The Traveling Wilburys

I need to write about the Traveling Wilburys. They have nothing to do with Public Radio or Classical Music or Jazz. But I am obsessed with them. I have thought about this for several weeks. I need to get it done. I will probably do it poorly. So, if I can think of better things to say, I will come back and edit, and I will number the edits in case there is a reader with any interest.

I am right now listening my way through Philip Glass on my Zune during my exercise walks. But, it does not matter if it is Glass on Jimmy Smith, or Jerry Gonzalez. I come back to the Wilburys.

The thing starts with a very bad video at WNET, the “Theatrical Version” of the Concert For George (Harrison), mounted by Eric Clapton, a closer than close friend of George’s, they actually shared a wife, Patty Boyd, although serially. This video was dreadful. It was chopped up pieces of concert, rehearsal, Eric speaking of his grief, George’s wife, his real wife, Olivia, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar, and others, all little bits and pieces.

I was at the time a habitué of Borders Books and Music. I had gotten on a sort of gravy train of coupons. I had spent the first fifty dollars or so. Coupons were arriving by email and on receipts. Great discounts, 30%, 40%, never on just a CD or DVD, but rather on multi disc sets, packaged sets. I was about the building of a digital collection of Classical Music. What I wound up doing was replicating much of my father’s Classical collection. I did not realize this until I was about done.

But, in the middle of this, I had recorded the Clapton video and I went and found the real thing, with a full concert DVD and a second disc with the “Theatrical Version” and a ton of extras, interviews, still photos, and the like. So, I used a 40% coupon and took this treasure home. I watched it over and over. Then, on another trip, I just happened to see George’s Concert For Bangladesh DVD set. I used another coupon and took that home. I went back and forth, watching each in turn. I realized that Eric’s concert was very much a silhouette of George’s concert. Where George had Bob Dylan, Eric had Tom Petty, but I did not immediately know why.

I explored these concerts and got new musicians from them. It was like when I was studying Steve Rowland’s two radio documentaries, “The Miles Davis Radio Project”, and “Tell Me How Long ‘Trane’s Been Gone”. I needed to get into Eric Dolphy, and I needed Paul Hindemith to understand McCoy Tyner.I bought a Leon Russell CD. I found Gary Brooker and Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” on video in several versions, all with Matthew Fisher, one a 1964 BBC television piece, black and white, mono, but a young Gary Brooker to bookend with the current version from the Union Chapel concert (2004) recently seen on PBS, and now on my hard drives. I realized that the fetching brunette Sam Brown in the Concert for George was one and the same as one of the blond backup singers featured on Pink Floyd’s Pulse Concert DVD’s.I looked into Jeff Lynn, and wound up with a lot of ELO, including a concert video.

At one point in the Concert for George, Tom Petty calls up Dhani Harrison and Jeff Lynn for a Wilburys number and they sing “Handle With Care”. Wilburys? What’s that? Who are they? I go looking around the internet and I find the music in mp3 download. Then I find the short movie. Then I find all sorts of interviews, stills, and a one hour BBC video biography of Roy Orbison. (Only now do I know why there were no Wilburys in “Roy Orbison-Black and White Night”: that concert was in 1987. The advent of the Wilburys was 1988.

If one sees Tom Petty in the Wilburys in 1988, and in the interviews for the Wilburys, baby-faced, and then in the interviews at Concert for George, oh my goodness what a difference.

I was lost to the world. What an amazing guy was this George Harrison. It seems he knew everybody who was really worthwhile knowing. His web of friendships and relationships was unfathomable.

The Wilbury’s were George Harrison, Jeff Lynn, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. I need not tell you the story, it is all there in Wikipedia. But I need to speak of the dynamics, the kinship, the love. Tom Petty says, “This was George’s band, this was always George’s band.” This was not even a garage band. This was five guys on acoustics, once in a while a 12-string, aided and abetted by Jim Keltner and a drum set. Or, on one track, the refrigerator. Jim actually beats the time at the beginning of one track on the refrigerator. It does need to be stated that when one hears the tracks, it is not just five guys on accoustics. The tapes were taken to George’s studio and filled out with some bits of what can only be called “production” or orchestration.

And, there is not much work. Two CD’s, Volume’s One and Three. Twenty five tracks if one has the later release with the two bonus tracks. And all of the songs were written by the group and in very short time. A day. Two days. Nothing is complicated. If one is lucky, there are five music videos.

There is apocrypha about why no Volume Two. One story is that it took so long to get to the second volume. Another has to do with some bootleg tapes someone dispensed called Volume Two. But another, the one I like, is that they were all working on Tom Petty’s first solo album, “Full Moon Fever”. This is, as I said, apocrypha. But, on that Petty release one finds Jeff, Roy, and George. Everyone but Dylan. Wikipedia does include this possibility.

I cannot now say more. One needs to go and get the Wilburys for oneself.

I may come back and re-visit this, especially if there are comments which need addressing.