For the past year and a half, the staff of the Rock Hall’s Library and Archives has been working to digitally preserve and catalog thousands of hours of footage of performances, interviews, education programs, oral histories and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies that have taken place over the past few decades. Making this footage and other resources available to researchers and music fans for the first time is one of the things that already makes our jobs exciting, but one recent donation really captured my interest.
It was the original VHS cassette containing the very last interview with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Roy Orbison ever recorded. The interview was done at the Front Row Theater in Highland Heights, Ohio, after Orbison’s final show on December 4, 1988, and this was the tape that was there in the room while the interview took place. It was recently donated by Tony Weber, who conducted the interview for his public access television show that ran from 1987 to 1989. Some low-quality dubs of the footage (likely captured from the television broadcast) can be seen on YouTube, but this is the original tape, so it is the best quality copy that can be found anywhere, and it is also unedited.
During the interview, which lasts around 12 minutes, Orbison talks about lyrical themes in his songs, the use of strings on his classic recordings, other performers covering his tunes, and the unforgettable use of his song “In Dreams” in David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet (which Orbison praises during the interview as a “great movie”). He also discusses his recent surge in popularity brought on by his 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the 1988 Cinemax broadcast of a star-studded concert performance in Los Angeles (later released on video as Black & White Night), and his recent work with the Traveling Wilburys (the supergroup that also included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty).
Throughout the interview, Orbison is in good spirits and appears genuinely pleased and excited about his current and forthcoming projects, including a new solo album due out the following month, plans for videos with the Wilburys, a European tour scheduled during the following spring, and a U.S. tour in the summer. (pictured: the tape containing the original recording of Roy Orbison's last interview, donated to the Library and Archives)
Viewing this segment of the interview is especially bittersweet, because only two days later, on December 6, 1988, Orbison would suffer a fatal heart attack at his mother’s home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, at the age of 52. Meanwhile, the Wilburys’ album Vol. 1 was climbing up the charts, and soon, Orbison’s solo record Mystery Girl would do the same, making Orbison the first performer since Elvis Presley to simultaneously have two albums charting in the U.S. Billboard Top Five.
To learn more about Roy Orbison, please visit the Rock Hall’s Library and Archives, which is free and open to the public. We have books, audio and video recordings, and archival materials relating to Orbison’s life and career (including an audio CD of his final concert performance at the Front Row Theater), as well as materials by or about the Traveling Wilburys. To view or listen to any of our resources, please visit us during our regular hours (Tuesday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Saturday, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM), and please contact us if you have any questions or wish to schedule an appointment to use our archival materials.