How good a producer and musician is ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne? Just ask Tom Petty, his bandmate in the Traveling Wilburys, who spoke during Lynne’s induction into the Hollywood Walk Of Fame Thursday. Petty called Lynne “the best overall musician I’ve ever met.”
Both Petty and the Eagles’ Joe Walsh were full of effusive praise for Lynne in their own inimitable styles. Walsh, to no one’s surprise, played comedian and hype man, with mixed results.
For instance, everyone cracked up as Walsh quipped, “Jeff was born with sunglasses on.” However, even Lynne himself winced – albeit with a smile – when, after calling Lynne, “One of the greatest stars rock has ever produced,” Walsh added, “I am sure Sam Smith and his co-writers would agree.” (He was, of course, referring to the well-publicized incident of Lynne and Petty legally winning co-writer credits on Smith’s hit “Stay With Me,” due to similarities to Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”)
Whether via Walsh’s wit or Petty’s southern charm, the message conveyed was the same: Jeff Lynne is a musical god. “Personally I think Jeff Lynne is a musical genius and I mean that,” Walsh said; later adding, “He is one big humble and lovable reason rock ‘n’ roll is now and forever king.”
After the induction, Lynne – who describes himself as a “modest bloke” – sat alone in a room upstairs in the Capitol Records building, where admitted being overwhelmed by the admiration of his peers. “It’s fantastic what they said and it’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s just wonderful to have that support, just treasure it and forget about it.”
It’s also particularly mindboggling for Lynne, who despite a massive string of hits in the '70s (including “Telephone Line, “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head”) claims he was unaware of the extent of his talent for many years.
“It means the world because I never knew if I was any good at all, because nobody used to tell me anything about how good I was until I started working with George [Harrison] and Tom and all the other people I’ve worked with,” he said. “So I never knew how good I was. But now I got a feel that I’m all right, maybe.”
Having been told he was “all right” by the fans as well, Lynne is gearing up for a new album, the first ELO recording since 2001’s Zoom, and a long-overdue U.S. tour, likely next year at this point.
Lynne realized the time was right for a new album and tour after headlining for 50,000 fans at Hyde Park in September of last year.
“I was worried: Would there be anybody there for this [show]?” he said. “We went on and I’ve never been so overwhelmed in my life. They loved every song and they just went mad for it. And they sang every song louder than I could sing it. There were 50,000 of them singing it, and I’m trying to keep up with them, trying to hear myself over them.”
Yet, even as the accolades continue to roll in, it still all seems hard for him to believe. As he walked out of the Capitol Records building right alongside Petty two teenage girls shrieked, one of them sobbing with One Direction-worthy emotion. Told about the tears, Lynne just chuckles and says, “Oh dear, oh dear.”
It’s reactions like that, however, that have finally brought one of rock’s greatest visionaries and tunesmiths back to the public eye.