Roy Orbison was born 79 years ago this week. Hardcore rock and roll fans (leather jacket, sideburns, Triumph cycles, etc.) still hold Orbison in high regard as a writer and guitar player, not to mention the greatest vocalist in rock and roll. His favorite guitar to compose with? His early 60s Epiphone Bard. Chalk up another one for the House of Stathopoulo.
Late last year, Third Man Records released a second batch of Sun Records 45s featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, D.A. Hunt, and our own Roy Orbison
with his classic "Rockhouse" with "You're My Baby" on the flipside. Of all the artists that "got away," perhaps Roy and Charlie Rich were the greatest missed opportunities for Sun Records owner Sam Phillips.
Roy didn't stay at Sun long. Sam wanted to hear the blues. Roy wanted to sing ballads. So Roy left Sun and tried out RCA in Nashville under Chet Atkins (where he cut the rockabilly classic "Almost Eighteen") before landing at Fred Foster's Monument Records where everything clicked.
It was during his time on Monument that Roy bought his Epiphone Bard 12-string acoustic and began writing an unprecedented string of hits like "Only The Lonely," "Oh, Pretty Woman," and "Leah" that rewired the sound of rock and roll. (It's a pity Roy never made an album of Bruce Springsteen songs. He would have killed "I'm On Fire.")
We've always felt proud to be a part of Roy's legacy. Though he was king of the ballads, his early rock and roll days are not to be missed. Roy was a more-than-fair guitar player and you'll hear that in evidence on "Rockhouse." Peter Guralnick's biography of Sam Phillips is coming in November and we look forward to hearing more about Sam and Roy.
For the balladeer in you, Epiphone still makes a killer 12-string guitar, the DR-212
, with a Select Spruce top and a super strong Rosewood bridge that not only supports the DR-212 mightily but helps ring out it's superlative tone. The 12-string is bound to make a comeback. And like Roy, it never goes out of style. Play one today at your authorized Epiphone dealer and get yourself and sing a low and lonely "Happy Birthday" for the original man in black.