A Real ‘Supergroup’
by Robb Frederick
The Daily Collegian — January 25, 1989
The Traveling Wilburys | ★★★★
Throughout the history of rock music, several attempts have been made to create the ideal ‘supergroup,’ but few efforts have resulted in a band deserving of the label.
The formation of Blind Faith, a powerhouse group containing Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, gave music fans of the ’60s a brief view of a ‘supergroup,’ but personality conflicts ended the band’s short reign.
Another attempt was made during 1985, when Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page joined Paul Rodgers, the vocalist for Bad Company, and two studio musicians gathered to create The Firm. Although The Firm offered stimulating collaborations, the group was not well received by the public, and disbanded after two albums.
The latest attempt of ‘supergroup’ formation, The Traveling Wilburys, offers a combined effort by five prominent musical pioneers. Success at last.
But who are these mystical Wilburys? According to the album’s liner notes, the Wilburys are five brothers who shared the same father although each had a different mother. Each artist has also selected a light-hearted pseudonym for the Wilbury’s first release, Volume One.
The unorthodox lineup of five rhythm guitarists includes Lucky Wilbury (Bob Dylan), Otis Wilbury (Jeff Lynne), Nelson Wilbury (George Harrison), Lefty Wilbury (Roy Orbison), and Charlie T. Jr. (Tom Petty).
The concept of the Wilburys was initially devised to supply the B-Side for a single to be released by George Harrison. The worthiness of the resulting song was instantly recognized by executives at Warner Bros., and the group was asked to continue recording.
In spite of the differing styles that these superior musicians are known for, the group’s collaborations are excellent. The Wilburys combine their talents for the upbeat “End of the Line,” which finishes the album with a grateful, worry-free message, and the catchy “Margarita,” which is perhaps Volume One’s most exhilarating offering. On the opening number, “Handle With Care,” each of the Wilburys takes a turn at complementing George Harrison’s lead vocals.
Although the combined efforts of the Wilburys are enough to please most listeners, the remainder of this album consists of small collaborations or solo efforts that illustrate the true potential of these artists.
Following the considerable success of his comeback album Cloud Nine, Harrison remains in fine form throughout Volume One. His lead vocals on “Handle With Care” and “Heading for the Light” are a welcome return for an artist who has remained silent for too long.
Tom Petty validates his position in the Wilburys line-up on “Last Night,” a song describing the unpleasant ending of a one-night stand.
Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra is virtually an unknown when compared to the other Wilburys. Although his musical input is usually given as a producer, Lynne is an extremely talented musician who proves his significance on the song “Rattled.”
Bob Dylan, who was once considered “the spokesman of a generation,” supplies the greatest performance on Volume One. Dylan’s recent solo works have suffered from a lack of energy and worthwhile material, but he returns to peak form on songs like “Congratulations,” “Dirty World,” and “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.”
The only upsetting aspect of the Traveling Wilburys has been the untimely death of rock legend Roy Orbison, the group’s fifth member. Through his inclusion in the Wilburys and the completion of a forthcoming solo album, Orbison’s career was coming back in full force. His death in early December not only destroyed the chances of a continuation of the Wilburys, it ended a long career of extraordinary musical accomplishments.
Orbison can be remembered on his Wilbury ballad “Not Alone Anymore,” which demonstrates the classic Orbison – a love song in which notes are reached with an ease rivaled by no others.
Although the Traveling Wilburys will not continue their musical greatness, their efforts will be remembered and respected by many. The music world has finally found its supergroup.