The Pop Life: Those Wilbury Boys
By Stephen Holden
The New York Times — November 16, 1988
The formation of the Traveling Wilburys, an all-star recording group made up of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne, was one of those happy accidents born out of an inspired whim.
“If we had planned it ahead of time, it probably would not have worked because of all the business complications,” Mr. Petty said the other day in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “But once it was rolling, no one wanted to stop it.”
The Traveling Wilburys originated last spring, when Mr. Harrison, who was visiting Los Angeles, needed to put together a band on the spur of the moment to record the B side of a European single from his ‘Cloud Nine’ album. Having enlisted Mr. Lynne and Mr. Orbison as members of an impromptu recording group, the former Beatle invited Mr. Petty to join, and they ended up at Bob Dylan’s house, where in one day they collectively wrote and recorded the song “Handle With Care.”
“We had such a good time together that we decided to make a whole album out of it,” Mr. Petty recalled. “The rest of the record was completed over the summer in Los Angeles and London in only nine days. The songwriting process was unusual in that each song had the input of five different people. I don’t think any of us had written that way before, and it was a very enjoyable experience. Usually one person would start with an idea, then everybody would add lines and make suggestions and criticisms. The sessions began in the afternoon. We
started every song with five acoustic guitars and drums. We may be the only group in the world with five rhythm guitar players.”
The group, whose name was suggested to Mr. Harrison by Prince Charles at a Prince’s Trust concert, claims to have a whimsical family history dating back to the sixth century. Each of the five mythical Wilburys was born to a different wife of the same father, Charles Truscott Wilbury Sr., a notorious drinker and womanizer. Nelson Wilbury (Mr. Harrison) is the group’s official biographer. His four brothers are Lucky (Mr. Dylan), Otis (Mr. Lynne), Charlie T. Jr. (Mr. Petty) and Lefty (Mr. Orbison).
The success of “The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1” (Wilbury/Warner Brothers) album, which in its second week of release jumped to No. 23 on Billboard’s pop-album chart, has prompted vague talk of a possible tour. But whether the group will actually reconvene is open to question.
“Though we’ve all said we’d do it again, I would hate to see it become too official,” Mr. Petty cautioned. “Then it would be like work.”