit with “It’s Over” in the spring of ’64.
In June 1966, Orbison’s wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Tennessee. And Orbison had released ten singles since “Oh Pretty Woman” topped the pop charts. But only two of these had cracked the Top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100, with “Goodnight” charting best to peak at #21. His final single release in 1966 was “Communication Breakdown”.
“Communication Breakdown” was co-written by Roy Orbison and Bill Dees. Dees was born in the Texas Panhandle in 1939. He co-wrote numbers of songs that Roy Orbison recorded. These include “Oh Pretty Woman”, “It’s Over”, “Ride Away”, “Crawling Back”, “Twinkle Toes”, “(Say) You’re My Girl“, “Breaking Up Is Breaking My Heart”, “Borne On The Wind”, “Goodnight” and “Only With You“. Dees continued to co-write songs Orbison released as singles into the late 60’s, though these were less successful, as Roy Orbison was out of synch with the summer of love and psychedelic rock.
“Communication Breakdown” is a song about a couple that is being worn away from one another by factors in their lives. These include worry, always being in a hurry, never having time to be close to one another – to walk, to talk. Now the sense that the relationship has broken down, and is “all over” hangs in the air. An identically titled song by Led Zeppelin was released in early 1969 pleading “Hey girl, stop what you’re doin’,” in reference to communication problems.
In 1968, tragedy struck again when two of his three children died in a fire that burned down his house in Hendersonville, Tennessee. On June 13, 1976, Roy Orbison returned to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in concert.
In the 1980’s Roy Orbison enjoyed a resurgence of interest. He regularly performed in concert in Vancouver throughout the decade. On June 25, 1981, Orbison gave a concert at the Orpheum. The following January 17th, 1982, he was in concert at The Cave. Three years later he appeared at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on June 22, 1984. During Vancouver’s centennial anniversary in 1986, Orbison was at the Expo Theatre on August 10th. And on September 3, 1987, he returned to the Orpheum. His ninth and final concert was at the Expo Theatre on May 28, 1988.
A duet of “Crying” with k.d. Lang climbed to #2 nationally on the RPM Canadian singles chart, though only to #35 on CKLG in February 1988. Orbison won a Grammy Award for the duet. Next, Orbison sang with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, in a group called the Traveling Wilburys. Their single, “Handle With Care”, climbed to #9 in Vancouver and #45 on the Billboard Hot 100. Roy Orbison died dead at 52 from a heart attack on December 6, 1988. In April, 1989, his posthumous single, “You Got It”, climbed to #6 on CKLG in Vancouver.
In January 2018 it was announced that Roy Orbison will be going on tour again, in hologram form. On November 23, 2018, a vinyl double album titled Unchained Melodies: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be released. It includes “Falling” as one of its tracks. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has previously released three albums featuring songs by Elvis Presley. And in 2017 there was a release of the album titled A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It featured “Love Hurts“, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, and others.
January 11, 2020
Cherie Hu, “30 Years After His Death, Roy Orbison Is Going On Tour Again – In Hologram Form,” Billboard, Los Angeles, January 11, 2018
Steve Pond, “Roy Orbison’s Triumphs and Tragedies,” Rolling Stone, January 26, 1989.
Unchained Melodies: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sony Music, November 23, 2018.
A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sony Music, November 3, 2017.
“Roy Orbison Concerts – Canada,” Setlist.fm.
“Boss Thirty,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 31, 1966.
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