He was also one of the founding members of The Traveling Wilburys a supergroup that included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. It was while working with them that the idea for Mystery Girl was born – an album of original songs from a variety of writers including Orbison, Elvis Costello, Bono and Jeff Lynne, who would also co-produce the album.
Released in early 1989 Mystery Girl was the highest-charting album of his career reaching the top five in the USA and UK. It was sad that Orbison, who died on 6 December, 1988, was not around to enjoy the success. Now, twenty-five years later, Sony Music/Legacy have issued a CD/DVD Deluxe Edition.
Mystery Girl contains ten songs with a mix of up-tempo tracks like You Got It and (All I Can Do Is) Dream You to stunning ballads including A Love So Beautiful, She's a Mystery To Me (written by Bono and The Edge), the haunting In The Real World and California Blue. Elvis Costello wrote The Comedians, a track which is very unusual but works very well.
There are themes of loneliness, feeling blue and dreams running through almost every track which are reminiscent of his previous work. Mystery Girl is an incredible piece of work with Orbison mixing his incredible voice to the modern sound but still sounding like vintage Orbison.
The deluxe edition includes a bonus of nine demos and work tapes including The Way Is Love which features a newly restored Roy Orbison vocal track layered with contemporary guitar, drum and vocal accompaniment by Roy’s three sons – Roy, Jr., Alex and Wesley. These tracks give a great insight into the recording process with the added studio chatter and comments included.
A DVD is also included which features the documentary Mystery Girl-Unraveled, a one-hour documentary which goes behind the scenes of the making of the album with rare footage of Roy in the studio and interviews with
Billy Burnette, John Carter Cash, Mike Campbell, Steve Cropper, Jeff Lynne, David Malloy, Tom Petty and Roy's three sons. The documentary ends with a look at the creation of The Way Is Love. There are eight promotional videos of which four have been specially produced for this release.
Packaging is really classy with the CD/DVD and a detailed booklet of lyrics, notes, photos and memorabilia all housed in a card slipcase.
Producer Jeff Lynne had nothing but praise for Orbison, "When he sang, it was absolutely magnificent. I had never heard a voice like that. He had this wonderful spirit, almost like a kid in many ways. He was just a happy guy. 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.' I loved him."
I bought Mystery Girl when it was first released and pleased to have the deluxe edition in my collection. It is highly recommended.
This new deluxe edition of Mystery Girl is a great release with the original album suplemented by studio demos and work-tapes. How did you decide what to include and what to leave off?
When we started the deluxe project we decided we would put everything on it that we could. The amount of stuff we could put on was determined by how much we found and based on the listening experience. There was not much that was left off.
One of the highlights, and major selling points, is the inclusion of the previously unreleased track The Way Is Love. I understand the original was from a cassette recorded on a boombox. How much work was required to bring the track up to a quality good enough for release?
The whole process took about eight months. The first two months I had the track and wanted to play it for Wesley and Roy, Jr. and had cleaned it up on a computer to listen to it without all the hiss. Then it was about six months laying the backing tracks on it. John Carter Cash approached us and said it didn’t sound good enough, the voice sounded hollow and it was also lacking prescence we couldn’t turn the song up enough to get it to play next to other songs. We ran into the problem of getting the vocal over the music at that volume. So when you played Carless Heart and went directly into The Way Is Love, for us, it was heartbreaking and we thought we were going to lose the cut. At the last second, using a super-computer, we were able to clean everything away from the vocal, concentrate on just the vocals and boost the levels. If we hadn’t taken as long as we did the technology wouldn’t have been available. One of the things you have to consider is knowing the fans want things but then again it does have to be up to par and one of the major considerations was the absolute beauty of the lyrics and sentiment of the song. My mother Barbara had also been passionate about getting something done with the song.
Were there any other unreleased demos that you thought about using or might consider working on in the future?
There are two on the album, Windsurfer and You Are My Love, both work-tape demos. The amount of demos that were appropriate from that session was dictated by the quality and there were some really good candidates that got lost by technology. The thing I’ve learnt about the Roy Orbison catalogue is, there is always more. My dad worked so tirelessly and was so passionate about what he did and I can guarantee there will be more.
You worked at the Cash Cabin Studio with John Carter Cash producing. What was that like?
Working at the Cabin is surreal. The atmosphere is such a safe environment and to have that old log cabin, really rustic, with it’s porch and woods all around it has that perfect creative environment with the right people and the right tools. That’s sacred land for all of us. Especially John Carter but even for Wesley, Roy, Jr. and myself. For us the woods behind our property were where we would go and play. It has so many of the right things going on and we were all so excited but also serious and had that apprehension before recording and thinking can this be done and is it the right thing. The Cash Cabin took all of those worries away and made it feel like we were heading in the right direction. It was definitely the right place to have this work done.
Roy, Jr., Wesley and John Carter all played guitar. Roy and John played acoustic and Wesley played electric guitar. I played the drums and then Wesley, Roy, Jr. and I sang back-ups on it as well. We called in a couple of Cash Cabin regulars and Nashville musicians to fill in with the piano, bass and strings.
You were never able to record with your father but how did you all feel after you listened to the new recording?
Having done this work with our dad was so special to us. During the recording Roy, Jr. and Wesley looked over at me and said this is from our list of things to do in life and we can just scratch off three of the top ones right away – recording with dad, with our brothers and at the Cash Cabin. We had so much fun together and it was a really special thing for us.
Are there any plans for you to work on a joint project with your brothers?
Playing with my brothers has been fun and we all talked about getting together and doing more. We’ve had the dream about the Orbison Brothers and our company Roy’s Boys was the first name I had thrown into the pot for a family band.
With Mystery Girl and his work with The Traveling Wilburys your father was enjoying a creative renaissance and a rise in popularity. What are your own thoughs on this period of his career.
Roy, Jr. stated it best, 'it is not clear if the result of his peace in life and happiness is from making the new record or if he made the record from a result of his new peace.’ We had moved from Nashville to Malibu, California and it was different from Nashville where the tour busses stopped by. In Malibu he was able to go out, go to the store and let people know he was active. He was looking for songs, recording and having my mum Barbara manage him and finding a new label and press agent – all these things blended together to make the perfect team. My dad had been meditating and looking for deeper meaning, calm and peace in his life. Everything just intertwined in a beautiful way. To me it is really beautiful that he had that opportunity and was able to end on a high note in a very Orbison fashion. Mystery Girl ended up being timeless.
You also produced the Mystery Girl: Unraveled Documentary and worked on the new videos that are included on the deluxe edition. Can you tell us more about these?
For the documentary we started with archival footage from Mike Campbell’s garage which his home studio. The vocal booth is in the garage and you can see the boxes behind my dad in the footage. You couldn’t see the booth from the control room (the guest bedroom) and they ran cords and had a video filming in the garage, The footage is very, very candid with everyone acting themselves. Other sources are the live performance in Antwerp singing You Got It, a TV performance of In The Real World and CBS footage. The idea was to show what happened when they were making a Roy Orbison record and each scene is a different song. We also had beautiful interviews with Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Bono, Richard Dodd who had engineered part of Mystery Girl and the majority of The Wilburys. We dug pretty deep to get as much as we could cover and make it entertaining at the same time. From the archive footage we made the new videos. The You Got It video has lots of the behind the scenes footage, part of the Antwerp performance and in the studio adding the handclaps. On California Blue you can see my dad do almost the entire lead vocal track and it has the alternate ending with the high Orbison crescendo. That’s my favourite song of the bonus material aside from The Way Is Love.
Thanks Alex for taking the time to talk to us?
Thanks very much, it was my pleasure.