The Wilburys are here again
By Savitha Gautam
The Hindu — July 11, 2007
The songs convey the joy and camaraderie shared by the five rock legends
It all started as a fun thing. Former Beatle George Harrison was working on his album “Cloud Nine”, produced by good friend and fellow songwriter Jeff Lynne. One evening, they were sharing a meal with the legendary Roy Orbison at philosopher-friend Bob Dylan’s home. Tom Petty of the Heartbreakers fame was there too as he “had come to fetch his guitar”. The five friends sat down and jammed. And wrote the song, “Handle with care.” It was originally meant to be “just a filler” for Side B of Harrison’s new album. But Harrison felt “it was so good, it needed to be in a new album.”
The cheerful, mid-tempo “Handle with care” went on to become one of the biggest hits of a band of musicians who called themselves The Traveling Wilburys (Wilburys was the name that George and Jeff gave the studio equipment!). The group’s first album Vol-1, which was completed in just 10 days as Dylan had a tour scheduled, has songs credited to all the five rock greats, who went by the names Otis, Nelson, Lefty, Charlie T. Jr. and Lucky. As Petty explained, “We did not want to go under our names as we didn’t want to sound like a bunch of lawyers!”
Back on the shelves
But why this sudden interest in a supergroup which is now bereft of two of its members — Roy Orbison and George Harrison? The recently released “The Traveling Wilburys Collection”, and it contains two albums with bonus tracks, a 24-minute documentary and five music videos. The recordings were not available for a long time owing to contractual problems. Now, Vol-1 and Vol-3 (typical Harrison humour here that led to naming the second album Vol-3) are back on the shelves, with four previously unreleased tracks, including “Maxine” and “Like A Ship.” The collection has already topped the charts in the U.K ., selling 5,00,000 copies worldwide during the first three weeks. Not surprising. When Vol-1 was released in the October of 1988, it created quite an impact. The folk-rock-meets-Beatlesque melodies had everybody humming. And they are ever so fresh even now. Check out a remarkable performance by Orbison on “Not alone anymore”, which many consider one of his finest. “Nobody’s Child”, the “charity single” and the cover of an old country number, which put the spotlight on the orphans in Romania, touches a chord. Then there are “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”, Dylan’s tongue-in-cheek send-up of Americana songs and the jokey ode to the 1950s “The Wilbury twist”. This is music composed and written by five top artistes who have left their individual ‘giant’ status behind the door and are just having the time of their lives.
That camaraderie and joy comes through as one watches the documentary featuring the recording sessions in Dave Stewart’s home. It’s incredible to follow the five friends who sit around Dave’s kitchen-converted-into-a-studio, strum their guitars and fine-tune lyrics and harmonies. And nobody’s ego plays up here!
The music videos capture four exceptional musicians (sadly, Orbison died after “Handle with care” was recorded) enjoy themselves as they croon the rocking “She’s my baby” (the opening track of Vol-3), the “Inside out” or the dance-floor worthy “The Wilbury twist.”
Bob Dylan is a revelation here. His happiness is almost infectious as he choruses “End of the line”. And boy, is he actually smiling! There is a tender moment — when the camera zooms in on a rocking chair with a guitar placed on it even as Orbison’s distinct voice floats in the air with the words “End of the line.” Petty recalls, “After getting Roy to sing with us, George, Jeff and I were like ‘Roy Orbison’s in our band!’ I think we could never get over it.” And neither could they get over Orbison’s death.