Dave Stewart, of Eurythmics fame, played a key role in the formative days of the Traveling Wilburys, that 1980s supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison.
The Grammy-winning musician and producer talked about that period as work continues on his second album in as many years, after 2011’s The Blackbird Diaries. He’s also helmed projects for Stevie Nicks, Ringo Starr and Joss Stone, all while launching his own signature guitar model — called the Dave Stewart Blackbird, of course. Oh, that was him with Mick Jagger in the more recent all-star band Super Heavy, too.
He used to being surrounded by other big rock stars. After all, back in the late 1980s, Harrison was living in Stewart’s Encino, California, house while working on the Lynne-produced Cloud Nine — a thrilling comeback for the ex-Beatle, who had been mostly involved with producing movies throughout the 1980s. While working on a B-side for single from the album, the Traveling Wilburys were born.
“I was kind of the host/virtual member,” Stewart tells Music Radar. “They recorded it all in my house. I put Dylan together with Tom Petty … George Harrison was living in my house in Encino at the time. Everybody met up there.”
The funny part was, Stewart wasn’t at home at the time. Heck, he wasn’t even in the states.
“I was busy doing quite a few things in England,” Stewart says. “That Wilburys thing happened really quickly. It all took place around my kitchen table and in my garden. I introduced everybody, went off, and when I came back they had already done it.”
Stewart also mentions Harrison as a key element in his own guitar sound, too: “I was influenced by George Harrison from his solo period, the All Things Must Pass album, the melodic soloing,” Stewart says, also listing Keith Richards, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Ronnie Wood, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy, among others.
Stewart’s new album, called The Ringmaster General, will be released in September. Recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, it features collaborations with Alison Krauss, Diane Birch, Jessie Baylin, Joss Stone and Orianthi.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on the Traveling Wilburys, George Harrison and Bob Dylan. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
THE TRAVELING WILBURYS – VOL. 1 (1988): Recording a song a day, Dylan hooks up with old and new friends – including George Harrison and the great Roy Orbison – for some of his best and most lighthearted music of the decade. In fact, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” may have been Dylan’s wittiest offering in years. Though loaded with names, to my ear it was Dylan who acquits himself the best on the Wilbury projects — both here and on the underappreciated followup.
SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: GEORGE HARRISON: George Harrison remains the Beatles’ great unresolved mystery — the guy who might have actually done more had he been in any another band after 1965. Or not. His solo records are a frustrating mix of the sublime, the blatant and the unremarkable. Sometimes within a three-song sweep. Sometimes within the same song. Thus, the unresolved part. George seemed as at odds as any world-famous person ever was with that very fame. He often only made records — in particular, in the days after his association with the outsized, and more than occasionally overbearing, talents of John and Paul — when he was made to, and it showed. No surprise, then, that it’s difficult to achieve a vista after 1970. All Things Must Pass could be a bloated, if admirable, mess. The mid-1970s were, at best, hit and miss. The 1980s were worse. That’s where we come in. Something Else! Reviews goes through the stacks to provide a definitive list of must-have tunes.
TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE (2009): Dylan, commissioned to do some soundtrack work, kept recording with the assembled group — ultimately producing a powerfully personal result. This was a revelation in its stubborn unwillingness to move into the realm of Statements. Of Big Records. Of Career-Defining Blah Blah Blah. Dylan wants to make a small, good thing — focusing inward, mostly, talking about relationships with both honesty and a ragged sense of humor — and he brilliantly succeeds.
GEORGE HARRISON – LET IT ROLL (2009): There’s something in the way that Let It Roll, compiled with a loving and almost magical rhythm by Harrison’s family, moves through his catalog. Rather than yielding to familiar chronology, “Let It Roll” mixes and matches from across Harrison’s history. All of a sudden, essential complexities can be explored again, old scores can be settled, the familiar is seen differently. Let It Roll goes from “All Things Must Pass,” which works nearly 40 years later as a delicately spiritual memorial to the fallen Harrison, directly into the jaunty put-down song “Any Road” from his posthumous 2002 release Brainwashed — only to reverse course back to the Utopian “This Is Love” from his ’87 comeback album Cloud Nine. We begin to hear all of this with new ears.