George Harrison Said The Traveling Wilburys’ First Album Sounded ‘Wooden’

George Harrison formed The Traveling Wilburys with his friends Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison in 1988. There’s never been a supergroup with that many successful songwriters who were also excellent guitar players. So, The Traveling Wilburys’ debut album sounded a bit “wooden.”

George Harrison wearing a multi-colored suit jacket in 1988.
George Harrison | United Archives/Getty Images

George accidentally formed The Traveling Wilburys after he asked his friends to record a song with him

In 1988, George formed The Traveling Wilburys by accident. After recording his 1987 album, Cloud Nine, he discovered he needed an extra song for a European 12-inch single.

That night, he told Lynne and Orbison. Lynne agreed to help, and Orbison told the guys to call him when they found a recording studio.

Thankfully, George remembered that Bob Dylan had a studio in his garage. He called Dylan to see if they could use it. Dylan agreed. George then went to Petty’s house to pick up his guitar. Petty didn’t want to miss the action, so he joined them.

When they arrived at Dylan’s garage, George and Lynne started writing the song. George thought it was silly having all the guys there but not on the record. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment having all five of them in one studio. So he invited Petty, Dylan, and Orbison to sing on the track.

Looking around Dylan’s garage, George saw a box that said, “Handle With Care.” They formed the lyrics around the phrase. When they finished recording, George knew the song was too good for a European 12-inch. So, he kept hold of it until he decided to get everyone to record a whole album.

George got his friends back to the recording studio to make a record in 1988.

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George said The Traveling Wilburys’ debut album sounded ‘wooden’

In a 1988 interview with MTV, George explained The Traveling Wilburys’ debut album, The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, sounded “wooden.” The supergroup had five great guitarists.

“There’s tunes that Bob had the most influence on, it sounds like him, and there’s a song which we wrote specifically for Roy, which is very much like an old Roy Orbison song,” George explained. “It’s not like we tried to set out to do something that wasn’t like going out and buying an album of mine or ELO or Tom Petty, Bob Dylan or Roy Orbison.

“We tried to combine everything, and it’s worked very well. I think it’s basically very up music; it’s very up. That is to say; it’s danceable if you like to dance. But it’s fun; it’s really good fun music. It says some funny things. The sound of it, because we all basically tend to dislike computers, and so it’s very wooden.

“I mean, it’s the first band that I can think of that’s got five rhythm guitar players. It’s polished off a bit, but not too much.”

George and The Traveling Wilburys would make their second album sound similar.

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The supergroup also had an interesting method of making other sounds on their debut album

When George got friends back together to record The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, they used Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart’s home recording studio in LA.

“It was a nice environment because you could kinda sit outside,” Petty said in a video of the making of the album. “It was warm, and the doors were always open.”

George added, “We had a little, tiny studio, but it wasn’t a studio; it was more like just a control room with a vocal booth. So we didn’t have any space to play the guitar, so we set up in his kitchen. It wasn’t soundproofed or anything, and we just put like five chairs around the kitchen and put the microphones up, and that’s it. So all them guitar parts, all them acoustic guitar parts were just in this kitchen.”

Being in Stewart’s home inspired The Traveling Wilburys to use household objects in the recording process.

On “Rattled,” the supergroup’s drummer, Jim Keltner, drummed on the kitchen shelves. “It sounded great,” Lynne said. “It sounded just like old springs, but it sounded really good.

“There was nothing off-limits, you know? You could record where you liked, so it was an opportunity to get sounds that you never got before.”

George and the rest of The Traveling Wilburys had so much fun making their first album that they reconvened to make a second. Although unfortunately, without Orbison, who died just as The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 became successful in 1988. There’s never been a supergroup as magical as The Traveling Wilburys since.

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