#873: Only With You 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 “Crying”, “Dream Baby and many other Top 40 singles. Roy Orbison was one of the few hit-makers to hold his ground, increasing his popularity despite the British Invasion. “It’s Over” went #1 in the UK and Ireland in the spring of 1964. His next single that year, “Oh Pretty Woman”, was his biggest all-time hit. Orbison toured Australia with the Beach Boys in 1964 and internationally with the Rolling Stones ’65. While he toured with the Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison had several single releases. One of these was “Only With You”.
“Only With You” is a song about being in love and the endless sense of what is possible with that love to anchor one’s life. Knowing the one you love has your back can provide an enhanced confidence and willingness to reach for the stars. The singer believes they can be good at anything they attempt, even painting the sky. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has been found in the love they share with their one and only. Conversely, there is an apprehension that if this one true love should come to harm or the relationship end, the singer’s world would come to an end. The kind of relationship Roy Orbison is singing about offers that there is only one person out there for us and without that one and only, once single again we become nothing at all. It is true that the power of love, having someone who brings out the best in us, is transformative. However, it’s also true that all relationships come to an end, as even with couples who last for many decades, one person will outlast the other. And often the surviving spouse or partner finds their feet and moves on, sometimes even finding someone new to settle down with.
In her book, How to Fall in Love with Anyone, Mandy Len Catron persuasively explores the fluid possibilities of falling in love and concludes that, while we can’t fall in love with any random stranger we meet, there are a lot more people out there who could fill the bill.
“Only With You” was the B-side to “Goodnight”. As a B-side it only charted in a few radio markets, including Vancouver (BC), Seattle and Calgary, Alberta. Vancouver was the only radio market where the song climbed into the Top Ten.
In 1966, Orbison’s wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident. In 1968, tragedy struck again when two of his three children died in a fire that burned down his house in Hendersonville, Tennessee. In the 1980’s Roy Orbison enjoyed a resurgence of interest. 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.
December 13, 2017
Tara Henley, “Mandy Len Catron Courting Curiosity Over Modern Love,” Toronto Star, June 23, 2017.
Roy Orbison Official Biography, Roy Orbison.com
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, March 13, 1965.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.