Entering Orbison’s Orbit

Allow me to set the stage for you. It was a hot day in June, 2013, when I received a phone call from Chuck Turner, friend and engineer at the Cash Cabin studio.

“I just wanted to let you know that you might get a call from John Carter Cash,” he said. “John Carter is producing an unreleased Roy Orbison song, “The Way is Love”, and he wants string parts on it. I threw your hat in the ring.”

Needless to say, I just about fainted. (If you are interested, here is the full story about how the song came to be discovered.) The call came in mid-September, and I set to work, trying not to think too hard about what I was doing.

Fast forward to October, 2013. After a few days of frenzied composing, recording day had arrived. I headed to the Cash Cabin with a knot of trepidation in my stomach. Fortunately, the parts sounded great, as did the lovely ladies who played them with me.

Kristin Weber, Sarah Wilfong, Betsy Lamb, and Emily Nelson on the steps of the Cash Cabin

Roy’s son, Alex Orbison, co-produced the session with John Carter Cash. Both of these fine gentlemen were wonderful to work with, and put us at ease. A few hours later we were finished, and the enormity of what had just happened finally came crashing down on me. I had just written parts for a Roy Orbison song. I HAD JUST RECORDED WITH ROY FREAKING ORBISON. I spent the next week walking on air. (And the very next day, I performed with  Michael Bublé. But that’s another story!)

Fast forward again, this time to May 19th, 2014. I received a text from Emily Nelson, the cellist from the session, inviting me to go see a documentary about Roy Orbison at the local artsy theater the next day. Now, I had known that the release date of the Mystery Girl album (which “The Way is Love” was a bonus track on) was May 20th. How I didn’t connect the album release with the documentary, I’ll never know.

In any case, I blithely arrived at the movie theater to meet Emily and Kristin Weber (the other violinist from the session) wearing an old sundress, sweaty and sticky from chasing my daughter around at the park. Imagine my surprise when I saw the red carpet and the photographer next to the door. My surprise was mirrored in Kristin and Emily’s faces when they arrived moments later. Undaunted, we took a selfie on the red carpet.

The documentary was revealed to be about the making of the Mystery Girl album, track by track. It really was fascinating, and all the while a little voice in my head kept asking, “Are they going to play The Song? Are you going to hear your string parts on the big screen?” I told that little voice, “Shh!–I am trying to pay attention to Bono talking about
writing with Roy!” And then, Wesley, Roy Jr., and Alex Orbison were on screen talking about “The Way is Love”, and what a magical experience it was recording with their dad, albeit posthumously. It was an incredibly sweet segment, and a snippet of a rough version of the song pre-strings played in the background. And then they were on to the next track. The little voice in my head sighed in disappointment, and I told it firmly to get a grip, the strings were clearly not the most important thing about that song!

The credits rolled. The credits ended. The theater stayed dark. And then four lonesome piano notes sounded, and I heard the violin parts Kristin and I had recorded clear as day as this video started.

Emily and Kristin grabbed my arms, and the three of us strangled squeals of shock and delight! A few tears ran down my cheeks as I heard the finished song for the first time. It was one of the most magical 4 minutes and 11 seconds of my musical life.

We left the theater, and stopped to pose in our cool shades.

Kristin, Sarah, and Emily pose with Roy

There are a few lessons I’ll take away from this experience. First, magic happens in unexpected ways, at unexpected times. That’s why it’s magic. Second, always brush your teeth and hair before you leave the house, because you never know when you will end up on a red carpet!







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