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Pop Songwriter Extraordinaire
Jimmy Webb is one of the preeminent songwriters of the last 40 years. His songs “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “MacArthur Park” and more have been heard by millions of people. He is the only artist to have ever received Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration, and according to BMI, his song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was the 3rd most performed song between 1940 and 1990.
“Jimmy Webb is the most important pop music figure to emerge since Bob Dylan.” -Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 1972
Born in Oklahoma, Webb moved to California with his family and stayed there to study music. After some music transcription work, 19-year old Webb met Johnny Rivers, who signed him to a publishing deal and recorded “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” on his 1966 album Changes. This started a string of successes for Webb, and he saw his songs recorded by The 5th Dimension, Glen Campbell, Isaac Hayes and Waylon Jennings, garnering several Grammy Awards between 1967 and 1969.
As a performer, Webb also met with critical acclaim. His debut, Words and Music, was released in late 1970, with Rolling Stone calling his song “P.F. Sloan a “masterpiece [that] could not be improved upon.” Webb released six albums between 1970 and 1982, each uniformly praised for their creative music and forthright lyrics.
While his songs continued to be performed by the likes of Tanya Tucker and Art Garfunkel, Webb was focusing on larger scale projects, like film scores, Broadway musicals, and classical music. He returned to recording in the 1990s, and in 1998 published Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting.
A Great Songwriter – and Storyteller
Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
Updated: October 25, 2010 – 12:01 AM
REVIEW: At the Dakota, Jimmy Webb confirmed his reputation as a tunesmith and a singer of limited voice.
Some announcers have a face for radio, some baseball players have a glove for designated hitter and some hotties have a voice for lip-syncing or Auto-Tune (or both).
It’s been said that Jimmy Webb has a voice for songwriting. But his vocals are not why the Dakota Jazz Club was sold out on Sunday night. Like Burt Bacharach, Webb is the rare songwriter who became famous in the 1960s. He penned “Up Up and Away” for the Fifth Dimension, “MacArthur Park” for Richard Harris and “Wichita Lineman” and other hits for Glen Campbell. Webb came to sing those classics and tell stories about the singers who made them famous.
A master storyteller and big-time name-dropper, Webb, 64, talked as much as he performed during his 110-minute set. The intro to every number was at least as long as the song itself. He told show-bizzy tales about Frank Sinatra, Waylon Jennings, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel and Harris. He also talked about his father, a World War II Marine who became a baptist preacher in Oklahoma, and his late mother, who whacked him if he didn’t practice piano. He talked about his wife, who leads PBS pledge drives in New York City, and about himself — from his drinking (he’s been sober for nine years) to his winning a bunch of Grammys in 1967 when everyone was talking about Bob Dylan and the Doors.
What Webb didn’t talk about was his songwriting or what inspired some of his famous lyrics. In “MacArthur Park,” what the heck was the cake that someone left out in the rain all about? Instead, he told a story about Harris taking him to Ireland to sleep in the bed in which Richard was conceived. And then there was the tale about a wacky guy with a slide ruler in his pocket who came to Webb’s dressing room one night and tried to explain to him that one couldn’t possibly drive to Phoenix in such a short period of time, as the Webb song Glen Campbell sang suggests. “It’s poetic license,” the songwriter explained.
Making what was probably his first Twin Cities solo appearance (in 2003 he played with Michael Feinstein at the Pantages), Webb proved to be an emotive but colorless singer (he has made a series of solo albums) and a fluid pianist of his richly melodic songs with their ornate endings. He certainly confirmed his reputation as a songwriting legend and also made an unexpected case for being an entertaining raconteur.
Jon Bream •