The complicated story of a Roy Orbison concert

May 30, 2014

291085_1_fWho doesn’t love Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman? The first few bars of the song, a hit in  1964, defined my young adolescence. And the Traveling Wilburys were a particular favorite of mine–but they shouldn’t be a footnote in this post, they deserve a post of their own

A few weeks ago I bought tickets to something called Roy Orbison Returns and I have to admit with great embarrassment that I thought we would be seeing Roy. Because I forgot he died in 1988. Doesn’t that just define the state of our generation? Getting so old that we can’t remember which famous persons have died and which are still with us?

Some enterprising web entrepreneur should come up with a website called “Is he dead or is it just me?” Sort of like Is it down right now, which I use from time to time when I can’t connect to a website. Yeah, someone should do that–why shouldn’t the internet’s uber-memory be used to help our generation’s quickly depleting brain cells?

“Umm…honey?” my husband said, gently.  “He’s dead.  This is a tribute band.”

As Emily Litella would say, “Never mind!”  (Yes, Gilda Radner is dead. Ovarian cancer. Long time now. I do remember that.)

The concert would feature Wiley Ray and the Big O band.  Definitely NOT Roy Orbison back from the dead.

We bought the tickets anyway.

The night of the concert we took light rail downtown, where we ran into two very distinct groups: young people in their teens and 20s dressed as comic characters and 60- and 70-somethings with grey hair and slow strides.  Guess which group was going to the tribute concert. (That was not a question.)

“Do you recognize our people?” hubby said, rubbing it in.

“Yeah, but I’m not the one who qualified for a senior rail ticket tonight,” I replied.  I’ll take my (relative) youth while I can .

All 523 of the theatre’s seats were filled with…senior citizens. More grey hair than a senior center.  I didn’t see anyone significantly younger than I.

And then Wiley took the stage as Roy Orbison.

That was one bad wig.

That was one bad wig.

Wiley had the high notes, but to be honest, he was no Roy Orbison. And he wore one gnarly-bad wig, probably made in China. Most distracting, though, was that he was pretending to play the electric guitar. About halfway through the concert I noticed he wasn’t really playing, despite the colorful (fake) electrical cord. Then, I couldn’t STOP noticing. How was he fingering the frets? How was he strumming?

girls royWe could barely hear the two long-haired blonde back-up singers. I thought they looked like eastern European hookers and when they were introduced, one was named Marushka. So maybe they were.

I couldn’t get a clear shot of the drummer, but he could’ve played  for Metallica–he waved his head and sticks like a big-hair band drummer. And had the hair. You can just make him out in the photo below. But the guy I was riveted to was the keyboardist. That guy is so skinny he makes Ginger Baker look fat.  (If you don’t know who Ginger Baker is, he is the notorious speed freak who was with Cream, among others. He’s still alive, go figure, and there’s a hilarious documentary on him, called Beware of Mr. Baker. Don’t miss it.)

Anyway, the keyboardist is this thin:

skinnyguyLook more closely at those legs. A skeleton in a suit, but played a mean keyboard.

skinnyguy2There were two real guitarists.  You know, the kind that actually play. One was totally my type, but his expression suggested he’d probably done the purple acid at Woodstock. Here’s the other guitarist:

guitarist old“Doesn’t he look like a long-haired John Kerry?” my  husband whispered.  Yes. Yes, he did.

The concert began with a short, maudlin dramatic performance in which Roy (Wiley) talks to his dead wife, Claudette. Something along the lines of, “Honey,where are you? I need to hear your voice. There was a fire at the house.  I was out on tour.  Our two little boys are gone.  I wasn’t there to protect them.  Are they there with you?”  It sounded like Miss Molly’s kindergarten play and was performed as badly.

{This was a very sad story, though. Claudette died in a motorcycle accident in 1966. Out riding with Roy, she was hit by a semi and died. Two years later, his two eldest boys died in a fire.}

Back to the play. After he pleaded with Claudette via Afterlife Telephone, one of the eastern European hookers–I mean backup singers– sneaked off stage (I noticed) and shortly thereafter, we heard Claudette respond from the afterlife (off-stage) in a maudlin little soliloquy.

It was painful.  Thankfully, this was the last theatrical performance in the concert.

As the music of our youth played I looked around at all the silver hair and greybeards and wondered how we got this old.  My inner self could just as easily be sitting at Syracuse University’s Jabberwocky listening to James Taylor play, as I did when I was 18 in 1969, the year my husband and I met at college. I feel no older. No different.

I looked over at him and I could still see the 21-year-old frat boy I met all those years ago. He was still there, inside.

And yet, we’ve all been through so much. The world kept spinning and spinning, time passed. We’re still here, though, and that’s something.

The concert ended. The audience managed to get up –some with difficulty — and give the band a standing ovation they didn’t deserve. Then, we filed out, careful to let those with walkers and canes go ahead of us.  We aren’t at that point quite yet.  I won’t even bother to describe our light rail journey home, during which my husband got off at the wrong stop, stranding us for a bit in a deserted and dangerous part of downtown. No, I’ll skip that part.

Here’s the real Roy Orbison, doing his hit in 1987, a year before his fatal heart attack. (There’s a second vid, too.)

Here’s a song Roy wrote for Elvis, hoping it would hit #1. Elvis heard it and told Roy to record it–Blue Angel. It’s one of my favorites and I can’t seen Elvis doing it. Well, maybe.

44 comments on “The complicated story of a Roy Orbison concert
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    Funny post. Loved Roy O., but I could leave the Euro hookers behind.

  2. kim tackett says:

    Oh, what a night…but you do have a brilliant idea for an app there ….”are they dead or is it just me?”
    Seriously, if you could look someone up every time you had that conversation…you could look them up and see dead or alive, and then you could click through for more info and even links to their video/movies/concerts/ great baseball highlights. Ponder it!

  3. THanks for your view on this tribute. I find that rarely do the tribute bands do justice. Although I must admit JOURNEY survived without Steve Perry all these years. (Did you hear he might make a comeback?)

  4. Oh don’t you just hate Tribute Concerts that don’t even come close to the original? Of course it is only slightly better when one of the original band members is still in the band but everyone else is gone? The good news is that you found some excellent material for your blog post–and had quite an adventure on the light rail. Every time we go to LA I’m tempted to pull over and take it somewhere, anywhere….because I LOVE public transportation. Maybe in a past life I was a bus driver or a gondola driver or something. Anyway, thanks for an early morning laugh. ~Kathy

  5. Karen says:

    Oh my. It sounds like it was worth its weight in comic gold, but as an evening’s entertainment? I think you and Mr. Orbison deserved better.

  6. Oh, goodness. This sounds like a horrible time… more accurately, a horrible tribute band. I love(d) Roy Orbison.

    I have some friends who love to go to the Led Zeppelin tribute band concert each time it’s in town. My husband and I are huge Zeppelin fans (had a Zeppelin wedding song 32 years ago) but my husband refuses to go. He says tribute bands will suck. I think I’ll keep him from seeing this post of yours that totally confirms that. (Because, yes, I do want to see that Zeppelin tribute band… at least once.)

  7. Marci Rich says:

    The only band I’ve ever seen similar to this was a touring company of The Fab Four, the Beatles tribute band. They were wonderful, but since I’d never seen the Beatles live, I only had recordings to go on. I’m glad you had the faux Orbison experience, though, because it resulted in a terrific post. Thanks for the backstage pass! (And oh yes…I can relate to wondering who is and isn’t with us…you can be forgiven for thinking R.O. is still around…for some reason, he’s one celebrity whose death seems not to have registered with me, either.)

  8. Geez what a night Carol. I love Roy Orbison. He has the sweetest voice.

  9. I don’t think I’m a big fan of tribute concerts but it seems like the least they could do is have Roy play the guitar and not speak to the dead, especially in light of the horrific tragedies they were referencing. Yikes.
    But somehow it can all be worth it in the end because the music stands the test of time.

  10. Ellen Dolgen says:

    May not have done Mr. O justice, but sounded like it was fun!

  11. Haha! Great post Carol! I loved Roy Orbison but I had truly forgotten that he had died also! I bet you had a great time anyway it looked like so much fun!

    • Aha! If the Alzheimer blogger forgot, too, I don’t feel so badly! Now, if Ruth Curran forgot, too, I would have to prescribe her a few more Cranium Crunches!

  12. Lana says:

    They couldn’t find a better Ray? Surely someone could wear the wig who can sing and play guitar. Thanks for sharing – very funny! I can never remember which celebrities are alive or dead either – drives my husband crazy. Thank god one of us has a decent memory. Have a great weekend!

    • We share a memory at our house, too! The other day I tried to put milk in the pantry instead of the fridge and an hour later he tried to put cheese in the pantry instead of the fridge. So i don’t know how well that’s working for us!

  13. I loved Roy Orbison, but this sounds so sad to me. I hope wherever Roy is he is smiling. He deserves it. Quite a talent, PS We are not old; not even close.

    PSS I’ve used this site before!

  14. I’ve seen the “real” Roy in concert. Sounds like and interesting night was had by all.

  15. Mark Fine says:

    I am amused at Wiley & Co’s audacity; surely if you want to simulate a legend, it should not be one of such pure note and distinctive vocal range?! I commend both you and your husband for going above and beyond…and still finding humor in the moment.

  16. As it turns out, there is a website for you! It’s called The Dead People Server, and it tells you who is and is not dead. Yet.

    Scroll down the left and you’ll see it separated by both year of death and alphabetically. There are often links to obits or websites.

  17. CRYING! … over this shameful ruse! I would have been plenty plucked if I had been separated from more than 2 bucks to witness this lame attempt at a tribute band. R.O. was a talented and legendary artist, and it takes waaaay more than black clothes and dark shades to even come close. But a tip of the wig to you for seeing the entertainment value and the humor lining of the whole thing. Nice piece that I truly enjoyed.

  18. Haralee says:

    I really do not care for a tribute. The Michael jackson holograms creep me out too.

  19. Too funny, and the reason I have never gone to see a tribute band even though I’m always tempted. At least it was good for an entertaining post!

  20. Jackie says:

    Sometimes you have to sit through some bad stuff to get a great story!

    Also, you may want to check out It’ll save you the trouble of developing an app, lol!

  21. Carol, I love the way you described the concert and added some poignancy at the end. This was a great post—-one of my favorites.

  22. Janie Emaus says:

    No one can sing like Roy. Dead or alive!

  23. James Stone says:

    Your comments really had us rolling, holding my sides. Very funny…. really. We enjoyed them. We’ve been teasing each other with the caricatures you’ve given each one of us. But all kidding aside. The real Roy Orbison is never going to rise from the dead. What we do is recreate the memories as best we can and give you a great show. Our Roy is pretty damn good but he will never be Roy. Not many people can hit those notes and make it sound right, but he does a creditable job. Roy Orbison is probably the most difficult male singer to recreate in history, period. You have to give us some credit for bringing him back. We get standing O’s at most every show and the shows have been sellouts or very close every time we play. Both Modesto and Livermore were standing room only. That many fans can’t be all wrong. We try and sound like Roy might sound today if he was still around, not how he sounded in 1961. Hope this helps. For any of you that love Roy’s music, trust me, you will enjoy the show but don’t expect to see Roy rise from the grave. Do expect to hear his music done live as well as some of the few Roy tribute bands in the world have done. There’s only a few and you folks are close enough to go. We’ll be in Bakersfield at the Fox on the 11th of April. Hope to see you there. Come up and say hi this time.

    • Thanks for having such a good sense of humor. Next time we see you in San Jose or the vicinity, we’ll come up and say hi! I might want to get some diet tips from your great keyboardist! 😉 Only kidding! It was a fun show.

  24. adeka says:

    1. Isn’t it the berries when someone you write about responds? Yay times 10.
    2. I love your less-than-snarky-not-quite-kind review.
    3. I remember thinking some of these same thoughts when I saw the Beach Boys and I was pushing 35!
    4. Love-One and I have taken to theatre matinee with a dinner date afterwards. Yup! We’re geezers. No denying it.

  25. James Stone says:

    Thanks Carol. So San Jose is where you last saw us. That was quite a while ago. There has been a lot of changes in what we’ve been doing since then, a lot actually. The keyboardist is still skinny though I’m afraid. I think we’ve improved the show 10 fold since then. Maybe we’ll see you at another show soon. James

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