George Harrison Said There Had to Be Spontaneity With The Traveling Wilburys’ Second Album or Else He Wouldn’t Do It

George Harrison said The Traveling Wilburys’ second album, The Traveling Wilburys: Vol. 3, had to be spontaneous like the supergroup’s first album, Vol. 1. If it weren’t, he wouldn’t sign up to do it. Being spontaneous while recording made Vol. 1 more enjoyable for George, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison.

George Harrison speaking at The Beatles' Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1988.
George Harrison | Ebet Roberts/Redferns

The supergroup was spontaneous, which made this less serious

The Traveling Wilburys formed by accident.

George needed another song for a European 12-inch single for his 1987 Cloud Nine album. He went to his producer and friend, Lynne, to help him and Orbison happened to be with Lynne. Orbison asked if he could come along to see the song recorded.

George needed a recording studio too. He knew Dylan had one and asked him if he could use it. Dylan agreed. Then, George had to go to Petty’s house to get a guitar. When Petty discovered what the four musicians were doing, he tagged along.

When the five rock stars entered Dylan’s recording studio, George and Lynne wrote a song called “Handle With Care.” Then, George realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime situation, having all of them in one recording studio. So, he got everyone to record the song with him.

George’s record company said “Handle With Care” was too good to be a European single. So, George kept the song until he got the other musicians together to record an entire album.

The former Beatle said the supergroup wouldn’t have happened if they had planned it. The Traveling Wilburys’ spontaneous nature made it fun. The music industry at the time was very serious.

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George Harrison said The Traveling Wilburys’ second album had to be similarly spontaneous, or he wouldn’t do it

In a 1989 interview with Mark Rowland (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters), George explained that just because some supergroups had a couple of “super people” didn’t guarantee they would be a success.

George didn’t want people to view The Traveling Wilburys similarly. He wanted the band to be fun and less severe, and spontaneity contributed to its lighter feel. They used pseudonyms on the album, so no one would buy the album just because of who played on it. When they recorded the album, they let the songs come naturally, on the spot.

George also wanted The Traveling Wilburys’ second album to have the same feel. Or else George wouldn’t do it.

“When we do another Wilbury album, it’s going to be just as much fun, otherwise I’m not doing it,” George said. “But the thing is, it can’t be as spontaneous because we already know about it.

“But I think the songs can be spontaneous, and we can make it with the same vibe and the same atmosphere in which the way we wrote the songs and recorded them. But there’s got to be an element where people are already primed to it now, and so, like… I remember the second Beatles single that ever came out; New Musical Express reviewed it in England and said, ‘below-par Beatles.’

“So I’m sure they’re going to say, ‘Oh, it’s not as good as …’ or maybe they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s gotten much better now.’ That isn’t … the point is to be able to keep on going and have fun and lighten up a bit. You know, that’s what I think. Everybody is so serious.”

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The Traveling Wilburys’ second album stayed somewhat spontaneous

The Traveling Wilburys’ second album stayed rather spontaneous, at least in how the supergroup wrote their songs and operated. However, Roy Orbison unexpectedly died shortly after The Traveling Wilburys released their debut album.

They didn’t consider replacing Orbison because his place in the band was spontaneous. The supergroup would lose that spontaneity if they filled his spot with someone.

“It’s just like an attitude and there’s loads of people—I can make a list right now and put twenty people on it who, to me, would be wonderful in the Wilburys,” George said. “But the thing is, the way it happened, it happened on its own. 

“And, like we just talked about, the next Wilbury album’s going to be more, because everybody knows about it now, it’s not going to be…” Rowland added, “Less spontaneous.”

George replied, “Yeah. And I think to start, like, planning it, I don’t think you need a fifth Wilbury for a start. And if we do, it will be the fellow, the woman, or whoever it is, who happens to walk in the door and be right. And not because they read in the article and figured out where—knock, knock—like that.”

Good things happen when you’re least expecting them, and that’s what happened with The Traveling Wilburys. Thankfully, the band was committed to making it as fun and carefree as possible. It made the music more authentic.

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