Jimmy Webb Still Within the Sound of His Voice

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Cover Photo Credit: Bob Barry
Submitted by Don Graham

There are certain names in the music business that when mentioned immediately bring to mind an image, a song, a story. The name Jimmy Webb conjures up all of the above. His songs are so much a part of the tapestry of the Americana fabric that ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’, ‘Galveston’, ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘MacArthur Park’ are already classics. ‘Up, Up and Away’, ‘Where’s The Playground Susie?’, ‘The Worst That Could Happen’, ‘Didn’t We’ are all up there as well. Jimmy Webb is right up there with the best, the Irving Berlins, Hoagy Carmichaels and Sammy Cahns.

Jimmy Webb was born in Oklahoma, moved to West Texas and ended up in Los Angeles, California where he arranged hymns for his Dad, a Baptist Minister's Church. “I listened to all the hits of the day, Elvis, Buddy and the Everly Brothers. I listened to the writing like Leiber and Stoller, who wrote those  Elvis classics;  Felice and Bouldeaux Bryant who wrote all the the Everly Brothers hits in the 50’s. Having a song recorded by the Everlys would be like having Elvis record one of my songs. And later on they did record a couple of my songs, ‘When Eddie Comes Home’ and ‘She Never Smiles Anymore’.

Webb was signed to a songwriting contract with Jobete Music, the publishing arm of Motown Records. His  first commercially recorded song was ‘My Christmas Tree’ by The Supremes  on their 1965 Merry Christmas album.  Around that time he wrote ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’. “I wrote it originally for Paul Peterson who was a regular on The Donna Reed Show and had a couple of hits as a teen idol. ‘She Can’t Find Her Keys’ was one of them. Jobette didn’t like ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ and they actually gave it back to me; they didn’t publish it.” The following year, Webb met singer and producer Johnny Rivers, who signed him to a publishing deal and recorded "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" on his 1966 album ‘Changes’. Rivers got it to Glen Campbell who had a monster hit with the song.  . According to BMI, his song "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" was the third most performed song in the fifty years between 1940 and 1990.In 1967, Rivers was producing a new band called The 5th Dimension and turned to Webb for songs.Webb contributed five songs to their début album; ‘Up, Up and Away’. The song ‘Up, Up and Away’ was released as a single in May 1967 and reached the Top Ten. The group's follow-up album, ‘The Magic Garden’ was also released in 1967 and featured eleven Jimmy Webb songs, including ‘The Worst That Could Happen’.

Jimmy WebbPhoto Credit Bob BarryJimmy Webb
Photo Credit Bob Barry
In 1968, the string of successful Jimmy Webb songs continued with The 5th Dimension's ‘Paper Cup’ and ‘Carpet Man’ reaching the Top 40, Glen Campbell's ‘Wichita Lineman’ sold over a million copies, and Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge got  a gold record with ‘The Worst That Could Happen’, the  song originally recorded by The 5th Dimension. Jimmy formed his own production and publishing company that year, Canopy, and scored a hit with its first project, with Irish actor Richard Harris singing an album of all Jimmy Webb songs. One of the songs was ‘MacArthur Park’. Despite the song's seven minute, twenty-one second length, Richard Harris' version reached #2 on the Hot 100 . “We kind of set new ground rules for radio with a 7 minute song. I’m proud of ‘MacArthur Park’ and it’s my third most recorded song.” At the 1969 Grammy Awards Webb accepted awards for ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’, ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘MacArthur Park’. Webb is the only artist to have ever received Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration.

One of Jimmy’s personal favorites, ‘The Highwayman’ was record by The Highwaymen, aka Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Jennings had previously recorded ‘MacArthur Park’.

Since 1993, Jimmy Webb has produced five well received solo albums: ‘Suspending Disbelief’, ‘Ten Easy Pieces’, ‘Twilight of the Renegades’, ‘Just Across the River’, and ‘Still Within the Sound of My Voice’. He has continued to perform his solo shows as well. (“I do about 50 dates a year.”) and is embarking on a new tour this month. One stop on the tour is Hugh’s Room in Toronto, Canada.

Singer Songwriter Jimmy WebbPhoto Credit Bob BarrySinger Songwriter Jimmy Webb
Photo Credit Bob Barry
“Hugh’s is one of my favorite venues in the world to play. The crowds are amazing and the energy in the room and feeling of acceptance in the room is unbelievable. I love that venue.”

Jimmy Webb is also working on a new book, (working title), “A Cake In The Rain”, where it is  rumored that he will reveal the meaning of MacArthur Park and tell many untold stories including his history with Elvis and the Colonel and many other inside tales being told for the first time.

In 2004, Webb married Laura Savini, who appears nationally on PBS in pledge-drive programs. From 1996 to 2011, Savini was Vice President of Marketing and Communications at WLIW a PBS station in New York City.  The couple first met backstage on New Year's Eve 1999 at Billy Joel’s 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert at Madison Square Garden. They met again when Savini interviewed Webb for her local television show and the two soon started dating. They have settled on the North Shore of Long Island.

This Februrary 15th, Jimmy Web will be appearing at Hugh’s Room in Toronto and if you’re anywhere nearby don’t miss this chance to see a living legend perform all his hits and more. Don't miss this chance to be within the sound of his voice.