The Petty Archives

Let thy Wilbury done!
By Manoj Nair
The Economic Times - July 28, 2007

Ever heard of the Wilbury Twist? If, not here's the Wilbury Twist for Dummies: Put your hand on your head/put your foot in the air/then you hop around the room in your underwear

This twist of twists betwixt rock and folk was invented by a strange quirk of fate when four legends of the world of rock came together to fight their songwriters block. It all began when George Harrison sought the help of his friends Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison for a B-side single for his 1988 album Cloud Nine. Mo Ostin, chairman emeritus, Warner Bros Records calls it "a happy accident." While this accident was being assembled, Lynne was working on new albums by Petty (Full Moon Fever) and Orbison (Mystery Girl). A series of phone calls later they were together for the Wilbury tryst.

Once the idea of a full collaboration was pitched in, Harrison donned the leadership cloak with the five of them deciding to indulge in some playfulness by dropping their real names. Thus George Harrison became Nelson Wilbury, Orbison became Lefty Wilbury, Tom Petty became Charlie T. Junior, Bob Dylan became Lucky Wilbury, Jeff Lynne became Otis Wilbury and Jim Keltner (on drums) became Buster Sidebury.

"The group was born: five guys with star stature in their own rights, but it was George who created this Wilbury environment where five stars could enjoy an ego-free collaboration. Everybody sang, everybody wrote, everybody produced — and had great fun doing so," says Mo. But what is most intriguing is that at no moment during the entire album does one notice George Harrison being self-first.

The result, Traveling Wilburys Vol. I, sold more than 5 million copies. The sublimely breezy result of talented famous men dropping their egos for mellifluous, mesmerising melodies (Harrison's woozy guitar, Orbison's high-lonesome croon, Dylan's wordsmithery, Lynne's timely interventions).

The second album which came soon after and turned out to be even better more durable, and occasionally Wilburrying within itself each players' individual flourishes, though it did not have Orbison, who had passed away shortly after the first was released. The group chose to call the album Traveling Wilburys, Vol III. The missing second one was a homage to the dear departed Orbison. One could not have asked for more: Beatlesque pop, Heartbreaking soft rock and Dylanesque folk-rock. This album also crossed the million-mark in sales.

Ironically or rather, preposterously, both the albums went out of print and by the time one was in a position to buy CD versions of the two albums, they had vanished from the face of the earth. That perhaps was the twist in the Wilbury tale.

However, now, here's a reissue of the two albums digitally mastered and with sleeve notes that explains the genesis of the Wilburys and what exactly the name means. They were originally called the trembling Wilburys but Jeff came up with "Traveling" instead and everyone said 'aye'.

This reissue also has DVD that has documentary, The History of the Traveling Wilbury, and all the videos most of which have been shot by Harrison. The Wilburys may have disintegrated long ago but their legacy is still fresh in the minds of lovers of their unique sound. The only other collaboration that come close to the Wilburys with their lilting melodies are the Noting Hillbillies when Mark Knopfler played with his friends Steve Phillips and Brendan Crocker. This too has gone out of print.

Right now it is time to revisit the Wilburys and remind us: Could be years before/you're missed/everybody's trying to do/the Wilbury twist