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TV documentary tells the rags to riches story of singer Roy Orbison

Published 28/12/2015

Roy Orbison had a guitar before he had a pair of shoes, according to his son
Roy Orbison had a guitar before he had a pair of shoes, according to his son

Singing superstar Roy Orbison had a guitar before he had a pair of shoes, according to his son.

The star, nicknamed The Big O, came from a poor background and achieved success through sheer persistence, his son Alex Orbison said.

The 40-year-old said having Orbison as a father was "very cool" and that he never gets tired of hearing his big hit Oh, Pretty Woman which was written in less than an hour.

The musician, who died in 1988 aged just 52, is the subject of a biographical documentary, told through his own voice and featuring unseen performances and home movies, which will be broadcast on BBC Four this week.

Speaking ahead of the programme, Alex Orbison told the Press Association: "When people think of Roy Orbison they just think of Pretty Woman and my dad already being famous."

He added: "I don't think he had a pair of shoes until he was 11-years-old.

"He had a guitar before he had a pair of shoes."

Alex Orbison, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, said the documentary is "really special".

He said: "My dad, in his own voice, speaks of my grandparents walking from Oklahoma to Texas, which in European terms would be like walking probably from Paris to Madrid or something like that. And they walked, and they were happy because they found a cigarette they were able to share on the side of the road."

Alex Orbison, whose godfather is Johnny Cash, reflected on what his father made of his own talent, saying: "He said the voice was a gift. He really felt it was a gift from God, and the responsibility was that he had to rehearse and do everything he could to nurture it to get it to be as powerful as it was."

He said he remembers famous people visiting when he and his brothers were little.

"Johnny was our neighbour - Johnny and June are the godparents to Wesley and Roy and myself, all the boys. People would say 'Johnny Cash is your godfather?' And I would say 'more importantly, June is my godmother'. I mean, June was such a great person and such a wonderful cook as well," he said,

He also recalled an incident when his grandmother turned away a very famous singer from the house.

"There was a knock late in the evening and they looked through the hole and it was someone with a sweatshirt and a leather jacket and a baseball cap, and my grandmother said 'no, no, no, we're not having anyone, this looks suspicious'.

"And so she opened the door and sent him off and then she shut the door. And then my grandmother said to my mum 'Who's Bob Dylan because he's looking for your dad?' So they had to open the door and run and go and get him," he said.

Orbison had a huge hit with Oh, Pretty Woman and Alex said he never tires of it, saying: "It never gets old ... it's such a unique song."

He said his father and songwriting partner Bill Dees knew they were on to something special.

"They said that they knew when they had it down, which meant that they could play it and remember it, because my dad would say if you can't remember it then no-one else is going to.

"They played through it and the total writing event was 35 minutes or 40 minutes. He said the best songs take under an hour and the worst ones never get finished."

:: Roy Orbison: One Of The Lonely Ones is on BBC Four at 9pm on Tuesday December 29.

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