Everyone involved with Mystery Girl sensed the magic in Roy Orbison, who, in 1988, was enjoying a full creative renaissance and resurgence of popularity. One of Roy's classic recordings, "In Dreams," memorably lip-synched into a hurricane lamp by Dean Stockwell, had served as a key thematic element in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet," igniting a renewed interest in the Big O.
In a series of bold aesthetic moves, Orbison directly addressed his legacy, first with Class of '55 (a 1986 reunion album with fellow Sun Records alumni Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins) and then, In Dreams: The Greatest Hits, where Orbison recut many of his biggest songs, using 1980s technology to produce results often surpassing his original recordings.
At this same time, Roy Orbison became a founding member of the Traveling Wilburys, the roots rock supergroup also featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty. It was during work with the Wilburys that the vision for Mystery Girl, a new Roy Orbison album made of original songs from a variety of writers-including Roy Orbison, Diane Warren, Elvis Costello, Wesley Orbison and U2s Bono and the Edge (among others)-began taking shape.
"When he sang it, it was absolutely magnificent," said Jeff Lynne, who would produce tracks for Mystery Girl. "His voice, I had never heard a voice like that live, you know, in the studio, ever . He had this wonderful spirit, almost like a kid in many ways.
He was just a happy guy. I love him . 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.'"
Roy's core group of musicians on the original Mystery Girl recordings included Jeff Lynne (guitar, piano, bass, backing vocals), Tom Petty (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Mike Campbell (guitar, bass, mandolin), Jim Keltner (drums), Howie Epstein (bass, backing vocals), and Benmont Tench (piano, organ, cheap strings). Contributing artists on the album include Barbara Orbison, Roy Orbison, Jr., Al Kooper, George Harrison, Bono, T Bone Burnett, Steve Cropper, The Memphis Horns, and more.
"I was just taken by how amazing this guy was. Just sitting, singing softly, sitting on the sofa with an acoustic guitar, his voice was unbelievable." remembers Tom Petty. "The music will live on, you know; it's very timeless music."
Mike Campbell added, "Any time I hear one of Roy's songs, wherever I am, I just stop and listen to it and he's there, you know. His artistry and his voice and his spirit and the depth of his soul is so unique and it just connects with you in such a deep way . He just had a way of getting into your heart."
"He was a real innovator, truly a great singer," said Bono. "The real rebels to me always had manners. Elvis, you know, and Roy, Roy was a true gentleman. And that's a scary thing in a man, do you know what I mean? A man that's so sure in himself that he can be polite."
The legendary guitarist Steve Cropper confided that, "I've only met basically three, maybe three-and-a-half, of what I call 'light bulbs' in my life. And what I mean by 'light bulbs' is they're the brightest one in the room and when they walk in the door every head turns. Every head. Not just a few, not some people still talking in the corner. It's like everyone stops what they are doing. Elvis Presley, Otis Redding and Roy Orbison. And I saw that happen to Bill Clinton. So, there you go and I've never seen that happen to anybody else, ever."