The most underrated member of the Traveling Wilburys is arguably Jeff Lynne. He is a producer extraordinaire and excellent songwriter, but was the last of the Wilburys to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His group, Electric Light Orchestra, was finally honored by the Rock Hall in 2017. The band was introduced by Dhani Harrison, also known as Ayrton Wilbury, who played the guitar solo on “Like A Ship” from the vinyl edition of The Traveling Wilburys Collection. Lynne produced George Harrison‘s 1987 album, Cloud Nine, which included the #1 hit “Got My Mind Set On You.” He also produced Roy Orbison‘s 1989 release Mystery Girl, featuring the top 40 hit, “You Got It,” and co-produced Tom Petty‘s Full Moon Fever. And of course, Lynne—or rather, Otis Wilbury—co-produced Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 with George Harrison (er, Nelson Wilbury). The Wilbury’s 1990 follow-up, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, was produced by Clayton and Spike Wilbury (Jeff and George, respectively).
George Harrison, with the Beatles, opened for Roy Orbison in the 1960s. He brought Bob Dylan back to the stage in the 1970s. And he utilized the masterful production of Jeff Lynne in the 1980s. Where does Tom Petty fit in? Apparently, Harrison and Petty formed a friendship and were known to jam together privately. Put all five of those names together and you have the greatest supergroup of all-time. One would be hard-pressed to improve on the lineup of the Traveling Wilburys.
Like the other Wilburys, Bob Dylan‘s reputation was firmly in place long before the 1980s. His legacy was as a singer-songwriter and the voice of the late 1960s generation. Dylan joined George Harrison and friends for the epic “Concert for Bangladesh” in 1971, performing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with the former Beatle. The accompanying album won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1973.
The date: 1963. The headliner: Roy Orbison. The opening act: The Beatles. Orbison was on tour in Great Britain and allowed local bands such as the Beatles and Gerry and the Peacemakers to open for him. In 1987, Bruce Springsteen inducted Orbison into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; a year later the Boss inducted Bob Dylan. Orbison teamed up with George Harrison, twenty-five years after allowing his little band to open for him in Britain, and the others in the Traveling Wilburys. The debut single and album was released on October 17, 1988.
How did the Traveling Wilburys come to exist? Over the next few days, I’ll piece together a few of the happenings that brought five legendary musicians together to form the greatest supergroup in rock history.
The first piece, Tom Petty, a.k.a. Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr. In 1988, Bob Dylan recruited Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to be his backup band during the True Confessions tour. A year later, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers release Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) album, featuring a song co-written by Dylan. Petty and his cohorts again back Bob Dylan in 1987 for his Temples in Flames tour. The following year, Petty and Dylan joined forces with Roy Orbison, Electric Light Orchestra‘s Jeff Lynne, and the Beatles‘ George Harrison to form the Traveling Wilburys.