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British band ELO marks 40th anniversary with live album, new songs

Rock greats Jeff Lynne (L) and Tom Petty play with Dhani Harrison (R), son of ex-Beatle George Harrison, at the 19th Annual Rock and Roll Ha
Rock greats Jeff Lynne (L) and Tom Petty play with Dhani Harrison (R), son of ex-Beatle George Harrison, at the 19th Annual Rock and Roll Ha

By Iain Blair

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jeff Lynne and his Electric Light Orchestra, the British rock group that mixed electric guitars with classical cellos, violins and woodwind, are celebrating their 40th anniversary with new material and a slew of album re-issues.

The band had a string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s like "Evil Woman," "Strange Magic" and "Mr. Blue Sky." But by the late 1980s it had run its course, and Lynne had teamed up with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty to form another supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys.

Lynne and ELO mark the milestone of becoming a band with the never-before released "Electric Light Orchestra Live" with two new songs, and two reissues - ELO's "ZOOM" and Lynne's debut solo album "Armchair Theatre" (also with two new tracks) - all out on Tuesday.

Lynne, 65, talked to Reuters about the band's legacy, why there are no plans for touring, and old pals Petty, Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Q: Did you ever think you'd be celebrating ELO's 40th anniversary, and how special is it for you?

A: It's pretty special and a marvelous thing that my songs are still getting played after all these years. But it took me by surprise. It just sort of creeps up on you without you knowing, and when you try and think about where those 40 years went, it's hard to imagine.

Q: What can fans expect from the new releases?

A: Maybe some fans missed the albums the first time around, and "Armchair Theatre" is one of my favorite albums I did, including all the ELO ones. I love "Zoom" too, and they didn't get much of a look-in last time around, so it's a chance for fans to catch up. I'm very proud of the songs and the live one is great too - and I'm not a big fan of live albums usually.

Q: All the albums feature some additional new songs. What's the history there?

A: The two extra tracks on "Armchair" were written during the original sessions in 1990, and I never quite finished them, so I finally went back and completed the tracks recently. And "Zoom" has a new track, "One Day," which I recorded in 2004.

Q: George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Tom Petty also appear on these releases. What did they bring to the mix?

A: It was lovely to have them and it's just another energy to add to the music. And when it's musicians as great as they are, there's this buzz and it's really nice to play with people you respect and love and who're so good at what they do.

Q: George Harrison and you collaborated on a lot of projects. What are your fondest memories of him?

A: Probably the first thing we did together, his album "Cloud Nine." I actually moved into his house and lived there during the week, and then went home at the weekend. We had a fabulous time and so much fun. It was the first real producing I'd done outside ELO and so it was very exciting for me, especially as I was producing his solo album at his home studio. We became very close. And then I got to see the world with George. He loved to travel and he'd invite me to come along on these wonderful trips, so it was a magical time.

Q: Fair to say you've always been more of a studio musician than a touring one?

A: Absolutely. Once I discovered recording and production, that was my main interest. I had this little tape machine and it taught me how to make records, in the front room of my parents' house in Birmingham, England.

Q: Any plans to tour with ELO again?

A: Not really. My manager keeps saying, ‘Come on,' but once I started working in the studio, I never wanted to go on the road and play the same thing every night. I was far more interested in writing and recording new stuff all the time.

Q: So many classic rock bands - from the Rolling Stones to Fleetwood Mac and The Who - are still going strong. What's the continuing appeal?

A: It's obviously great songs that have a certain sound you just don't get now. What's amazing to me is that so many kids today are big fans, too. So many other types of music - like big band - came and went, but rock ‘n' roll-pop just keeps going.

(Reporting By Iain Blair, editing by Jill Serjeant and Philip Barbara)

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