Damien Leith blew Australia away with his hauntingly beautiful rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying on his way to winning the 2006 season of reality TV show, Australian Idol. Fourteen years on, a tribute album produced by Orbison’s widow, and countless tribute shows later, Damien Leith brings his critically acclaimed Roy – A Tribute to Roy Orbison with Strings to The Street, 1 February 7.30pm; thestreet.org.au
1.When did you first realise your affinity for Orbison?
I grew up listening to a lot of Roy Orbison … I come from a very musical house but I really got into Roy when I was on Australian Idol. When I performed one of his songs, his widow Barbara Orbison got in touch and said she really liked my performance, which motivated me to investigate his music and the man himself.
2.What have you learned about Orbison that’s not well known or obvious?
Everyone thinks of him as the guy with the glasses, dark suit, and barely spoke to the audience. But behind the scenes, Barbara told me he loved to dance. He had a real zest for life, he was a fun guy who loved to ride motorbikes and hang out with his friends. There’s a personal side to him that doesn’t come across.
3.What did it mean to have Orbison’s widow and his songwriting partner Joe Melson endorse what you’re doing?
It was pretty overwhelming. I worked with Barbara first, then met Joe afterward. Getting their backing really put strength behind it for me, and gave me the confidence to perform it in my way. I just try to be myself and sing his songs the way I would if they were my own.
4.What do you think it is that’s drawn you so close to his music?
It’s the style of his writing. Everyone knows his voice, it’s such a well recognised sound, but his writing often gets overlooked. Unique and dramatic, he would blend rock with opera with massive amounts of emotion.
5.Artists have covered Orbison’s music to great acclaim since the 1970s. What does it mean to be a part of that?
It’s a real testament to his music that 50 years later there are so many people out there covering his songs. In A Star is Born, there’s a whole section talking about Orbison. It’s great to be a part of that club that’s been inspired by him and gets to keep his music alive.