Bill Dees, at 73; co-wrote hit song ‘Pretty Woman’

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. — Bill Dees emerged from his days as an out-of-cash young songwriter to pen tunes recorded by Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and other country music greats, but the centerpiece of his career was his work with Roy Orbison, including co-writing the classic rock hit, ‘‘Oh, Pretty Woman.’’

Bill Dees

Mr. Dees, who died in Arkansas Oct. 24 at age 73, had said that writing that song with ­Orbison in 1964 changed his life. In a 2008 interview with National Public Radio, Mr. Dees recalled that the night they wrote the hit song, Orbison told him he would not need to go to work that Monday if he did not want to.

‘‘He said, ‘Buy yourself an electric piano, and I’ll take you on the road with me.’ And he said, ‘I’ll pay you what the band’s getting,’ ’’ Mr. Dees said during the NPR interview, which is posted on his website.


He went on to tour Europe and perform on the Ed Sullivan Show with Orbison, with whom he also co-wrote numerous other songs, including ‘‘It’s Over,’’ which also was a number one hit.

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The Texas native left home to seek work in Nashville, where he went on to write songs recorded by performers who also included Glen Campbell. But working with Orbison defined his career.

Mr. Dees became embroiled in a lawsuit over ‘‘Oh, Pretty Woman’’ that made its way to the US ­Supreme Court in the early 1990s, after rap group 2 Live Crew recorded a rewrite despite being ­refused permission by Acuff-Rose Music Inc., which owned the copyright.

Mr. Dees, who detested the ribald rewrite, explained: ‘‘It’s like if someone asks you if they could use the car,’’ he said in an interview in 1993. ‘‘We said no, but they take it and paint it all different colors.’’

The high court sided with the raunchy rappers, saying the recording was a parody that could be considered fair use. The two sides later settled.


Mr. Dees eventually moved with his family to Arkansas, and he lived in the Ozarks region of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri for more than 20 years.

A memorial is planned Saturday in Mountain Home, the northern Arkansas city where he died, according to the Kirby and Family funeral home, which did not release details about his death. Another gathering will be held next month in Branson, Mo.

Mr. Dees said in a 1970 interview with the Amarillo Globe-News that he first met Orbison when the singer performed in Amarillo, Texas. Mr. Dees went to Nashville twice in 1962 to work with ­Orbison, then decided to move his family there in 1964, traveling in a 1955 Pontiac.

They made it to Nashville, where the car soon broke down, and Mr. Dees said he had to use his overcoat as payment to get the car towed to a mechanic, the newspaper reported Wednesday.

Mr. Dees did not initially seek out Orbison after moving to Nashville because he wanted to establish himself without help, according to a biography on Mr. Dees’s website. But the pair reconnected, and with Orbison, Mr. Dees crossed Europe and twice went to England.


They appeared with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and played on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Mr. Dees leaves his wife, Nancy Decker-Dees of Kissee Mills, Mo.; four children and two step-children, a brother, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to the funeral home’s obituary.