Monday, December 1, 2008

The Traveling Wilburys Collection
-------Rob “Doofus Wilbury” Klein says: “What Happened to Wilburys Vol. 2?”

The Traveling Wilburys made rock n’ roll history immediately upon their debut LP offering, The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The group consisted of Beatle George Harrison, Jeff (ELO) Lynne, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison: a superstar line-up if there ever was one. The Wilburys came together as if by fate; George Harrison was recording a B-side for a single for his critically acclaimed 1987 offering “Cloud Nine” which was produced by Jeff Lynne. The B-Side, “Handle With Care”, was to be included on the LP’s first single “Got My Mind Set on You”. When the record company heard “Handle with Care” they immediately broadcasted their thoughts that this song was “too good” to be a B-side, and suggested another entire album upon hearing it. The company’s positive outlook for the single was not lost on Harrison, who ultimately produced more work than he had in twenty years. The last three years of the 1980’s were a career renaissance for all of the future members of The Traveling Wilburys. The connections between the artists can be explained by a game of “six degrees of separation” from Jeff Lynne, who would produce everyone’s solo LP’s: George Harrison’s Cloud Nine, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever and Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl.

Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne met during Petty’s outing one summer afternoon in the Valley, while he was going out to purchase a baseball glove. Petty pulled up next to Jeff Lynne’s car and introduced himself; an instant friendship was formed. Petty then met George Harrison through Lynne. Petty mentioned in a later interview that George Harrison met Petty at his Encino home, then spontaneously stayed for several days after as an unexpected house guest. Petty, Lynne and Harrison began to pal around together, and decided that it would be a good idea to record together. They headed down to Anaheim, California by limo to the Celebrity Theater and asked Roy Orbison to join the mix, to which he answered: “it sounds like great fun.” This led to recording Harrison’s B-side, “Handle with Care”.

The last Wilbury recruited by Tom Petty was Bob Dylan. Petty had a relationship with Dylan through a previous Tom Petty and Heartbreakers Tour, where they had been Dylan’s support band (after the Dylan set Petty performed with the Heartbreakers). Even George Harrison with his legendary Beatle status was giddy with excitement at the idea of Dylan joining the band; he would later secretly from the upstairs at Petty’s Encino house video-tape Dylan playing the piano.

Each band member assumed a Wilbury alias; comically they were all supposed to be half-brothers: Lucky-Boo (Dylan), Otis-Clayton (Lynne), Charlie T. Jr./Muddy (Petty), Nelson-Spike (Harrison), and Lefty (Orbison), even though these names changed on their second Wilburys release, “Vol. 3”. It has been said that those lucky enough to run across Harrison during his Wilbury days would receive a signature as his Wilbury character, “Nelson Wilbury”, a valuable and valid variation of the Harrison autograph. (Though many at the time were confused and pleaded for him to sign his real name).

This new CD / DVD is the first release of any Wilburys work since the initial release of the first and only two albums. (Not including endless UK 12” maxi-singles and 45’s, the most sought-after being a 12” single for “End of the Line”, which included Wilbury stickers). The Traveling Wilburys Collection includes just about every track recorded by the group, and offers both albums: “Vol. 1” and “Vol. 3”. (The group’s second LP was in fact entitled “Vol. 3”, a title cooked up by the group to confound future music historians who would no doubt would pull their hair out trying to find the non –existent “Vol. 2”.)

The third disc in the collection is the debut release of the band’s videos: “Handle with Care”, “End of the Line”, “She’s my Baby”, “Inside Out”, and “Wilbury Twist”. These videos are magical, especially “Handle with Care”, which is the only video featuring all five members. It was during this particular video’s shoot where Bob Dylan walked off the set, for reasons unknown. Another unpublished anecdote concerning the “Handle with Care” video debuting in this very article: The Wilburys used a privately owned Hollywood costume facility to outfit their wardrobe for the video. The entire band was let loose inside the wardrobe house with racks upon racks of Western garments that had been worn by Western legends like John Wayne, Michael Landon and Clint Eastwood. George Harrison picked out the duster that he is seen wearing in the video, and demanded to keep it upon the video’s completion, which did not go over well with the owners of the costume house, who were avid Western collectors themselves. The end result of this story I cannot recall, but had the owners been Beatles fans before Western fans, things may have gone more smoothly.

Vol. 1 and 3 are here in their entirety, and include the elusive bonus tracks, which were the “missing” Wilbury tunes that were virtually unavailable until this release. The highlight of the collection is the cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, sung by Jeff Lynne. This track was only available as a bonus track on a very rare import CD single of “She’s My Baby”.

The coolest thing on this release is the DVD disc, which features all of the Wilbury videos. The “Handle with Care” video is enough to bring any Beatle fan to tears; it is so poignant to see how vital and hip these legends were in the late 80’s, especially Harrison, whose singing brings the Beatle film Help to mind. Now we have lost two of them, Harrison and Orbison. The videos for the Wilburys’ songs make one wish that Ringo Starr had been included in their little musical endeavor; the historical value of the footage would have been incredible. (With no disrespect to the incredible Jim Keltner who played drums on the Wilburys records, and to which Harrison, Petty and Lynne were all members of his fan club!) As the sales for CDs decline, it is very good that record companies are realizing that a DVD will add interest to any music release. Since videos were made to sell albums, why not use them for the purpose that they were created for?

This will be the definitive Wilburys release for both video and audio. Any fan of these legends must own this collection, whether it is the first time that you discover the Wilburys, or are revisiting a seldom talked-about era of the late 1980’s, where the epilogue to the historic 1960’s musical era was written.

Rob Klein
Pop Historian and Wilbury Authority - Author of the forth-coming Wilbury Biography:
“Popsicles, Beer, and Ukuleles”
North Hollywood, California

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