Origin: British and American
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The Traveling Wilburys were a British-American supergroup consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. The band recorded two albums, the first in 1988 and the second in 1990 though Orbison passed away prior to the second albums recording.
Harrison first introduced the idea during the sessions of his comeback album the Lynne co-produced Cloud Nine. Harrison suggested the two of them form a band together. When asked what other members that they would like Harrison chose Bob Dylan and Lynne opted for Roy Orbison.
Harrison had also become friends with Tom Petty through their shared love of 1950’s rock and roll, while Lynne began collaborating with Petty on his debut solo album.
The term “Wilbury” originated during the Cloud Nine sessions. Referring to recording errors created by faulty gear Harrison jokingly remarked to Lynne “We’ll bury ’em in the mix.” Thereafter, they used the term for any small performance error. Harrison first suggested the Trembling Wilburys” while Lynne recommended the “Traveling Wilburys for the group’s name.
The band came together in 1988 when Harrison’s record label asked for a new song for the B-side of another single from Cloud Nine. During a meal with Lynne and Orbison Harrison asked Lynne to help him record the track and invited Orbison to the session. Since no professional studios were available on such short notice they headed to Bob Dylan’s garage studio in Malibu. Petty’s involvement came about when Harrison went to retrieve a guitar from Petty and invited him to attend.
Working on a song that Harrison had recently started writing, the ensemble completed the track, which they titled “Handle with Care” after a label on a box in Dylan’s garage. When Harrison presented the recording to Warner Bros., the executives insisted that the song was too good to be used as “filler” on a B-side.
The ensemble’s work was greeted with much anticipation given the diverse nature of the singer-songwriters. Their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 proved an immediate critical success winning accolades and a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
As for Vol.1’s recording the five band members sat in a circle playing acoustic guitar in Eurythmic Dave Stewart’s kitchen. Once each song’s basic track had been written and recorded (with drum machine accompaniment) the group recorded their vocals in another room.
In the album credits of Volume 1 the “Wilburys” joke was extended further. Band members were listed under various pseudonyms and pretending to be half-brothers – sons of a fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr. During the album promotion Orbison played along with the mock history, saying “Some people say Daddy was a cad and a bounder, but I remember him as a Baptist minister.”
Volume 1. was a critical and commercial success revitalizing Dylan, Orbison, and Petty’s careers. The album produced two successful singles and went on to achieve triple-platinum certification for sales in the United States. It was nominated for several awards and won the 1990 Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
Roy Orbison passed away in December 1988. In tribute to him, the music video for the band’s second single, “End of the Line” has Orbison’s guitar rocking in a chair as the rest of the group play, along with a photo of him in the background.
In 1990, Harrison, Lynne, Petty and Dylan reunited to work on a second Wilburys album, which they intentionally misnumbered Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. Vol. 3. was released in 1990 and was dedicated to Orbison, as “Lefty Wilbury” the pseudonym he used in honor of his hero Lefty Frizzell. The songs on this album were a bit more raucous and developed than the band’s debut.
Once Vol. 3. was completed discussions swirled as to the group’s future. As leader the decision lay with George Harrison. While Petty, Lynne, and Dylan were eager to reunite Harrison wavered in his enthusiasm and was against touring. However, after Harrison’s successful 1991 tour of Japan he spoke of a possible Traveling Wilburys tour. But the Wilburys tour never came about.
As for their legacy the Traveling Wilburys were described as the “ultimate supergroup,” with a line-up that represented four eras of rock music history and included “three indisputable gods” in Dylan, Harrison and Orbison.
“The whole experience was some of the best days of my life, really, and I think it probably was for us all,” said Tom Petty.
In 2007, the two Wilbury albums were issued as The Traveling Wilburys Collection box set that included both albums on CD with bonus tracks, a DVD featuring a 25 minute documentary titled The True History of the Traveling Wilburys along with a collection of music videos. The collection sold more than 500,000 copies in three weeks.
In 2018 a limited edition picture disc vinyl reissue celebrating the 30th anniversary of the debut LP will be released.
Traveling Wilbury’s Discography
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. – 1988
Traveling Wilburys Vol.3. – 1990
Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays the Traveling Wilburys. All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/