In the late 1980s, George Harrison formed a supergroup called The Traveling Wilburys with his friends and fellow singer-songwriters Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. It was a spontaneous thing, no one planned it, and something spectacular came out.
The supergroup never got the chance to go on tour or even perform together, but George had grand ideas for a tour.
How George Harrison accidentally formed The Traveling Wilburys
In 1987, George Harrison recorded Cloud Nine. The following year, the international department of his record label requested a European 12-in single. He had to come up with a new song immediately.
George met up with Lynne, who produced Cloud Nine with him, while he was at dinner with Orbison. The former Beatle asked Lynne to help him with the song. Orbison told them to call him once they found a recording studio because he wanted to watch them record.
George and Lynne didn't know where to get a recording studio on such short notice. However, George remembered that Dylan had a recording studio and asked if he and Lynne could use it. On the way to Dylan's, George and Lynne had to stop at Petty's house to pick up some guitars George left there.
Once Petty heard what was going on, he decided to tag along. So, that's how George, Lynne, Petty, and Orbison came to be at Dylan's studio. George and Lynne started the song until George realized it would be silly not to invite all these great singer-songwriters to sing on the record.
The result was "Handle With Care." When George handed the tune to the international department, they refused it, saying it was too good for a European 12-inch. So, George held on to it and planned to get his friends back in the recording studio to record an entire album. In mid-1988, The Traveling Wilburys reconvened to record The Traveling Wilburys: Vol 1.
George Harrison had a genius idea for a Traveling Wilburys tour
After the supergroup released their debut album and their second, The Traveling Wilburys: Vol. 3, fans and the recording company assumed the band would go on tour. According to Petty, George often talked about it. However, once they really thought about it, they realized they didn't want to do it just because other people wanted it.
"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."
George and his friends would've only done a tour if they wanted, not because the record label demanded one. The Traveling Wilburys was a happy accident that lived off of spontaneity. A potential tour would live by the same rules.
Still, George had a genius idea for a Traveling Wilburys tour. In 2011, his widow, Olivia, told WNYC (per Harrison Archive) that George had this idea that he and the band would get on a ship and go somewhere. It'd be called a "sponsor ship," and they'd travel around, pulling up to ports in the South Pacific and playing concerts.
"It was fantasy, kind of a fantasy thing," she said. "I think he would have loved to have done concerts with the Wilburys. I think he would have completely enjoyed that. I think by now they would have come together and done something; I'm sure they would have."
Tom Petty regretted that The Traveling Wilburys didn't tour
The Traveling Wiburys never got to tour, but two Wilburys got to perform their biggest hit once. When Petty and Lynne performed "Handle With Care" at George's tribute concert, Concert for George, Petty regretted not touring with the supergroup.
He 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."
That's why George's idea of the "sponsor ship" would've been a great choice. The Traveling Wilburys would've been able to tour on their own terms. It would've been low key and spontaneous, everything the supergroup was about.
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