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Interview:
ELO is a livin' thing again for Jeff Lynne, fans
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

» See more SOUND CHECK

The Electric Light Orchestra's resurgence has come a bit out of the blue.



The group has put out just two albums during the past 22 years, with 2015's "Alone in the Universe" and 2001's "Zoom" as its only 21st century releases. And group co-founder and leader Jeff Lynne who, in fact, records mostly as a one-man band was at one point fairly certain he'd never record under the ELO banner again.



What changed his mind was a September 2014 concert in London's Hyde Park, a one-off that proved to be an attitude-changing wake-up call.



"It was such a thrill doing that show," Lynne, 70, recalled by phone from his home in Los Angeles just before release of "Alone in the Universe." "I didn't know if anybody would show up and we played to, like, 50,000 people, and they were fantastic and I was bowled over by it. It was just, like, amazing to have such love and warmth coming off of all these people.



"So that's what kind of started it, really. After doing that show, I really wanted to get on with it and make an album."



His shock at ELO's enduring appeal is mark of what a studio rat Lynne is. "Recording is really my passion," he confessed. And he's done plenty of it with the Move before ELO, as a member of the Traveling Wilburys and as a producer helming projects for George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Bryan Adams and more. And he was tapped by the Beatles to produce the two new songs for their 1995 "Anthology" documentary.



But ELO is Lynne's primary calling card and greatest success. Fusing a string section and orchestral arrangements with a rock band, the group sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, including the 1977 double-disc "Out of the Blue," and scored 15 Top 20 hits in the U.S., many of which such as "Mr. Blue Sky," "Evil Woman" and "Don't Bring Me Down" are played as much now as they were back in the '70s.



"Obviously you never think about anything like that," Lynne said of the group's formidable legacy. "All I wanted to do was get a hit 'Let's get a hit then!' In fact, (Petty) said that's my problem with critics in America, I have too many hits and they don't like you when you have a lot of singles.



"But people like it and that's more important, isn't it?"



A key difference now, however, is that the group is known as Jeff Lynne's ELO. That bit of branding comes in the wake of "other groups going out pretending to be ELO," including former members' ELO Part II. "It's not reclaiming," explained Lynne, who presided over ELO's 2017 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "It's always been mine. I've just made it so if you want to see the real ELO, this is Jeff Lynne's ELO."



Lynne said he "didn't have a clue" when he and Roy Wood started ELO during 1970, after the dissolution of their previous band, the Move. They had experimented with strings in that group but had grander visions in mind for their next step. "Roy and I would meet up and talk about this group we were going to have together and what we wanted it to sound like and all of that," Lynne recalls. "So we finally did it and he left after three months! So that was the end of that idea. But I carried on with it, and here we are."



ELO released 12 albums during its initial 16-year stint, including the soundtrack to the 1980 film "Xanadu" with Olivia Newton John. It was also sued by Detroit's Brass Ring Productions for using backing tapes during a 1978 performance at the Pontiac Silverdome.



The end for ELO came quietly after 1986's "Balance of Power," and in addition to his production duties Lynne made two albums of his own, "Armchair Theatre" and "Long Wave." But the spirit of ELO remained part of his creative process.



"All the songs I write, I call them an ELO sound, really," he explained. "I think of them as ELO as I'm doing it, so they all sound like that to me 'cause I'm the writer. So they all become ELO songs unless somebody asks me for a song particularly, and I have to write one for somebody else."



Lynne is happy to perform those ELO songs again live, albeit in a limited fashion. The group's current North American tour, its first in 30 years, is playing just 10 cities, while a "Wembley Or Bust" DVD and Showtime special are making the group accessible beyond that. Lynne has no desire to return ELO to the active touring machine it was during the '70s, but he's clearly willing to put it on stage again.



"I think people do want to see it, and I ought to play it for them," he said. "It's just marvelous to be in this position again. It's really great."



If you go: Jeff Lynne's ELO and Dawes perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at Detroit's Little Caesars Arena. Tickets start at $49.50. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.

Web Site: www.313Presents.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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