A. Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician known for his impassioned singing style, complex song structures, and dark, emotional ballads. The combination led many critics to describe his music as operatic, nicknaming him “the Caruso of Rock” and “the Big O”. While most male rock-and-roll performers in the 1950s and 1960s projected a defiant masculinity, many of Orbison’s songs instead conveyed vulnerability. During performances, he was known for standing still and solitary and for wearing black clothes to match his dyed jet-black hair and dark sunglasses; all of this lent an air of mystery to his persona.
Born in Texas, Orbison began singing in a rockabilly and country-and-western band in high school. He was signed by Sam Phillips, of Sun Records, in 1956, but his greatest success came with Monument Records. From 1960 to 1966, 22 of his singles reached the Billboard Top 40, and he wrote or co-wrote almost all that rose to the Top 10, including “Only the Lonely” (1960), “Running Scared” (1961), “Crying” (1961), “In Dreams” (1963), and “Oh, Pretty Woman” (1964). Soon afterward, he was struck by a number of personal tragedies while his record sales declined.
In 1988 that Orbison began collaborating seriously with Electric Light Orchestra bandleader Jeff Lynne on a new album. Lynne had just completed production work on George Harrison’s Cloud Nine album, and all three ate lunch together one day when Orbison accepted an invitation to sing on a song of Harrison’s new single. They subsequently contacted Bob Dylan, who, in turn, allowed them to use a recording studio in his home. Along the way, Harrison made a quick visit to Tom Petty’s residence to obtain his guitar; Petty and his band had backed Dylan on his last tour. By that evening, the group had written “Handle with Care”, which led to the concept of recording an entire album. They called themselves the Traveling Wilburys, representing themselves as half-brothers with the same father.