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Tom Petty had no idea he’d sing on The Traveling Wilburys’ first song, “Handle With Care,” when George Harrison knocked on his door one day in 1988. All he knew was that George was recording music with Jeff Lynne, that Roy Orbison would be there, and they were all going to Bob Dylan’s garage studio. He couldn’t miss it.

George needed a 12-inch single and asked Lynne to help. When they wrote the song that became “Handle With Care,” they decided to get everyone to sing the song. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get all five rock stars on one song.

Later, they were somehow able to reconvene as The Traveling Wilburys and record their debut, The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Orbison died in 1988, but the supergroup reunited again in 1990 to record their second album. Petty said his time in The Traveling Wilburys was “pure magic,” but he did have regrets.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performing during the 1987 Rock 'N' Roll Caravan Tour.
Tom Petty | Ross Marino/Getty Images

Tom Petty loved his time in the supergroup

In a video about the making of The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, Petty said recording with The Traveling Wilburys was a great experience. “The thing I guess that would be hardest for people to understand is what good friends we were,” he said.

“It really had very little to do with combining a bunch of famous people, it was a bunch of friends that just happened to be really good at making music.”

In 2007, Petty told Mass Live, “It was all great. It’s hard to think of a best thing. You’re in the best band you’ve seen, with all your heroes who are also your friends. It’s still hard to conceive, just a fabulous thing.”

Petty regretted not touring with The Traveling Wilburys

Despite having a great time recording with the supergroup, Petty had a couple of regrets. Petty regretted not taking The Traveling Wilburys out on the road, or playing a single live show with his bandmates, even though it was “considered often.”

“We talked about it many nights and then never really did it,” Petty told Mass Live. “We might have some beers and plan it all night and then in the morning we’d be like, ‘Well, no.’ (laughs) Especially when we became successful, there were all kinds of people trying to get us to do tours.”

In the video about the making of the band’s debut album, Petty said, “Every time George had a joint and a few beers he would start talking about touring. I think once or twice we even had serious talks about it, but nobody would really commit to it. We never thought we were gonna run out of time.”

Continuing to Mass Live, Petty said, “When we did ‘The Concert for George,’ and Jeff came out with us and we did ‘Handle with Care,’ I remember thinking at that moment that George would have loved this so much. But there was a lot of pressure on us all to go out on the road together.”

If it was one thing that George hated about the music industry, it was being pressured into doing something, even if he wanted to do it. So, maybe it’s good that the supergroup didn’t relent and go on tour. If they had, George likely would’ve felt like he was doing it for the wrong reasons.


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Petty had another regret about the supergroup

After recording The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, the supergroup reconvened a third time to record The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (they skipped over Vol. 2) in 1990. The two albums are the only records the supergroup released.

Petty wished there was a Vol. 4 (or whatever volume number they would’ve chosen). He regretted not being “more aggressive” about getting it done.

Petty told Mass Live that the four musicians (Orbison died in 1988) talked about getting another Traveling Wilburys album recorded “a lot.”

Petty explained George “talked for the rest of his life about doing it again or maybe taking it on the road. It is one of my great regrets that I wasn’t a little more aggressive about getting that done. I always thought we’d have all the time in the world to do it.”

So, the supergroup considered touring and doing a third album multiple times, yet they never got around to doing either. Maybe there was a reason.

The Traveling Wilburys wouldn’t have happened if they planned it, but they certainly wouldn’t have planned a third album and a tour if that was what the record companies wanted. The whole point of the supergroup was friends coming together to jam as equals.