Born May 1935, Bonham, Texas
Joe Melson is of course best known as the co-writer of many Roy Orbison hits. He lived on a farm until he was sixteen, attended high school in Gore (Oklahoma) and Chicago (Illinois) and finished his education at Odessa College in West Texas. At the age of fourteen he became interested in music and took voice training for two years. When he was eighteen, he formed his own band (The Fannin County Boys) and began entertaining at clubs and school proms. The advent of rock 'n' roll did not fail to have its effect on Joe : soon he was leading a rockabilly band called the Cavaliers, based in Midland, where they were spotted by local impresario Ray Rush, who was the man responsible for bringing Melson and Orbison together. Joe moved to Nashville in 1959 and the two struck up a songwriting part- nership. There was no music-lyrics delineation as there was between teams like Burt Bacharach and Hal David or Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. Their first collaboration, "Uptown", was Roy Orbison's second single for Monument (released in January 1960), and reached # 72 on the Billboard charts, making it Roy's first chart entry since "Ooby Dooby".
However, it was their follow-up, "Only the Lonely", that established Orbison as an international star and set the pattern for the operatic ballad style that became his trademark. Melson contributed the dum-dum-dum dooby-doo- wah background vocals, along with the Anita Kerr Singers. Over 1960-1961, Orbison and Melson spun off a succession of hits that included "Blue Angel", "I'm Hurtin'", the # 1 "Running Scared" and "Crying". Their partnership came then to a temporary end, but was revived with "Blue Bayou" in 1963, albeit not for long. Orbison found a new songwriting partner in Bill Dees.
Already in 1960, Joe Melson had signed a contract as a singer with Acuff- Rose's Hickory label. He released seven singles on Hickory (1960-1963), accompanied by the Nashville A-team: Hank Garland, Grady Martin, Floyd Cramer, Buddy Harman and the other luminaries. His first session was held on March 24, 1960, and produced the A-sides of his first two singles (also his best rockers) : "Oh Yeah" and "Barbara". Good as most of these records were, commercially the results were disappointing. Joe's waxing of "Dance" is far superior to the contrived Roy Orbison version, IMO.
After his Hickory contract expired, Joe signed with another Nashville-based label, EMP, owned by producer Billy Empson. Two singles followed. Joe did not record again until 1977 when a single appeared on Shue Records, a label from Norfolk, Nebraska.
After his partnership with Orbison ended, Melson continued to write songs. His most successful song outside the Orbison/Melson affiliation was "Run Baby Run (Back Into My Arms)", a # 12 hit for fellow Hickory recording artists The Newbeats, in 1965. One of his most dramatic compositions is almost completely unknown : "Nightfall" by Sherry Grooms (ABC 10875, 1967), which brings together all the ingredients of his previous successes (Running Scared, Crying, The Crowd) into one crashing finale. In 1971, the affiliation with Orbison was rekindled, but sadly did not produce any hits, though their magic was still evident. During this second association, which lasted until 1975, Melson also produced many of Roy's later MGM recordings.
Joe then started writing for the country market, scoring the occasional minor hit with artists like Glenn Barber and Billy Walker. After the mid-80s he completely disappeared out of sight, at least my sight.
Joe's seven Hickory singles have been collected on a Bear Family LP from 1979, "A Milestone in Rock 'n' Roll Music, Vol. 2 : Joe Melson" (BFX 15027), which has not been reissued on CD.
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