As the frontman for 1970s hit-maker Electric Light Orchestra, a member of the all-star group the Traveling Wilburys and as a producer of such notables as George Harrison, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne has played a major role in shaping rock music in the post-Beatles era.
As a teenager in Birmingham, England, Lynne played in rock bands and also experimented with home recording equipment. After participating in a number of minor acts, Lynne was drafted into the Idle Race, whose frontman, Roy Wood, had recently exited to form a new group called the Move.
With the Idle Race, Lynne was able to hone his innovative guitar skills and songwriting chops, and even produced the group’s second album. Despite critical success, the band failed to build a following and a frustrated Lynne jumped ship and joined Wood in the more successful act the Move.
While recording as the Move, Lynne, Wood and drummer Bev Bevan began to formulate a new band, with the goal of incorporating classical music tropes into rock 'n' roll. The result was Electric Light Orchestra, known casually as ELO. When Wood departed the group after just one album, Lynne emerged as ELO’s main architect, acting as the band’s primary songwriter, singer, guitarist and producer. ELO became one of the most acclaimed groups of the '70s, scoring hits with such memorable songs as "Evil Woman," "Telephone Line," "Mr. Blue Sky," "Don't Bring Me Down" and more, and selling out arenas with elaborate stage productions.
By the '80s, Lynne was spending more and more time producing for other artists, and ELO went on an extended hiatus in 1986, although Bevan continued to tour under the name ELO Part II.
Lynne’s production work on George Harrison's 1987 comeback album "Cloud Nine” led the duo to form the super-group the Traveling Wilburys, which also included Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison, in 1988. The Traveling Wilburys released two acclaimed albums, and won a Grammy for rock performance by a duo or group with vocal.
In 1989, Lynne and Petty reunited for the latter’s multi-platinum solo album "Full Moon Fever,” which spawned the hits "Free Fallin’” and "I Won’t Back Down.”
Lynne released his solo debut album "Armchair Theatre" in 1990, but continued to focus primarily on outside production, including albums with Randy Newman and Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson.
In 1994, Harrison and the other surviving Beatles, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, enlisted Lynne to aid them in creating the "new" Beatles songs "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" using unfinished John Lennon demos. Identifying himself as the Fab Four's "biggest fan ever" to the Los Angeles Times, Lynne went on to produce solo records for both Starr and McCartney.
In 2001, Lynne resurrected the Electric Light Orchestra name for the studio album "Zoom," and produced Harrison’s final album, "Brainwashed."
Lynne’s second solo album was released in 2012, and he was nominated for the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In September 2014, Lynne once again revived ELO for a headlining slot at the Radio 2 festival in London billed as "Jeff Lynne's ELO" and featuring former member Richard Tandy. The sold-out gig was followed by a performance at the 2015 Grammy Awards, at which Lynne played "Evil Woman" and "Mr. Blue Sky" with special guest Ed Sheeran. That same night, Sam Smith won a pair of Grammys for his song "Stay With Me," whose songwriting credits include Lynne and Petty due to the track’s similarities to their 1989 hit "I Won't Back Down."