My very personal story about Roy Orbison- "Why I Cry"

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My very personal story about Roy Orbison- "Why I Cry"

Postby Sunbeam » Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:28 am

I'm sitting here waiting for James and Andre's shows, killing the midnight-1am hour listening to my new copy of Black&WhiteNight30 CD. And I started crying, and realized I need to tell a story. There are many stories. This is one of them. The one that touches me most deeply, to this day.

Tina Turner, Renaissance, FM, Rough Trade, Lisa Hartt, Rush, Max Webster, George Thorogood, Three Dog Night, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Devo, Peter Tosh, Saga, Split Enz, Zwol, Billy Idol, Leslie Gore, Bruce Cockburn, Valdy, and Reverend Ken (I missed a few) will have to wait. ;)

Roy put on his wings and left us in 1988, at far too young an age... back in time:

The year was 1984, maybe 1983. Damn, I wish I'd kept a diary. But I can re-live the day.

I was working as a live sound engineer for the largest Sound and Lighting/Concert Production Equipment Supply/Rental House in Toronto at the time.

That year, we were contracted to provide microphones, mixing consoles, stage wiring and stage monitoring equipment, and personnel for two major shows at the London (Ontario) Fair. Roy Orbison, and Three Dog Night. The London Fair is a big event, almost a mini-CNE, and they always featured a couple of major acts at their Grandstand shows. They had their own front-of-house PA speakers- very nice vintage Altec which sounded *so* good :), and an announcer microphone. But little else.


On the day of Roy's show, we arrived early, and set everything up according to the stage plot we had received. I was assigned to do the on-stage monitor mix: I would control what Roy, and each musician in the band heard through the monitor speakers on stage during the performance.

Early in the afternoon, four of the most drop-dead-gorgeous luxury tour buses I've ever seen, rolled up behind the stage. Three-mile-deep polished black laquer and chrome galore, spotless, with tasteful RO logos. A five-star luxury hotel, restaurant, (and hospital, it turns out) on wheels. I was in charge of the stage. Out of a bus came the Tour Manager, and a cadre of about 5 roadies. The roadies got busy setting up keyboards, bass and guitar rigs, and the drum kit. All of them proved to be competent musicians, as well...


The tour manager walked up to me.
"You're the stage guy?"
We introduced ourselves.
"OK. Here's how it works. We're gonna go thru sound-check without the band. My boys know what they're doin'."
"I can see that!"
"Roy's heart ain't so good. We're very protective of him. He ain't allowed no stress. The fourth bus has a full-equipped hospital room, and a doctor and nurse on stand-by. He's fragile right now. Out on stage, all he sees is a sea of faces he don't have to interact with on a personal level, see? We don't allow him to meet anybody he don't already know and love, 'cause that causes him stress, so you ain't gonna meet him. We're gonna look after everything, OK?"
"We're gonna pay special attention to what Roy hears- just his voice, guitar, and some snare drum. Keyboard player likes a full mix. Drummer only wants to hear Roy and the bass-player. Bass-player only wants to hear Roy and the drums. Guitar player don't give a shit as long as he can hear Roy."
"OK. I already have a rough EQ, give me a few minutes to set up a rough mix and we'll fine-tune it."

So, the roadies took to the instruments, tour manager took Roy's vocal mic, and they started jamming.
They started and stopped a few times, to talk to me:
"Need just a hint more high-mid on Roy's voice, a tad less snare drum"
"Drummer needs a bit more bass, a bit less of Roy"
"Bass needs a bit less kick, a bit more Roy"
"Keyboard player just wants a bit more of both his and Roy's vocal"
"Guitar player says it sounds fine"
"A bit less sibilance on Roy's voice"

Of course, I had headphones, and a monitor speaker right beside me, identical to the ones Roy and the band-members had, so I could listen to what they heard, from my vantage-point. And a Clear-Com headset, so Roy's stage crew could communicate with me from various points on stage, throughout the show. This process re-iterated over about an hour, until the tour manager gave a neck-chop and said "OK, that's good. That's more than good. Go have dinner. See y'all at show-time."

Show Time.

The band comes on stage, starts playing an intro to Only the Lonely (don't ask me the set-list, of course Pretty Woman was the show-closer)
The lights come up, Roy walks on stage, up to the microphone, and just breathes magic.
I'm down-stage-right behind the PA speakers, less than 20 feet away from Roy.
He sings a verse, looks over directly at me, and just smiles and nods at me.
His lips move like he is having an intimate conversation over a bistro table, and this voice comes out. Effortless.
I stood there, nervously checking, watching, gently tweaking as needed throughout the show, listening as the sound changed with the evening air, paranoid about any flaw, jaw agape at the performance I was witnessing.

After the Show.

Roy's crew had packed up all the instruments, and moved them onto their bus. I was on stage, wrapping up microphone cables. Only sound crew still there, getting ready for the load-out. I thought I'd seen the last of them. The tour buses were running and looked ready to leave.

I looked around, and saw the tour manager walk up to me.

"Roy asked me to come out and talk to you. This rarely happens..."
"What is it?"
"Roy asked me to come and say Thank You, personally, from him. Roy said when he was on stage tonight, and heard himself sing, it sounded just like he was in his favorite studio in Nashville, and that usually don't happen on a live one-nighter. He wanted to really thank you for a special night."
"Tell Roy I am honored, it was my sheer pleasure!"

I'm gonna cry again. That happened. That's why I cry when I hear Roy. Tears of joy and loss.
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