Wilburys set to travel again
By Matt Hurwitz
USA Today — June 11, 2007
Nelson, Otis, Charlie T. Jr., Lefty and Lucky were never household names on the order of, say, John, Paul, George and Ringo. But in 1988, the alter egos of George Harrison, Jeff Lynne (ELO), Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan were lighting up airwaves and sales charts as the Traveling Wilburys.
The supergroup’s double-platinum-selling debut album, Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1, reached No. 3 on the Billboard album charts and spawned two hit singles, Handle With Care and End of the Line. Then came the playfully titled Traveling Wilburys, Vol . 3 two years later. (“That was George’s idea,” says Lynne, who co-produced both albums with the former Beatle, who died in 2001. “He said, ‘Let’s confuse the buggers.’ “)
The two much-treasured albums, complete with four bonus tracks and a DVD of home movies from the sessions, are being reissued Tuesday by Rhino as The Traveling Wilburys Collection, after more than 10 years’ absence.
Maxine and Like a Ship, featuring Harrison and Dylan, respectively, on lead vocals, are previously unreleased outtakes from Vol . 3. “They were completed, except for some harmonies, so I asked George’s son, Dhani, to do his father’s parts, which was nice,” Lynne says.
The third bonus track, Nobody’s Child, was recorded for Nobody’s Child: Romanian Angel Appeal , a charity album Harrison’s wife, Olivia, put together to help Romanian orphans. The fourth song, Runaway, was a B-side to a British single (She’s My Baby).
The DVD features the original music videos, along with a 24-minute documentary told in the group’s own voices. Fans will savor home videos shot during the recording of both albums, showing everything from writing sessions to vocal tracking to fun with the guys.
“George loved the Wilburys,” Petty says. “He treasured it, really. He missed having a band.” Adds Olivia Harrison: “He was happy to play music with anyone — Dhani’s school friends, me. He just wanted to play.”
Harrison floated the idea of putting together a band of “over-40s,” possibly called The Tremblers, while recording his hit solo album Cloud Nine with producer Lynne, recalls engineer Richard Dodd. The name eventually evolved.
“He and Jeff used to call gadgets in the studio ‘wilburys,’ like, ‘Let’s give that sound a trembling wilbury,’ ” Olivia says. “One night, they said, ‘Oh, if you had a band, you could call it the Traveling Wilburys.’ “
The opportunity came to create that band in April 1988, when Harrison needed to record a B-side for his single This Is Love. While in Los Angeles, he popped in on Lynne, who was working on Orbison’s Mystery Girl album, to ask for help.
“Jeff told him, ‘I can’t do it right now, I’m with Roy,’ ” recalls Orbison’s wife, Barbara. “But George was very smooth. He asked Roy, ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ and Roy said, ‘Whatever Jeff is doing,’ and George said, ‘Well, I need Jeff’s help.’ “
After a quick phone call to Dylan, Harrison secured a studio — Bob’s garage — for the following day.
Petty had co-written Orbison’s You Got It and was pals with Harrison. “By the time we got to Bob’s, the band was falling into line,” Petty says. “It just wasn’t official.”
The reluctant Dylan was brought into the fold after Harrison, who had the tune but no lyrics, played him the song. When Dylan asked its name, “George looked around and spotted some words on a touring case in the garage: Handle with care,” Lynne says.
“We wrote the words over dinner,” Petty says. “Bob grilled us some chicken, and we wrote the words together in the garden.”
The song was recorded that night and presented to Warner Bros. Records chief Mo Ostin, who insisted that Harrison not waste it but continue recording an entire album.
With only 10 days to record before Dylan went on the road, Harrison, Lynne and Petty convened in Orbison’s dressing room at a show in Anaheim, Calif., to ask the singing legend to formally join the group. When he said yes, “we were so excited, we were like kids, jumping up and down and shouting and screaming,” Lynne says.
The album was recorded in Los Angeles at the home studio of The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and released five months later to universal acclaim.
The project was bittersweet — Orbison died just two months later, before the recording of the second disc — but the experience had been extraordinary for all involved. “It was a nice vacation from the spotlight,” Petty says. “We were sharing the load together.”
Harrison was happy to have the camaraderie, his widow says. “They had such great skill and brought out the best in you, and they were people you wanted to do your best for. That’s really what it was about for him, and probably for all of them.”
HOW 5 SUPERSTARS MADE A LITTLE TRAVELING MUSIC
The Beatles spent nearly six months recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and most big bands today drag out an album’s work over several years. So how did the Traveling Wilburys’ five rock ‘n’ roll superstars do it in 10 days?
“We’d show up at the studio in various states of …” Jeff Lynne pauses. “Sobriety,” offers Tom Petty.
The musicians would sit in a circle in the kitchen with their acoustic guitars. “Somebody would have a couple of chords, and then we’d say, ‘That’s good. What about this?’ It would be a jigsaw puzzle,” Lynne says.
They’d record the rhythm track, sometimes with session drummer Jim Keltner. After writing lyrics over dinner, the group would record vocals. “George (Harrison) would audition us,” Petty recalls. “It was really intimidating. One day, Roy (Orbison) went out and sung, and George said, ‘OK, Tom, let’s hear you do it.’ I was, like, ‘God, I don’t really want to sing after him.’ “
With 10 songs in the can, the band retreated to Harrison’s studio in England a few weeks later for finishing touches. “Every day was more or less like that,” Lynne says. “It was just, like, ‘When we come up with one, we’ll record it.’ “