Jeff Lynne: A Blast from The Past

By Jeb Wright

Jeff Lynne is as famous for being the main creative force behind the Electric Light Orchestra as he is for producing such musical luminaries as George Harrison and Tom Petty, among others. Lynne has a solid reputation as a perfectionist musician, an incredible songsmith and a no nonsense producer – well, maybe a little nonsense but it’s all in good fun!

Now, after a 22 year hiatus as a solo artist, Lynne returns, on October 9th with two new albums on Frontiers Records. The first, titled Long Wave sees Lynne return to the music of his childhood and remake some classic songs he fell in love with as a young child. In typical Jeff Lynne fashion, he takes the songs and not only remakes them; he does so in Jeff Lynne/ELO style. This makes the songs very interesting to listen to, none so much as his take on the Roy Orbison classic “Running Scared.” Lynne’s version is a heartfelt tribute to his old friend, and band mate.

The other new album is Mr. Blue Sky the Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra. Lynne, bothered by some of his songs imperfections, set out to right his wrongs by recreating the tunes from scratch. While this might seem an odd thing to do from a fan viewpoint, the result is perhaps the best sounding ELO album in history.

Read on to discover how Lynne chose the songs to be on his solo album and talk about how he came to redo the ELO songs. Lastly, we discuss how The Traveling Wilburys were formed and how Jeff Lynne ended up in the band.

Jeb: Long Wave is a great album. You named the album after longwave radio. What is that?

Jeff: It’s still going on, believe it or not. The BCC has a station that broadcasts on longwave. It is a band that was used, in England, for the English Delight program, which was a program that was dedicated to playing new songs. It was sort of a variety show. It was the only real channel you could listen to for sort of thing.

Jeb: The songs on the album are older songs that inspired you as a child.

Jeff: Some of the songs on Long Wave I was only five years old when I first heard them. The only reason that I ever heard them was that me dad would play them every week, sometimes every evening, and even twenty years after that. There was always some music on in the house where I grew up in.

Jeb: You are a person who is really hooked on music. A lot of people can enjoy music and like music but we are people who live and breathe music. Does that make sense?

Jeff: It totally does, yeah. I can’t do without it. I have to play every day, or I don’t feel good. Whether it be guitar, or piano, or drums, I have to play. Music is so important to me that I can’t do without it.

Jeb: It has been many years since you have recorded, so what have you been doing?

Jeff: I have spent a lot of time producing other people, as you probably know. I’ve spent the last three years doing these two new albums.

Jeb: Three years? That is a lot of time for an album, these days.

Jeff: I rebuilt these songs from the ground up. I had to get all of the arrangements off of there – all of the flowery stuff. I had to get to the basic track. I literally had to listen to the recordings of all of the songs on Long Wave and learn all of these songs. It probably took 100 listens before I could actually understand the song, because of all of these big arrangements. When you get to where you have this tunnel hearing on, then you start listening to one instrument at a time. It is great because you can learn how all the parts go; the piano part, the bass part, the string part… It is a learning process. You learn what they are and then you have to learn how to play them. You don’t want to just copy them; you want to make them your own.

Jeb: How did you take a song like “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” from the famous version to where you ended up with it?

Jeff: I knocked off all of the orchestration and arranging. Basically, the song is a lovely little pop song with great chords. I turned it into a shuffle because that is the way I needed it to be in order make it easier, and more fun to sing.

Jeb: Even though you’ve done this for a lot of years, when you accomplish remaking a song from one of your idols, how satisfying is it?

Jeff: I was very proud of this. The last thing that I ever do is sing. I always put it off and put it off. These are pretty daunting songs to sing. When you start the track up and you hear the music come on and then you know you have to sing you just think, “Oh God, what am I going to do to this?” When you hear it back, you’re expecting it to sound like shit. I was so pleasantly surprised and amazed when I played it back because it wasn’t horrible. I had never tried this before in real life. It was actually quite good and I did a few more takes and it really was sounding good.

Jeb: Talk about “Beyond the Sea.”

Jeff: That song came out when I was about 13, in 1960. That song was a throwback in its own day, as it sounded like 1940, but it was 1960. My thing has always been to make things sound older than they are. I used old microphone positions and fat analog equipment. That song was quite a challenge because it is so fast it is ridiculous. It took me four days to learn just the bass part.

Jeb: The song “She” is a great song and I love your version.

Jeff: I had to make a new version for me to sing in my style for that song. The best way for me to do my style was to do harmonies. I played it for Paul McCartney one day and he loved it but he said, “Don’t use all the harmonies right at first. Save a little bit or you’re giving the whole thing away.” So, I thanked him, and he was dead right because it does sound better with no harmony in the first verse.

Jeb: You sound very at home on “Mercy Mercy.”

Jeff: I used to play that one in my first group The Idle Race. We used to play it every night for about a year in the clubs and pubs around Birmingham. It was a treat to have a go at it again. It is just a lovely old R&B thing. I did a video for it and I play all the parts. In the video, I am the lead singer; I’m the bass player, the lead guitarist and the drummer. It looks like a real group, but when you look a bit closer you realize it is all me doing it. It is really comical. It is peachy, but it is very good.

Jeb: Talk about “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered.”

Jeff: This is from a film called Pal Joey, which was from the 1950’s. The only reason I’ve heard it is because me dad had the record of it. He used to listen to it every weekend, and every night, sometimes. I love that song. I think it is one of me favorite songs, ever. You have to listen to the chords, as it has some of the most beautiful chords, ever. You listen to it and you realize just how clever of a song it really is.

Jeb: The song “Let It Rock” is a great old tune.

Jeff: Everybody always does “Johnny B. Goode” but not many people do that one. They used to do it back in Birmingham. I never knew what it was about. I used to play that one in me first group and I sang it. I didn’t know the words and I just used to fumble about.

Jeb: One of the most emotional songs is “Running Scared.”

Jeff: When you tackle these old, beautiful songs then you have to treat them with total respect. The fact, that I knew Roy very well, made that even more important. One night, Roy and I were talking and he told me that “Running Scared” was the favorite song that he ever did, of his old stuff. It was great to hear that. I know that I can’t come close to his version, so, once again, I had to do me own version. I think it ended up being a great production.

Jeb: What can a person who loves ELO learn about Jeff Lynne from listening to these songs?

Jeff: It shows that I really understand these songs. I put a lot of work into doing them because I just wanted to get them right. It was very important for me to get them right and not just to do them. I didn’t want them to be a big horrible thing that I would be ashamed of. I really needed to be proud of these songs when I was finished.

Jeb: To an outsider, this shows depth. You go clear back to the music that inspired you and that made you love music in the first place, yet it has your own stamp on it.

Jeff: You’re right, that is what it is.

Jeb: Mr. Blue Sky sees you take on some of ELO’s most loved songs. Clear this up, these are not remastered from original tapes, you re-recorded these.

Jeff: I started from scratch. What bothered me, over the last few years, I would hear a song on the radio, or I would listen to a record, and I would think, “Oh, we should have got that part better than that.” Eventually, I decided to try to redo one of these songs. The first song I tried was “Mr. Blue Sky.” I just did it on an impulse and it turned out really well. I decided that I would do another one and it turned out really well. I had done about three or four and me manager said, “Why don’t you do more and see how many you get.” I was really enjoying them and I was fixing all of the bits that I didn’t like on the albums. I was re-recording them in a different way because I have 27 years more experience as a producer than I had before. I had so much more practice and experience than I had when I did those ELO albums that I couldn’t help but do them better.

Jeb: Did you do them digital?

Jeff: They are digital recordings through analog equipment.

Jeb: I was so afraid when I heard you did this because I didn’t know what to expect. But, Jeff, you really, really made these songs come to life. They really jump out of the speakers at you.

Jeff: Thanks very much as that is exactly what I was trying to do. I’m very glad to hear you say that.

Jeb: A couple of the songs were not major hits that you redid. I would like to get a couple of comments on them. You go way back with “10538 Overture.”

Jeff: The reason I chose to put that on the album was because it marks the 40th anniversary of ELO. I thought it would be nice to put it on there because it brings it all around.

Jeb: Tell me about “Point of No Return.”

Jeff: “Point of No Return” I wrote about four years ago as part of a new album. I haven’t finished me new album yet but it is on the way. I’ve got quite a few songs, like six or seven, towards it. I decided to finish that song, so I mixed it and put it on the album as a bonus track.

Jeb: You are going to do more album releases for Frontiers Records.

Jeff: There are some reissues coming out. Armchair Theater, my first solo album from 22 years ago, will be released. There is a live album and there is Zoom.

Jeb: Are you going to be going back over the tapes and remastering all of these?

Jeff: It’s already done. All I am doing is putting two bonus tracks on Zoom.

Jeb: Will you perhaps get inspired to perform some concerts?

Jeff: We will wait and see. It is not my favorite thing, as you know. I just love recording and you can’t get me out of the studio.

Jeb: Last one: Tell me about the creation of The Traveling Wiburys.

Jeff: I was producing George Harrison’s album, Cloud 9. The Traveling Wilburys were just me and George to start with. I was not invited into the band; I actually formed it with George. One night, we had a little discussion and George said, “You know what, you and I should have a group.” I said, “That’s a good idea. Who should we have in it?” He says, “Bob Dylan.” I said, “Oh, Bob Dylan…hmm, yes.” He said, “Roy Orbison” and I said, “Oh Yes, Roy.” I was all for it, of course. We both wanted Tom [Petty]. I had started working with Tom just a little after that producing Full Moon Fever. That is really how it all came about. It is also how I came to be in the Wilburys as the guy that no one had ever really heard of.

Jeb: It had to be exciting to have Harrison throw out those names knowing that he was serious and that you would get to be in a band with those guys.

Jeff: Exactly, but even better was sitting in the studio playing with all of them. We wrote those songs together and it was a fabulous experience.