Aztec man recalls recording legendary singer-songwriter Roy Orbison

James Fenton The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — As a teen in the early '60s, Jake Hottell cast a wish that he would one day meet legendary singer-songwriter Roy Orbison.

A little more than a decade later, he met The Big O.

Hottell, 67, served in Korea as an Army electronics engineer and recorded Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis in Nashville, Tenn. Now he runs his own recording label and publishing company in Aztec. When he is not busy promoting healthy eating at area schools, he plays duets on the guitar with his wife.

In high school, Hottell played rock 'n' roll and was a big fan of Orbison, Buck Owens and Hank Williams. He had a rock band that practiced in his mother's Aztec flower shop.

"We were sitting in the flower shop, and I said, 'I know that if we could meet Roy Orbison, he would help us make it,'" said Hottell, who graduated Aztec High School in 1965. "And isn't it amazing that I ended up working for Roy Orbison? I didn't even know he was in Nashville."

Hottell landed a big break when he began work as head engineer at Orbison's Nashville studio.

It was there he engineered Orbison's country-inflected, back-to-roots 1970s album, "I'm Still in Love with You."

He recorded many others, including Jessi Coulter (Waylon Jennings' wife), the Statler Brothers (backing vocal group for Johnny Cash) and Latin American country star Johnny Rodriguez.

But it was his affiliation with Orbison, the legendary singer behind the dark shades whose baritone voice fueled songs of regret and dreams, that clearly meant the most.

Orbison, known for his demanding studio preferences, especially his dislike of track overdubbing. The album Hottell recorded for Orbison involved more than 30 musicians -- Orbison, band and orchestra section -- all at once.

"That was an extremely demanding session for the engineer, trying to have everything work for all those musicians in a single take," Hottell said.

He became friends with Orbison and his family, but it was the music that Hottell said was really was special.

"One day I got the chance to drive over to Orbison's four-story mansion, next door Johnny Cash's, just outside Nashville," he said. "He and I went into his writing room and for the entire day, we wrote songs together."

No songs from that day resulted in a chart-busting hit, but Hottell cherishes the experience, despite the challenges.

"I would work over 100 hours each week at the studio, in that smoke-filled control room," he said. "I didn't drink or do drugs, but a lot of folks did. They're all dead now."

After years working behind the recording console, Hottell is committed to promoting greater health.

"I had a number of inoculations from the Army and worked in a factory that produced the 'selective weed killer,' known as Agent Orange," he said. "By the time I was 36, I had bad rashes and acid burns on my face and arms. I had daily migraines. My liver was in bad shape."

He and his wife, Sharon Hottell, credit chlorophyll, a barley-grass supplement called Green Magma, a raw food diet and drinking only distilled water for helping him heal and maintain good health. The couple's determination to keep to their health principles includes neither one seeing a doctor or taking a single aspirin for more than 30 years.

"If people only realized what they're putting into their bodies when they consume much of the food and drink this society promotes," said Jake Hottell. "Not that I don't get a headache from time to time. I just think differently about it now. There's an expression: you can't poison your way to health."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.