Being a traditional rock star was never what Jeff Lynne had in mind. The Electric Light Orchestra leader had plenty of goals: work with his heroes, get a few hit records, continuing where The Beatles left off. But when it came to standing on stage and soaking in the adulation from thousands of fans, Lynne was a bit hesitant.
“By this point, we were playing stadiums,” Lynne told Rolling Stone regarding the release of ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ and its parent album Out of the Blue in 1977. “I think the biggest crowd was 83,000. It was fun but kind of scary as well. I’d think, ‘I hope the Beatles are on afterwards — otherwise, we’re gonna get murdered’.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t the crowds that killed Lynne’s enthusiasm for stadium shows but the limitations of audio equipm ent at the time. “The concerts were horrible,” Lynne added. “I couldn’t hear the strings, and half the time, you had to turn them off because they used to run around while they played them.”
“I was reluctant to become a real rock star. I was shy and was always told to not get a big head,” Lynne said. “And my favourite thing in the world was to work 14 hours a day in the studio. Everything else was peripheral to me, like having the record out and promoting it.”
“I did have a big house, but I didn’t do rock-star things,” he concluded. “I never saw myself like that. I was a songwriter, singer and producer. Rock stars are different. They dress all flashy and hang out in nightclubs. That just wasn’t my priority. I liked to spend my spare moments at the pub.”
It was Lynne’s disillusionment with the rock star lifestyle that would influence his decision to end the Electric Light Orchestra in 1983. The band would make a brief comeback due to contractual obligations, but by 1986, ELO was officially defunct. Lynne embraced his love of the studio by becoming a producer.
Lynne’s wish to remain in the studio would ironically make him more famous than ever. While producing George Harrison’s 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine, Harrison asked Lynne who he would recruit for his ideal supergroup. Lynne named Roy Orbison, one of his childhood heroes, while Harrison wanted Bob Dylan.
When Harrison owed his record company another song from the sessions, he had Lynne and Orbison assist him in writing and recording the track. With no studios available at the time, the trio contacted Dylan to use his home studio in Malibu. When Harrison picked up a guitar from Tom Petty on the way, he invited Petty to take part. Thus, The Traveling Wilburys were born.
‘Handle With Care’ was deemed too good to be relegated to a Harrison B-side. Instead, Harrison managed to convince Lynne, Dylan, Orbison, and Petty to form a real band. Lynne went from a classic rock favourite to being on par with Harrison and Dylan in terms of talent. The Traveling Wilburys made Lynne the rock star that he never wanted to be, but as a slightly older man, he was better equipped to handle it.