We are in the middle of the three week period, 50 years later, of Roy Orbison’s great number 1 run with “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Along the years the “Oh” has dropped off ( I never understood it anyway). The song was written with Orbison’s friend Bill Dees in honor of Roy’s first wife Claudette. (I know this because the indefatigable Bob Merlis sent me a nice press release.)
Dees said once in an NPR interview: “[Claudette] came bopping down the stairs and said, ‘Give me some money’. ‘What do you need money for?’ [Roy] said. She said ‘Well, I’ve got to go to the store’, and as she walked away they were whispering and kissing bye bye, away from me. I stood up at the table, and he came back to the table, and I said ‘Does this sound funny? [singing] Pretty woman, don’t need no money’. He laughed, and he said ‘There’s nothing funny about pretty woman’. He right away started, [singing] ‘Pretty woman, walking down the street’. By the time she got back, we had it written.”
Roy died much too young, at age 52, of a heart attack in 1988. I must admit when I hear his voice I still get goosebumps. He was one of the founding fathers of rock and roll at a very young age. I never knew him, but for many years I was close friends with his smart and beautiful second wife Barbara. She passed away a three years ago after a short bout with cancer. “Pretty Woman” could easily have been about her. She was devoted to Roy, and made sure his legacy lies on.
If you’re not sure who Roy Orbison was, look him up. “Pretty Woman” was just one of many great songs including “Crying,” and “Blue Bayou.” Everyone has a favorite. I love “In Dreams.”
Roy and Barbara, and Claudette, this is for you: