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(Credit: Jac. de Nijs / Anefo)

Music

Watch Roy Orbison’s final interview, recorded two days before his death

@SamWKemp

Roy Orbison’s impact on popular music should not be understated. His iconic blend of R&B and country saw him rival Elvis as post-war America’s rock ‘n’ roll darling and endures to this day. In honour of the man who inspired some of The Beatles’ earliest hits, we’ve trawled the archives to bring you this haunting interview, given two days before Orbison’s death in December 1988, just a year after he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Before Beatlemania, there was Orbison. The musician came to embody a new vitality in the world of music, earning a reputation for boasting one of the most powerful voices in the music industry. The ‘Fab Four‘ were huge fans of Roy’s songwriting and invited him to open for them on their English tour. The story goes that Orbison had performed 14 encores before The Beatles had even made it on stage. Now that’s a hard act to follow.

Despite his unassuming fashion sense and famously lifeless performance style, Orbison became something of a sex symbol in the 1960s. “He never even twitched,” George Harrison would later recall of Orbison’s stage presence. “He was like marble.” But what Roy lacked in moves, he more than made up for with his distinctive vocal style. It was Elvis himself who called Orbison the “greatest singer in the world”. But for Roy, performance always came second to songcraft. “To be a songwriter-singer,” he told Jim Sulivan, “Means the songs come from deep within and you treat them as an artist, with that much respect. I couldn’t hardly cheat myself.”

24 years after his last top ten hit, Orbison returned to the charts with The Traveling Wilbury’s, a trans-Atlantic supergroup comprised of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and, of course, Orbison himself. In this footage – taken in 1988 – the singer-songwriter seems to be looking forward to his upcoming shows with The Wilbury’s, not knowing that his next performance with the group will be his last. On December 4th, 1988, Orbison performed at the Front Row Theatre in Highland Heights, Ohio. After the show, he returned home to Hendersonville to rest for a few days before flying back to London to film an additional two videos for The Wilbury’s. He spent December 6th flying model aeroplanes with his friend Benny Birchfield. That evening, he travelled to his mother’s house, where he died of a heart attack at the age of 52.

Orbison’s death shocked the world. Travelling Wilbury’s member Tom Petty once recalled the haunting remark George Harrison made shortly after the news broke. Petty was awoken by a call from his management informing him about Orbison’s death. “The next call was George, and I don’t even know if I should say what he said to me, but I will anyway,” Petty laughed. “When I came to the phone, he said, ‘Aren’t you glad it’s not you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah I am’, and he said, ‘It’ll be OK, it’ll be OK, he’s still around. Just listen. That was all he had to say about it.”

See the clip, below.