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Roy Orbison's 'Mystery Girl' experiences 25th anniversary redux

"I've been away from you for so long...still every time I think of us I get blue...but all I can do is dream you." Listening to the intoxicating operatic croon of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Roy Orbison generates chills 25 years after his sudden passing of a massive heart attack only two days after performing for adoring fans. Orbison's hard-earned comeback sadly came with the ultimate price.

Standing beside a vintage microphone, a svelte Roy Orbison mimes harmonica during the music video shoot for The Traveling Wilburys' Handle With Care, taken inside an abandoned warehouse somewhere in Los Angeles, October 1988
A svelte Roy Orbison plays harmonica during the video for the Traveling Wilburys' Handle With Care; Image Credit: Warner Bros.
Having lost considerable weight and sporting an incongruous pony tail, an exhausted Roy Orbison plays his final show on Dec. 4, 1988, at the Front Row Theatre in Highland Heights, Ohio; a massive heart attack would claim his life two days later
Having lost considerable weight and sporting an incongruous pony tail, Roy Orbison plays his final show on Dec. 4, 1988, at the Front Row Theatre in Highland Heights, Ohio. A massive heart attack killed him two days later. Photography by Janet Macoska

The 25th anniversary of Mystery Girl, the perpetually shaded balladeer's final, ironically best-selling album released two months after his death, has been commemorated with the release of a deluxe edition available in various configurations by Sony's Legacy Recordings, an imprint responsible for an acclaimed series of original album reissues by Elvis Presley, among others.

Mystery Girl – Deluxe comprises the album’s original 10 songs, spearheaded by "California Blue," She's a Mystery to Me," and the Top Ten smash “You Got It" – Orbison's first bona fide hit since the mammoth "Oh, Pretty Woman" 25 years earlier – are featured alongside nine previously unreleased studio and work-tape demos.

The most notable is “The Way Is Love,” comprised of a digitally enhanced Orbison vocal track produced by John Carter Cash – son of Orbison's legendary Hendersonville neighbor Johnny Cash – at Cash Cabin Studio and layered with brand new guitar, drum and vocal accompaniment by Orbison's three sons – Roy Jr., Alex and Wesley. The elder Orbison recorded his original vocal pass on a boombox cassette player during a writing session with longtime co-writer Bill "Pretty Woman" Dees.

A press release supplied by Orbison's estate supplies in-depth details below. The package includes “Mystery Girl: Unraveled,” an exclusive one-hour documentary chronicling the song-by-song creation of Mystery Girl through rare and intimate archival footage and the memories of those who were there. In addition to the “Mystery Girl: Unraveleddocumentary, the DVD includes eight Roy Orbison music videos, four of which are previously unreleased including a piece documenting the renewal and rebirth of “The Way Is Love.”

Mystery Girl – Expanded is an audio-only version of the original Mystery Girl album with five tracks added to the line-up including “The Way Is Love.”

Mystery Girl – Deluxe LP is available as a collectible 2 LP set, struck on 180 gram 12″ vinyl for audiophiles, vinyl aficionados and Orbison fans, in general. The set includes the original album’s track listing on one LP and the nine bonus tracks offered on the Mystery Girl – Deluxe CD on the second LP.

Executive produced by “Roy’s Boys” (Wesley Orbison, Roy Orbison, Jr. and Alex Orbison) and directed by Alex Orbison, “Mystery Girl: Unraveled” features new interviews with Billy Burnette, John Carter Cash, Mike Campbell, Steve Cropper, Richard Dodd, Jim Keltner, Jeff Lynne, David Malloy, Tom Petty and Roy’s three sons. The film also incorporates never-before-seen interviews with Bono, Barbara Orbison, Jeff Ayeroff and others, all sharing insights into Roy’s life and work.

Archival footage includes revelatory sequences lensed, literally, in Mike Campbell’s garage (aka “Mike’s Garage,” where much of the album was recorded) in addition to breathtaking studio sequences and live footage shot around the time of the album’s recording.

“Mystery Girl: Unraveled” concludes with new documentary footage illuminating the creation of “The Way Is Love." Orbison’s vocals were found on a previously unheard Roy Orbison/Bill Dees work-tape, originally recorded on a boombox cassette player, and meticulously stripped out for this extraordinary new recording.

Produced by John Carter Cash and engineered by Chuck Turner, Orbison's vintage “The Way Is Love” vocal was taken to Cash Cabin Studio in 2013. Realizing a life-long dream to record with their father, Wesley and Roy Jr. played guitars on the song with Alex handling the drums and all three sons bringing background vocals to the mix.

“Cutting a track with my brothers was more incredible than I can describe,” said Alex. “I have been looking forward to this for my entire life.” Roy Jr. noted that “More or less the reason Alex and Wesley and I are musicians was to play in Dad’s band when we got older” and Wesley summed it up nicely, “I think we really got something special.”

Everyone involved with Mystery Girl sensed the magic in Roy Orbison, who, in 1988, was enjoying a full creative renaissance and resurgence of popularity. One of Roy’s classic recordings, “In Dreams,” memorably lip-synched into a hurricane lamp by Dean Stockwell, had served as a key thematic element in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” igniting a renewed interest in the Big O.

In a series of bold aesthetic moves, Orbison directly addressed his legacy, first with Class of 55 (a 1986 reunion album with fellow Sun Records alumni Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins) and then, In Dreams: The Greatest Hits, where Orbison recut many of his biggest songs.

At this same time, Roy Orbison became a founding member of the Traveling Wilburys, the roots rock supergroup also featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty. It was during work with the Wilburys that the vision for Mystery Girl, a new Roy Orbison album made of original songs from a variety of writers–including Roy Orbison, Diane Warren, Elvis Costello, Wesley Orbison and U2′s Bono and the Edge (among others)–began taking shape.

“When he sang it, it was absolutely magnificent,” said Jeff Lynne, who would produce tracks for Mystery Girl. “His voice, I had never heard a voice like that live, you know, in the studio, ever…. He had this wonderful spirit, almost like a kid in many ways. He was just a happy guy. I love him. One of the proudest things I’ve ever done is to have become his friend. I’d look at him and just go, ‘Wow, it’s him. The Big O.’”

Roy’s core group of musicians on the original Mystery Girl recordings included Jeff Lynne (guitar, piano, bass, backing vocals), Tom Petty (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Mike Campbell (guitar, bass, mandolin), Jim Keltner (drums), Howie Epstein (bass, backing vocals), and Benmont Tench (piano, organ, cheap strings). Contributing artists on the album include Barbara Orbison, Roy Orbison, Jr., Al Kooper, George Harrison, Bono, T Bone Burnett, Steve Cropper, The Memphis Horns, and more.

“I was just taken by how amazing this guy was. Just sitting, singing softly, sitting on the sofa with an acoustic guitar, his voice was unbelievable.” remembers Tom Petty. “The music will live on, you know; it’s very timeless music.”

Mike Campbell added, “Any time I hear one of Roy’s songs, wherever I am, I just stop and listen to it and he’s there, you know. His artistry and his voice and his spirit and the depth of his soul is so unique and it just connects with you in such a deep way…. He just had a way of getting into your heart.”

“He was a real innovator, truly a great singer,” said Bono. “The real rebels to me always had manners. Elvis, you know, and Roy, Roy was a true gentleman. And that’s a scary thing in a man, do you know what I mean? A man that’s so sure in himself that he can be polite.”

Legendary guitarist Steve Cropper has the ultimate tribute: “I’ve only met basically three, maybe three-and-a-half, of what I call ‘light bulbs’ in my life. And what I mean by ‘light bulbs’ is they’re the brightest one in the room and when they walk in the door every head turns. Every head. Not just a few, not some people still talking in the corner. It’s like everyone stops what they are doing. Elvis Presley, Otis Redding and Roy Orbison. And I saw that happen to Bill Clinton. So, there you go. I’ve never seen that happen to anybody else, ever.”

  • DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! Did you know that Rick Nelson covered "Down the Line," the first song written by Roy Orbison, on his million selling second album in 1958? Decades later, Nelson was a member of the all-star vocal group on John Fogerty's reverential "Big Train from Memphis," the last cut on the "Class of '55" album. Nelson was on the verge of a comeback when his plane tragically caught fire en route to a New Year's Eve gig three scant months after his guest appearance with Orbison. A rockabilly-themed album was nearing completion, and the singer had found a new record label in Nashville, Curb Records. Unfortunately, the project was promptly placed in the dustbin whilst various figureheads argued over rights and whether Nelson's vocals were satisfactory. The "Garden Party" songwriter's manager, Greg McDonald, recently made a surprise appearance on satellite radio and gave a very encouraging lowdown on the current status of the project and whether it might see the light of day in time for the 30th anniversary of Nelson's passing.

Twitter: To interact directly with Jeremy Roberts, follow @jeremylr

Exclusive Interview: The Master of Telecaster, James Burton, is a charter member of legendary '60s L.A. studio wizards the Wrecking Crew. Burton has supported a who's who list of preeminent movers and shakers in a nearly 60-year career – notably Elvis Presley, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Merle Haggard, and recently Brad Paisley. Burton played with Roy Orbison on the incendiary comeback concert, 1987's "A Black and White Night." The guitar maestro joined Rick Nelson 30 years earlier for the driving "Stood Up" b/w "Waitin' in School" rockabilly single, soon rooming with the Nelson family and ultimately forging an 11-year friendship with the handsome singer. To read a revealing in-depth feature with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer commemorating his fascinating journey with Nelson ["Six String Brothers: James Burton Champions the Timeless Allure of Rick Nelson"], simply click on the highlighted link.

Exclusive Interview No. 2: Trailblazing Cleveland deejay Tommy Edwards was the first deejay in Cleveland to actively promote Elvis Presley. His bold efforts ultimately broke Presley north of the Mason-Dixon Line, virtually a racial divider during the '50s. The deejay also had a prominent role in the highly sought after but still lost concert film, The Pied Piper of Cleveland, which documented the first time Presley was filmed by a professional camera. To read about the King of Rock and Roll's meteoric rise to worldwide fame, why one prominent authority controversially believes "Mystery Train" was the singer's last honest recording, and a surprising defense of Tickle Me, visit the following link: ["On The Brink of Becoming An Artistic Phenomenon..."].

Further Reading: Jordanaire Ray Walker counted Elvis Presley as a close friend for two decades. In fact, the genial bassist's debut recording session with the King of Rock and Roll yielded a million selling record – "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I." He recently relived the experience of sitting front row center during an Elvis recording session. Later when the "Alabama Wild Man" himself, Jerry Reed, unexpectedly showed up to add some patented gut-string guitar to a few country rock numbers, the session got especially rambunctious. Visit the following article, "Jordanaire Ray Walker Recalls Studio Nights With Elvis Presley and Jerry Reed," for the complete lowdown.

  • Further Reading No. 2: When chanteuse Bobbie Gentry burst onto the psychedelic Summer of Love landscape with the mysterious "Ode to Billie Joe", usurping The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" from its number one perch, who could have imagined the massive success awaiting her? She also recorded a fine duet album with Glen Campbell in 1968 on Capitol Records. Country artist Reba McEntire revived interest in the singer when she made "Fancy" her theme song, decades after Gentry had a moderate hit with the Southern Gothic recording. To read about Gentry's enduring significance and exactly why she abandoned her career, visit the following link: "Ode to Bobbie G: The music and mystery of a Mississippi Delta Queen."

Exclusive Interview No. 3: Original Beach Boy Al Jardine regularly shocks audiences with his undiminished-by-age vocals. He recently spoke to this writer and covered a number of subjects in remarkably disarming fashion. Entitled "Persistence Pays Off: In Step With Al Jardine..." ], the two-part installment delves into the musician's first solo album ("A Postcard From California"), why he originally left the band, and the difficult and demanding Murry Wilson (first manager and father of the Wilson brothers). Jardine shocked fans – and Capitol executives – by using the interview to announce the impending release of Smile, perhaps rock's most legendary album left in the vaults for nearly half a century at Brian Wilson's instigation.

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