Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Case of the Mysterious Traveling Wilburys Guitar Picks

Traveling Wilburys Portrait Dylan Petty - 11x17 PosterThe guitar picks of legendary supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (TW) are part of long and mysterious history of musicial pseudonyms first used by The Beatles; a tradition that dates back well before they were famous. Aside from the near impossibility in locating a complete set of these TW picks, they contain only fictional names of the band members and their friends. Searching for authentic Wilburys picks with the real band member names will yield a dead-end because they simply don’t exist. Who are Nelson, Otis, Lefty, Lucky and Charlie T. Jr., and just how did these picks come about?  How valuable are they to collectors? Read on...

Historically, the pseudonyms used by The Traveling Wilburys were not the first ones ever used by group founder George Harrison or "Nelson Wilbury" as he is sometime known. In order to better understand the rare and unique nature of TW guitar picks we need to travel backwards in time to the 1960s to discover where George and his “first band” came up with the idea for pseudonyms.

In May of 1960, The Beatles were hired to back teen singer Johnny Gentle on a tour of Scotland. In so doing, the group decided to bill themselves as The Silver Beatles (or according to other reports, Long John Silver and the Silver Beatles). Gentle talks about his time fronting The Silver Beatles in his book Johnny Gentle and the Beatles: First Ever Tour - Scotland 1960.

Prior to this tour, John, Paul and George decided to create pseudonyms for themselves along the way. This was the first documented use of pseudonyms by The Beatles. George Harrison changed his name to Carl Harrison, no doubt in tribute to his rockabilly hero (and future friend) Carl Perkins. McCartney selected Paul Ramone as his nom de plume and Lennon of course, was Long John Silver. At the time, it was all in good fun. However, as time went on the group (and later as solo artists) began to use pseudonyms for various creative and business purposes.

WomanPaul McCartney was a big fan of pseudonyms and continued to use them throughout his career. In the middle 1960s he used the name Bernard Web to disguise his authorship of the song Woman  for the British pop singing duo Peter and Gordon.   His intent was to see if the song could reach the top of the charts without the help of a Beatle, standing merely on the merits of the song and the performance of Peter and Gordon. In 1967, McCartney produced an album for the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (The History of the Bonzos) under the name Apollo C. Vermouth. This time the intent was to help musical friends on a rival record label, due to record contract obligations that would have prevented his assistance to the band.  Again in 1967, McCartney came up with the concept and pseudonym - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - to help free the group to create their latest album outside the confines and expectations of using their Beatles moniker.

George Harrison continued the use of pseudonyms in the late 1960s. In 1969, Harrison released an experimental solo LP on the Apple Records/ Zapple label called Electronic Sound. On it, he secretly credited himself as Artur Wax. On a brief liner note he poked fun at himself with the line “There are a lot of people around, making a lot of noise, here’s some more.”

Electronic Sound
Throughout the late Sixties and into the Seventies, George Harrison continued to use various pseudonyms to let fans know he had played sessions on the albums of other artists. This use of pseudonyms was meant to get around entertainment attorneys who had yet to figure out how artists exclusively signed to their labels could be loaned out to work on albums for artists on rival labels. Additionally, George likely did not want his friends to be invoiced by his label for lending his talents. The list of names used by Harrison during his solo career is long and humorous: George Harrysong; George O’Hara; Son of Harry; Harry Georgeson; P.Roducer; Jai Raj Harisein; L’Angelo Mysterioso; and a few more. In a future article of the Rock And Roll Detective Blog, we will further explore the "anonymous" sessions of The Beatles working on other artists' sessions.

This Is LoveThe birth of The Traveling Wilburys was an organic happy accident. In mid- 1988, Harrison had recently recorded the album Cloud Nine, produced with Jeff Lynne. Warner Bros. Records' International Department had asked George Harrison to come up with an extra track for Europe for the single This Is Love. At the time it was customary to couple an A-side with a never-before-heard track, giving the single extra sales value.

Handle with Care 3" Single (CD3)Lynne and Harrison were out to dinner with Roy Orbison that night. Lynne was currently producing an Orbison album. Orbison and Harrison were old friends from 1963 when Roy and The Beatles toured England together. They discussed Harrison’s need to record another song. When Lynne informed Harrison that one could not find a studio on such short notice, George said, “Let’s call Bob (Dylan). He has a studio in his garage.” The next day, after Harrison picked up his guitar on loan at Tom Petty’s house (Tom recalls: "I wondered what I was going to do today")- all five rock and roll legends found themselves hanging around Bob Dylan’s garage, helping George craft his "b-side”.  Once Handle With Care was written, George figured, no use wasting all this assembled talent, and put them to work sharing lead vocal duties. No doubt Harrison and Lynne realized they had formed the group they often joked about during the Cloud Nine sessions. A group they referred to early on as “Trembling Wilburys”.

The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1Of course, when the record label heard “Handle With Care” and found out who was on the song, they suggested Harrison form the group and record more songs. Thus, The Traveling Wilburys were born.
As plans for the new group and album were being made, Harrison started to create a logo, and funny names that ended in Wilbury. George recalls, “Somebody was making these guitar picks and they said, ‘What should we put on them?’ Everybody has some smart little thing written on the pick. So, as we’d just been talking about these “Trembling Wilburys”, I had it misspelled on the guitar pick as “Travelling Wilburys”. But at that point, it was just a drunken thought at the back of my head.”

As George was creating an extended mix of his hit single “Got My Mind Set On You” the first Traveling Wilburys guitar pick surfaced. During this session in which Harrison used a borrowed red Hamer guitar to record a solo for the mix, engineer Bill Botrell says,  “We were sitting around, and George said, ‘Yeah, I guess we are going to have a group or something.’ Then he handed me a Travelling Wilburys guitar pick.”

Indeed, George’s “group or something” formed and each Wilbury came up with their own Wilbury name for the band and for their pick. The first album was titled Traveling Wilburys Volume 1. The picks with their pseudonyms are listed below:

Travelling Wilburys = The band name spelled wrong on pick

Nelson Wilbury = George Harrison

Otis Wilbury = Jeff Lynne

Lucky Wilbury = Bob Dylan

Lefty Wilbury = Roy Orbison

Charlie T. Jr. Wilbury = Tom Petty

When Traveling Wilburys - Vol. 3 was recorded a couple of years later, the band members again gave themselves new monikers, however, no Volume 3 picks ever surfaced. This author requested a Traveling Wilburys pick (through a mutual friend) from Jeff Lynne after Volume 3 had been released. Although Lynne didn’t have one, he did provide something even more rare… Lynne said, "I haven't got a pick, but (pulling it out of his pocket) will this do?" It was a golf game-used  “Clayton Wilbury” golf tee, which, I suppose one could use as a pick. 

Traveling Wilburys - Vol. 3
Though no Wilbury picks have surfaced for Traveling Wilburys Volume 3, here are the names each band member used in the album credits:

Spike Wilbury = George Harrison

Clayton Wilbury = Jeff Lynne

Muddy Wilbury= Tom Petty

Boo Wilbury = Bob Dylan

Harrison did have other picks made during The Traveling Wilburys. They are listed and shown below. Unfortunately, we don’t know who all of the true identities are at this point. The author asked drummer and Traveling Sidebury, Jim Keltner about Ken, Biff, Betty, Gladys and Cyril Wilbury. He laughed and said, “Some of those picks may have had no meaning at all. The guys would just sit around and think up so many Wilbury names that just made them laugh.” For now, the mystery continues.

Ayrton Wilbury = Dhani Harrison

Sir Edmund Wilbury- George Harrison

Ken Wilbury =?

Biff Wilbury =?

Betty Wilbury =?

Gladys Wilbury =?

Cyril Wilbury =?

Nakihoma Wilbury = George Harrison (Live in Japan 91 tour)

The Traveling Wilburys official hardcover book by Genesis Publications was published in 2009 and contained one photo of all the picks.

To say that these original picks are hard to find is an understatement. The Wilburys never toured, never appeared as a group in public and gave out their picks in very small numbers to their closest family and friends. And that was over twenty years ago. Today, some of these picks individually sell for $1,000 or more. And in fact, a complete set showed up on EBay for $74,000 in August, 2010. But then, no one said collecting is easy. Rather, it is a life time pursuit and passion. In the words of Nelson Wilbury, “Keep on traveling folks.”

Jim Berkenstadt
Rock And Roll Detective®
© 2010 Rock And Roll Detective®

The complete photo set of Traveling Wilburys picks is shown courtesy of Jon Elliott.


  1. Wow, those tiny pieces of colored plastic have quite an illustrious history. Illuminating.

  2. Hola.
    Te he escrito.
    Espero respuesta.


  3. I am glad you both enjoyed the story behind The Traveling Wilburys' picks.

  4. Please have written to your yahoo mail. I need to answer. It's important.
    Thank you.


  5. I am curious about the red Hamer that Harrison "borrowed". Was this actually the guitar that Harrison acquired from Jol Dantzig (Hamer's founder and designer) or another one altogether? According to Harrison's long time guitar tech Alan Rogan, the Hamer is still in Harrison's estate collection...

  6. For those who have asked about the Red Hamer guitar. The one used to record the solo for the extended mix of Got My Mind Set On You, was borrowed by George from the 2nd engineer on the session. This is not the same Hamer that George owned and still has at Friar Park.

  7. I can tell you that Ken Wilbury is/was Gary Moore. He played the solo on the first track on Vol. 3

    I'm lucky to have a Ken pick that I got from Gary personally. That was also when he told me the story about him being a member of the Wilbury family.

    1. Very cool to know that Ken Wilbury is Gary Moore! Thanks for sharing that information.

  8. Something to ponder , about the mystery Wilburys ... could one be Eric Idle? Long time Harrison cronie , guitar player , and author of the Vol.3 liner notes! And does Michael Palin also , somehow fit in the mix? ( Also a long time chum , and author of the Vol.1 liner notes! )

    1. I contacted both Idle and Palin. Both told me that they were never given any of the names on the Wilburys picks.

  9. Ken Wilbury = Gary Moore who played the solo on the opening track on Vol. 3. Picks with Kens name were printed.

  10. what is the present value of these picks? I once bought an Nelson Wilbury pick from another collector and am curious about the present value.

    1. A number of collectors and retailers have told me that the complete set could sell for $15-20,000. I have seen Nelson Wilbury's pick go for $1500 at auction. Hope that helps.

    2. Thanks for your help. It is good to know the value.


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