Memphis, Tennessee – Roy Orbison – 1972

May 5, 2017

One of the greatest ever songs of all time was a hit for neither Chuck Berry nor Roy Orbison – but it’s a great song all the same – Memphis Tennessee

roy orbison fax

  • Born in Texas in 1936, died in Hendersonville, Tennessee in 1988 – he was only 52, but what a ride!!
  • Most of Roy’s success was in the early rock and roll era from 1957 to 1964. At the height of his popularity, Roy had 22 songs on the US top 40, 6 Top five hits and, 2 went all the way to #1 – Running Scared and Oh, Pretty Woman.
  • In the UK Roy had ten Top 10 hits between 1960 and 1966, including three #1’s – Only the Lonely, It’s Over, and Oh, Pretty Woman.
  • In the 1980s there was a resurgence in Roy’s popularity via The Traveling Wilburys (with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison).
  • Roy’s start in music came thanks to Sam Phillips at Sun Records where he had moderate success.
  • Later he recorded several songs at Monument Records under producer Fred Foster. With Fred and song writing partners Joe Melson and Bill Dees, Roy wrote songs that were more suited to his unique voice.
  • Roy died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988. He had taken on a heavy workload and had complained to Johnny Cash that he was having chest pains that he feared were health related.
  • Two posthumous albums have been released. Mystery Girl, just after his death (1989) – he was working on it at the time of his death.  And, King of Hearts (1999) which was put together from master sessions and demos by Jeff Lynne for Virgin Records.
  • Most of the16 singles Roy released in the 70s didn’t even dent the charts. He did, however, do a great version of Memphis, Tennessee, which peaked at #84 in Australia; it didn’t chart anywhere else in the world – but is a great version.

memphis, tennessee fax

  • Memphis, Tennessee was written and first recorded by Chuck Berry.
  • Chuck released it in 1959 – surprisingly, it failed to chart anywhere in the world except the UK where it peaked at #6 in 1963.
  • Interestingly, at the same time as Chuck’s release was in the UK charts, Decca Records issued a cover version in the UK by Dave Berry and the Cruisers – it also became a UK Top 20 hit single.
  • Johnny Rivers covered the song in 1964 – his version made it to #2 on the US charts.
  • Memphis, Tennessee may be one of the most covered songs of all time. Artists to have covered it include: The Beatles, The Animals, The Who (as The High Numbers), Paul Anka, Count Basie, The Dave Clark Five, Bo Diddley, Faces, Al Green, The Hollies, Jan and Dean, Tom Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Led Zeppelin, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers, The Rolling Stones, Del Shannon, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, The Statler Brothers, Rod Stewart, George Thorogood, Conway Twitty, and Hank Williams Jr.
  • Chuck Berry later composed a sequel, “Little Marie”, which appeared in 1964 as a single and on the album St. Louis to Liverpool.
  • The Beatles first performed this song for their failed Decca audition on 1 January 1962, with Pete Best on drums.
  • Memphis, Tennessee lyrics.

memphis, tennessee – roy orbison – 1972


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