Established American singer Roy Orbison was a little put out when he was asked to tour with the Beatles.
The man behind the classic hits Crying, Only the Lonely, Running Scared and Oh Pretty Woman, was always the headline act in the USA.
But all that changed when he agreed to replace Duane Eddy on a UK tour with a group of British artists from May to June 1963.
Instead of closing the show, Orbison was bumped up the order so the Beatles could take the prime end spot.
Also on the bill were Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers, singer David Macbeth and one-hit wonder Louise Cordet, known for her single I’m Just a Baby released in 1962.
Things came to a head before the tour’s opening night of May 18th 1963 in the unlikely setting of the Adelphi Theatre, Slough.
A bemused Orbison apparently asked ‘What’s a Beatle, anyway?’ to which John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and replied: ‘I am’.
Unperturbed, Orbison played 14 encores before Lennon and Paul McCartney physically restrained him from going back on stage – such was his popularity.
The tour reached the Liverpool Empire on May 26th, by which time the Beatles had formed a deep respect for Orbison and his music.
He forged a strong friendship with George Harrison which would later see the pair playing together in the 1980s’ band the Travelling Wilburys along with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty.
Born in Vernon, Texas, in April 1936, Orbison sang with a country and western band as a teenager before being signed by Sun Records in 1956.
He worked with Monument Records from 1960 to 1966 – an extraordinary period in his career when 22 of his singles reached the US Billboard Top 40.
Naturally shy and plagued with stage fright, Orbison chose to appear on stage wearing black clothes to match his dyed black hair and dark glasses. He sang about vulnerability and emotional pain.
After the 1963 Beatles tour, Orbison visited the UK more regularly. Like the Fab four, he was besieged by teenage girls. In Ireland the adulation got so intense that police had to stop concerts to remove fans from the stage.
Orbison travelled further afield with the Rolling Stones in 1965 to play Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. He had already toured the countries previously with the Beach Boys.
Also in 1965, Orbison was pictured with Marianne Faithfull, the future partner of Rolling Stones’ lead singer Mick Jagger. She even managed to remove his semi-permanent dark glasses.
Tragedy struck Orbison’s life in June 1966 when his wife Claudette died in a motorcycle accident. Two years later, in September 1968, his two eldest sons, Roy Duane and Tony, were killed in a house.
In an awful foreshadowing of his wife’s accident, Orbison broke his foot after falling off a motorcycle in front of thousands of fans on a UK racetrack in early 1966. He had to perform subsequent shows in a cast.
On May 1st 1966, one month before his wife’s death, Orbison joined the Beatles in one of the greatest UK concert line-ups of all time.
The occasion was the New Musical Express Poll-winners concert at the Empire Pool, Wembley. Also on the bill were the Walker Brothers, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Spencer Davis Group, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Dusty Springfield and the Small Faces.
Most importantly, the event in front of 10,000 screaming teenagers, was the Beatles’ final scheduled live performance in Britain.
The group only performed live together again in the impromptu session on top of the Apple building in London in January 1969.
After a nine-year lull, Orbison was back in the North West in August 1975 with his new wife Barbara Jakobs to record a landmark TV concert at Belle Vue, Manchester.
It appeared to be a turning point as a compilation album of Orbison’s greatest hits went to Number One in the UK charts in January 1976 and he toured with the Eagles for much of the year after that.
In 1987, Orbison joined Elvis Costello (who formed his first band in Liverpool) at a star-studded concert filmed at the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub in Los Angeles.
Also in the line-up were Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes and Tom Waits. An emotional Orbison told all the artists: ‘If there is anything I can ever do for you, please call me’.
Orbison died of a heart attack a year later on December 6th 1988. He was 52.
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