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Bill Dees, Who Co-Wrote Roy Orbison's 'Oh Pretty Woman,' Dies

Bill Dees on NPR in 2008

Bill Dees, who kicked off the creative process that produced one of rock 'n' roll's greatest songsOh Pretty Woman — has died. He was 73.

According to the Kirby and Family Funeral Home in Mountain Home, Ark., Dees died on Oct. 24 and will be remembered at a funeral on Saturday.

In 2008, Dees talked with NPR about how he and Roy Orbison came up with the song.

They were in the singer's home, Dees said, when Orbison's wife "came bopping down the stairs and said 'give me some money' " so that she could go shopping. Orbison did, and "as she walked away they were ... whispering and kissing goodbye," Dees said. When Orbison came back in the room, "I said 'does this sound funny? Pretty woman, don't need no money.' "

Orbison "laughed and said 'there's nothing funny about a pretty woman" and they started crafting the song's classic lyrics and tune.

"By the time she came back, we had it written," Dees said.

As they worked, Orbison said "I feel like I need to say something" as the song's classic guitar lick plays. "You're always saying 'mercy,' " Dees told him. "Why don't you say 'mercy?' Every time you see a pretty girl you say mercy."

And that's how the classic song was made.

Dees, a signer and a producer as well as a songwriter, also co-wrote Orbison's hit It's Over. He also wrote songs with Wes Helm, including Me And Old Crazy Bill, which was recorded by Loretta Lynn and Dinah Shore.

His conversation was NPR was also videotaped and posted in three parts on YouTube. In this one, he sings Oh Pretty Woman.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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