Almanac Poetry: Thumbnail Sketch of the Great Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison, 1965. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)



Thumbnail Sketch of the Great Roy Orbison


Mellow, honeyed voice
in that lilting, Southern boy style.
Range encompassing octaves.


Got taught to ride motorcycles
by his good friend,
Elvis the King.


Thank ya very much, ladies un gennlemen.
Thank ya very much.
Thank ya very much, sayhd Elhvus.


Wella wella wella,
bless my soul,
what wrong’s with me? sang Elhvus.


As a kid I thought Roy was blind
because he wore
those trademark big dark glasses …


he died too young,
had a heart attack
one winter night,


after flying model aeroplanes
with his young kids.




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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. roger lowrey says

    Luuuuvvvv the big O Kevin. One of my favs.

    Hard to separate a few but In Dreams, Only The Lonely and Running Scared surely push Crying very hard for top of the tree. Many others too.


  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, RDL – great to hear from you!

    Yes, the Big O is certainly a legendary and much loved figure. There’s a story Jeff Lynne tells about when The Travelling Wilburys recorded together and he, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Tom Petty were with Roy in the studio, and they felt this about the great man: “Wow! It’s Roy Orbison!”

  3. DBalassone says

    I love the Big O too. What a voice. My favourites are ‘Blue Angel’, ‘In Dreams’, ‘Only the Lonely’, the bridge in ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘A Love So Beautiful’. His version of ‘Danny Boy’ is perhaps the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard.

    I always thought he should be called ‘The Lonely One’. What a sad life. I recall a section in Johnny Cash’s autobiography where Cash, living a life of selfish decadence was all drugged out and Roy Orbison, who has just lost his children in a house fire and his wife in an motorcycle accident, came to see him before a show. Cash felt like the biggest arsehole.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, DB, for your response.

    Yes, “The Lonely One” is a good name for Orbison – and tragedy never seemed to be far away. It was particularly sad that his career was experiencing a big revival at the time of his death and therefore he didn’t get the chance to fully experience the benefits of what was happening.

    I love all the songs you and RDL have mentioned and also like other stuff like “Blue Bayou” and “Penny Arcade” – the latter was a favourite song of mine as a kid.

  5. Another beauty that goes straight to the pool room KD. The Big O was/is a standout in the land of giants of rocknroll. Pretty Woman is my go to. That thumping backbeat, the arch guitar line, the story! I have had to pull the car over when listening to this song, waiting in anticipation (even though I now what happens), hoping that she will turn around. When she does the joy is palpable. one of music great story/reward songs. His version of Elvis Costello’s The Comedians is another ripper story song. Roy gives it equal parts empathy and pathos.


  6. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Rick!

    Thanks for what you’ve said. I reckon you’ve encapsulated one of the key things about Orbison’s music – the excitement it creates, the sheer thrill of it (so much of his repertoire, anyway). A great deal of that response is specifically due to his voice. Bob Dylan once said: “He [Orbison] sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop. [After “Ooby Dooby”] he was now singing his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal … His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, “Man, I don’t believe it”.

  7. Keith Ritchie says

    Yeah Roy had it all – a voice so beautiful and at its best in some of his non hit songs like the Actress and here comes that song again as well as only with you to mention a few.
    Also great beat songs like I drove all night ( to get to you)
    I regret that I never saw him perform as I would guess like all the old greats they often performed at their best live .

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Keith, for your comments, including song selections. Roy certainly had a great body of work, as you indicate.

    Apparently, Orbison was a fine live performer, too.

  9. Daryl Schramm says

    Black and White Night was my introduction to music DVDs. Heard at after a sabbatical the other night at a mates house. Brilliant sound I thought. Definitely a fav for me. Cheers.

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Daryl. Yes, it’s a beauty, that one!

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