The Traveling Wilburys
By STEVE SEYMOUR
If you were longing for the return of the Traveling Wilburys, your wait is about to end. The recordings of the beloved supergroup, comprised of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, will become available again June 12 after being out-of-print for a decade.
The Traveling Wilburys evolved from Harrison's need for a B-side recording following the release of his "Cloud Nine" album in 1987. The former Beatle called producer and ex-Electric Light Orchestra leader Lynne who was working with Orbison on his "Mystery Girl" album. Tom Petty was added to the group when Harrison picked-up a guitar at his house. Then the quartet made their way to Dylan's garage recording studio and the group was complete.
"Handle With Care," the resulting song, was judged to be "too good" to waste on a single release, so Harrison rounded up the gang and they recorded nine more tracks to fill out a full album. "Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1" came out in Oct., 1988. Warmly received by the public, the album reached number three on the Billboard chart.
In promoting the disc, Harrison explained how the band came about. "The thing about the Wilburys for me is, if we'd tried to plan it, or if anybody had said, 'let's form this band and get these people in it,' it would never happen, it's impossible. It happened completely, just by magic, just by circumstance. Maybe there was a full moon that night or something like that. It was a magical little thing really."
The album appealed to the public due to the easy-going nature of the songs and because the stars involved represented three generations of singer-songwriters.
Plus, it was obvious the five stars were having fun making music together. Group members even took assumed names on the album. Harrison was "Nelson" Wilbury, Dylan was "Lucky," Orbison was "Lefty," Petty was "Charlie T." and Lynne was "Otis."
However, tragedy struck just weeks after the album was released when Orbison died of a heart attack on Dec. 6, 1988.
Three months later, "End of the Line" was released as another single, while the album won a Grammy for best rock performance. Because radio and clubs embraced the music, extended versions were prepared for both singles.
The success of the album spurred the Gretsch guitar folks to issue a custom six-string instrument as a tribute to the Traveling Wilburys. My wife Sue and I were able to obtain one of the guitars, each of which featured unique collage style artwork. Made in Korea, only 300 of the limited edition guitars were manufactured.
As time passed, rumours began to circulate that Del Shannon was being considered as a replacement for Orbison. Although Harrison worked on a solo Shannon project called "Hot Love" in 1988 and the Wilburys produced a demo recording of "Runaway," the Michigan born rocker died on Feb. 8, 1990, preventing any such collaboration.
Still, the four surviving members reunited to produce "Vol. 3," dedicated to Orbison, which reached number 11 on Billboard and contained the radio hits "She's My Baby" and "Wilbury Twist." (No Vol. 2 was issued. Some think Petty's "Full Moon Fever" album fills that role. Others contend skipping Vol. 2 was simply a Wilbury joke.)
Additional Wilbury albums were rumoured throughout the nineties, but nothing surfaced. The original Warner Bros. albums, under the control of George Harrison, fell out-of-print a decade ago. Hope for an imminent re-issue was dashed when Harrison died in 2001.
Recently, Olivia Harrison announced the long players would be issued together in a project titled "Traveling Wilburys Collection."
The Rhino Records set also includes bonus tracks "Maxine," "Like a Ship," "Runaway" and "Nobody's Child." Harrison is featured on lead vocals on "Maxine," while Dylan is the primary singer on "Like a Ship." Lynne took vocal duties on "Runaway," a number one hit from 1961. "Nobody's Child," meanwhile, was a charity single prepared for the Romanian Angel Appeal and didn't appear on either album.
An accompanying DVD, meanwhile, includes the videos "Handle With Care," "End of the Line," "Inside Out," "She's My Baby" and "Wilbury Twist." A 24-minute documentary with previously unseen footage will also be included in the package.
Showing plenty of good humor, seemingly effortless musicianship, and a determination not to take themselves too seriously, the Traveling Wilburys still sound fresh and uncontrived today.
Their return to the marketplace is a welcome one.