How the Traveling Wilburys Said a Fond Farewell to Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison's death in December 1988 came just six weeks after the release of Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The famed supergroup decided to pay homage to their departed bandmate when they reconvened to make a video for the record's second single.
Released on Jan. 23, 1989, "End of the Line" presented a unique challenge: Each member of the Traveling Wilburys had originally contributed solo vocals, with the exception of Bob Dylan. Orbison sang the third verse, while also taking part in group backing vocals.
The set the clip aboard aboard a railway train, with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Dylan performing the track alongside drummer Jim Keltner. When their departed bandmate's vocal lines came, the camera showed a guitar sitting in a rocking chair next to a photo of Orbison.
"End of the Line" was only a minor success, peaking at No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but stands today as a touching tribute from the Wilburys to their fallen friend.
All of them had solidified themselves as legends in the music world before coming together to make this album. In keeping, Vol. 1 was approached as an enjoyable experiment and a change of pace from their solo work. Lynne said the project nevertheless changed his whole musical outlook.
"There was a lot of fun involved because you're strumming these brand new tunes that you've just made up, you know, milliseconds ago," Lynne said in a 2012 interview. "There you are doing it and then you've got to write the words and then you're singing in. And that's all happening in a matter of probably like four hours. It did change my way of thinking about things and show me the other way of doing it, which is actually doing it quick."
Watch the Traveling Wilburys' Video for 'End of the Line'
The LP became a multi-platinum international Top 20 hit, reconfirming Orbison's legend even as he worked on a solo LP which would be released posthumously.
Over the moon with its success, Orbison gave Petty a call in late 1988: "He phoned me about three days before he died, he was just going on about how happy he was – you know, 'the Wilburys, ain't it great?'" Petty recalled in a 1989 interview with Norwegian TV. "Somehow I felt that he could tell things were going his way."
The Traveling Wilburys reconvened for another album without Orbison, but it wasn't as well received. Harrison still marveled that this joyful collaboration had happened at all.
"Just the fact that we were able to get together and produce two albums and four videos to me is sort of a bit of a small miracle, really," Harrison said in a 1990 interview, "and then the pleasure and the fun of writing the songs, recording them and the various other things that have happened because of the Wilburys. ... It's a good thing we're all good friends; it's an excuse to hang out together really."
Orbison's impact on the era resonated long after he was gone. "I was very glad to have worked with Roy and to have known him really," Petty said. "The last year of his life we spent a lot of time together, we got to know each other really well. ... I wish he could have seen it – maybe he did see it, maybe he does see it."
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