The Petty Archives

Wilburys CDs reissued with care
Melbourne Herald Sun - June 6, 2007

It was a rock album conceived by accident that no one thought would succeed, even though it was made by some of the biggest names of their time.
And it was the rock album plus a successor that disappeared for a decade despite the fame it achieved.

Now the two volumes of the The Traveling Wilburys  - Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty - are being reissued thanks to efforts made by Harrison's widow Olivia, bringing back to public notice what had started as a fantasy camp for rock stars.

Old friends Harrison, Dylan, Orbison, Petty and Lynne bumped into each other in Los Angeles two decades ago, and ended up in a home recording studio where they sat around a microphone singing and playing guitar. Over late-night beers and joints, they dubbed themselves the Traveling Wilburys and released the fruits of their labours on a 1988 album titled Traveling Wilburys Volume 1.

It was a worldwide smash, yielding two hit singles, Handle with Care and End of the Line, and a Grammy. The Wilburys had such a blast that they got together -- without Orbison, who died a few weeks after the release of the first album -- for a 1990 follow-up, jokingly titled Volume 3.

"It was terrific fun," Petty said in a recent interview. "It's just hard to describe how much much fun it was. No labouring over it."

Both discs have been out of print for a decade, a situation that will be remedied next week when they return to shelves through archival label Rhino Records, accompanied by a new DVD documentary, bonus tracks and other goodies.

The reissue program was overseen by Olivia Harrison, whose husband was the chief Wilbury -- more by default than design.

The friends had originally convened to record a B-side for Harrison, and he realised it would be a crime to consign the tune, Handle with Care, to obscurity. So why not record an album's worth?

Harrison took care of all the business and produced the recordings with Lynne.

It was a pleasant contrast to his days in the Beatles, when his contributions were often overshadowed by the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Not that he ever pulled rank on his fellow Wilburys.

Harrison considered that his main job was "to protect their friendship", Olivia Harrison said in a telephone interview from the couple's home in England. "He liked to collaborate," she added. "He had a lot of years solo, and he didn't always enjoy that."

The songwriting was a true partnership, with everyone trading lines and shouting out chords. All the members were credited on each song, although the copyrights on the first album were allocated -- not always correctly -- to the member with the most input.

With all the members often busy with other projects -- Dylan was recording his album Under the Red Sky in the mornings and the Wilburys' Volume 3 in the afternoons -- they never got around to touring. But they enthusiastically hatched some bold plans.

Lynne said Harrison wanted to hire an aircraft carrier and play in various exotic locales. They could paint a different corporate sponsor's name on the side every day and call it the Sponsor Ship. But then everybody would sober up.