A night with the Big O: Rock pioneer Kent Morrill brings Roy Orbison back to life in benefit concert for graduating seniors

Kent Morrill’s Roy Orbison Show won him Entertainer of the Year honors in Las Vegas.  - Contributed photos
Kent Morrill’s Roy Orbison Show won him Entertainer of the Year honors in Las Vegas.
— image credit: Contributed photos

"Louie, Louie"

"Tall Cool One"

Before there was Hendrix, Heart or Nirvana, there were The Fabulous Wailers.

The pioneers of rock’s Northwest Sound (their “Tall Cool One” reached the national charts at No. 36 in June 1959 when they were still in high school), proved the multi-generational appeal of roots rock Friday. They joined the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers The Ventures at Seattle’s Moore Theater to celebrate their joint album, “Two Car Garage.” The Moore was packed, with tickets going for as much as $100.

Fifty years of rock, timeless surf-guitar classics like “Surf Rider,” “Tequila,” “Wild Weekend,” “California Sun,” and “Wipe Out.”

So consider it a gift that you can catch Wailers front man

Kent Morrill in the intimate San Juan Community Theater for $25, in his acclaimed tribute to Roy Orbison.

The concert, April 19 at 4 and 7 p.m., benefits the Friday Harbor High School senior class’ alcohol-free grad night activities. The benefit is underwritten by Pat O’Day. Business sponsor is Islanders Bank. The Friday Harbor High School Jazz Band opens the show.

Morrill performed as the Big O to sell-out and near-sell-out crowds at SJCT in October 2007 and September 2006. His performance has been called “unbelievably authentic” and his show won Entertainer of the Year honors in Las Vegas.

While Morrill’s target audience is between 40 and 70, younger faces are seen in the audience.

“It’s fundamental rock roots,” said O’Day, the acclaimed early rock D.J. and concert promoter. “If you like Carrie Underwood, you’ve gotta like the stuff Roy did. His ballads are gorgeous, his lyrics outstanding.”

Those who appreciate rock ‘n’ roll — or any music, for that matter — have got to appreciate seeing three iconic music figures on stage together — Morrill, as himself and in the form of Orbison; and O’Day, formerly of KJR radio.

This is pure rock history. The Kitsap Sun’s Michael C. Moore wrote in December 2007: “Morrill’s Wailers were one of the bands that benefitted from the power wielded by O’Day over the burgeoning Northwest rock ‘n’ roll scene in the early and middle 1960s. Not only were they booked for local teen dances (O’Day and Associates at one point were presenting more than 50 such events around the state per week), but they sometimes found themselves opening for national acts, the Wailers opening for the Rolling Stones and the Sonics as warm-up for the Kinks. The Wailers, the Viceroys, the Dynamics, the Casuals and other Puget Sound bands also were playlisted in KJR’s ‘Fab 50.’ “

Orbison was known as much for rockabilly as he was ballads. Listen to “Working for the Man.” After a long week, who hasn’t felt like that? (“Well, pick up your feet, we’ve got a deadline to meet, I’m gonna see you make it on time. Don’t relax, I want to see elbows and backs. I wanna see everybody from behind.”)

Remember “Ooby Dooby”? (“Baby, jump over here. When you do the ooby dooby, I wanna be near.”) Sinatra’s “scooby doobie doo” had nothing on Roy’s “Ooby Dooby.”

In his unique style of spin, O’Day told of lowering the ticket price to $25 from the previous concerts’ $35.

“Times are tough right now and we want to make it comfortable for everybody to attend,” he said. “Twenty-five dollars is the cost of one overtime parking ticket on Spring Street. You can pay for an extra 15 minutes of parking downtown, or you can see the great Roy Orbison show.”

— Tickets: $25 at the theater or call 378-3210. Tickets are tax-deductible and support Friday Harbor High School grad night activities.

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