William Marvin Dees (January 24, 1939 – October 24, 2012) was an American musician known for his songwriting collaborations with singer Roy Orbison.
|The Five Bops|
Bill Dees was born in Electra, Texas in 1939. The family moved to Borger, Texas when he was four and his father ran a sand and gravel plant. His mother taught him ukulele and piano and he would harmonise with his brothers at parties. They appeared on radio in Amarillo and then he sang and played guitar in the Five Bops. In 1957, they had a regional hit with "Jitterbuggin'", recorded at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis, New Mexico. An early song was "Borne On The Wind" about a man who was drowned while trying to save his children: this was later reworked by Roy Orbison for a hit single.
When he met Orbison, Orbison commented on his hardened hands, which came through working for his father. He said that Dees didn't have to work that hard, that they could write together, and their first success was with the revised "Borne On The Wind" early in 1964. This prompted Dees who was already married with four children to move to Nashville. He took any work he could and was writing all the time. Orbison recorded over 60 of their compositions and he also sang "Sleepy Hollow", one of Dees' songs that didn't require editing.
During one of their writing sessions in 1964, Roy's wife Claudette was going into town and asked him for some money. Dees joked, "Pretty woman never needs any money" and by the time, she had returned home they had "Oh Pretty Woman". "There is one of my favourite phrases in 'Oh Pretty Woman'," says Dees. "Whenever I saw a pretty woman or had a good meal, I would say 'Mercy', and Roy included that on the record." Dees sang harmony on the single and on the B-side, "Yo Te Amo Maria", Orbison let him sing lead on the chorus as he thought it sounded better.
At the time Dees was working at a warehouse. Orbison told him to get an electric keyboard and join the band. A few days later, Dees was backing Orbison on "Oh Pretty Woman" on The Ed Sullivan Show, and soon the song was No 1 in over 20 countries. Roy Orbison moved to MGM Records hoping it would lead to movie roles. He was a wooden actor in the western The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967) but the score, all the work of Orbison and Dees, included "There Won't Be Many Coming Home", which had contemporary relevance to Vietnam. "We wrote that for the movie," said Dees, "but the statement was about war in general. We knew that 'If they all come back but one, he was still some mother's son' was a heavy thought. In other words, we are all of the Family of Love and we don't have to kill each other if we don't want to."
Apparently, many record opportunities came Dees way during his tenure with Orbison, though they were viewed as direct competition and Dees “didn’t want to rock the boat”, so he passed again and again. However, Orbison did produce many sessions with Bill Dees in the lead that tragically never saw the light of day. After arguments, Dees and Orbison drifted apart; Dees wrote with Mark Mathis and Larry Henley of the Newbeats and with Wes Holm. He wrote no hits with them but his songs were recorded by Dinah Shore and Loretta Lynn. "Johnny Cash recorded 'Best Friend'," he said, "but he changed the melody so it sounded like 'Chim-Chim-Cheree'. I've no idea why."
In 1982 Van Halen revived "Oh Pretty Woman" successfully and Dees began writing with Roy Orbison again. Orbison died in 1988 and their song "Windsurfer" was on his final album, Mystery Girl (1989). The following year, "Oh Pretty Woman" had yet another lease of life when it was used in the film Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Dees made UK appearances in 1990, proving to be a bear of a man with a warm, Burl Ives vibe. Every autograph to an attractive female was prefaced with the words, "Oh pretty woman" and I had to stop him bringing one back to our house.
In 1992 Dees moved to the Ozarks and devoted his time to songwriting and proselytising. He released three CDs in his later years – Saturday Night At The Movies (2002), which included the superb and previously unissued Orbison/Dees ballad "So This Is Love", Castin' My Spell On You (2006) and Where Does The Time Go (2008).
Bill Dees lived in New Boston, Texas, for a number of years. There he continued writing and playing his music. Later he resided near Branson, Missouri. He remarried in 2003 and he wrote many songs with Jack Pribek before dying from a brain tumour on October 24, 2012. He was living at a nursing facility in Mountain Home, Arkansas, at the time of his death.
(Edited from Spencer Leigh article in The Independent, Aquarium Drunkard & Wikipedia)