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For the Love of Jimmy

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Thousands of artists have either worked with Jimmy Webb or recorded his songs. PopMatters asked a few of them to share why they love Jimmy.


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Roberta Flack: Jimmy Webb is one of the all-time great artists in the world whose musicianship is only surpassed by his humility and whose performances always render an air of confidence and gratitude.


 


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Glen Campbell: He’s a genius. When I heard “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, I got in my car and drove back to Arkansas because it made me so damn homesick and I hadn’t been back home in a year or a year-and-a-half. We essentially became brothers. When I heard “Wichita Lineman”, it blew me away. He wrote the song for me. He’s an incredible storyteller. What he’s got up there in that brain is second to none. The things that he writes down on paper for people to play [laughs]! Boy were they sweating on the session for “MacArthur Park”! To arrange and produce “MacArthur Park” ... I don’t know anybody else who could have done it that way and with that much force. No one’s done it before and no one’s done it after. “Galveston” was one of Johnny Depp’s favorite songs and it’s one of my favorite songs that Jimmy did. You know where I got that? Don Ho. We were in Hawaii and he said, “Glen Campbell, here’s a Jimmy Webb song I did.” He’d done “Galveston”.


 


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Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. (The 5th Dimension): He’s a genius and anybody who loves music and loves the best songwriting is going to appreciate Jimmy Webb. You really need to spend time with Jimmy’s work because so much thought and so much feeling went into the lyrics as well as the music and the flow of it. [Ed. Note: above quote taken from this post]


 


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Carly Simon: Jimmy Webb may not be the only unique composer but he is the first one that comes to mind when I want to describe the word unique.


 


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Giorgio Moroder: Jimmy Webb is a brilliant songwriter and “MacArthur Park” is certainly a brilliant piece. It contains one of the most beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard. Of course, it was a wonderful experience to produce the version with Donna Summer. Her voice took the song to a completely different place.


 


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Freedy Johnston: I am pleased to report I met the great Jimmy Webb a couple months ago. He received us backstage before a gig to chat for a few minutes. The perfect gentleman artist in a grey suit and white shirt and a notebook instead of a PDA. The show moved us deeply, as they say. His chords are like big waves out at sea. What a night.


 


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Thelma Houston: I still identify with anything from the Sunshower (1969) album. It’s still one of my favorite albums. I think Jimmy just writes such wonderful songs!


 


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Nanci Griffith: If I were sent to a desert island and was told I could take one instrument and one person with me, I wouldn’t take my guitar ... I’d take a piano and Jimmy Webb.


 


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Liz Callaway: It’s no secret that Jimmy is a superb songwriter, but I equally love and admire his singing. He moves me deeply. He is also one of the kindest, most generous people I know.


 


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Johnny Rivers: I was introduced to Jimmy through a man named Marc Gordon who wound up managing The 5th Dimension. He had worked with Jimmy when Jimmy was just a young writer over at Motown. Marc sent me a tape and said, “I have a young songwriter I want you to hear. I think he has huge potential. He really has a unique style of writing.” He sent me this tape and it had about ten songs on it. I put it on my machine at home and started listening to it. It was interesting but the roots for my band was pretty much blues. Jimmy’s stuff was more pop-jazz but the style was so interesting that I kept listening. A couple of times I started to just get up and turn it off but I just let it keep going. The last song on that tape was “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. It was like a fancy blues song with a story. It became kind of his signature style for several songs, writing about different towns. I had just come off of “Poor Side of Town” (1966) that I wrote and that was a number one record for me, so I wanted to go in and cut it. I called Lou Adler and said, “Man I got this song and it’s great. It has a lot of the chords that ‘Poor Side of Town’ has and it’s a ballad”. We went in and we cut it and it came out really well. Jimmy came in and played on it. We knew it was a hit. We were certain it was a hit song. It just had the sound and style but we didn’t release it as a single because we thought it sounded a little too close to “Poor Side of Town” and we wanted to wait.


In the mean time, I was getting ready to put my album out. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was the first cut on this album called Changes (1966). I got my test pressings in. I had this little office over at Liberty Records. We had started Soul City Records and I heard a song by Glen Campbell who I knew from “Gentle on My Mind”. I thought, Glen Campbell could really do a good job on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. I thought, if we’re not going to release it as a single, why don’t I just give it Glen? I called his producer, a guy named Al DeLory, who was with Capitol Records at the time, and he came down to my office. I said. “I got this song and it would be perfect for Glen.” When I played it for him, he said, “Wow that really is a great song.” I gave him my test pressing, the only I copy I had with me at the time, and he took it and put it under his arms. The guy who I was working with, Macy Lippman, said, “Man, why did you give him that song?” About two weeks later, I’m driving down Sunset Boulevard on my way home and I hear Glen Campbell’s version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” on the radio and I thought, “Man, he did a great job on that”. That got Jimmy and Glen together, which started a long relationship between the two of them. I’m a big Jimmy Webb fan. There are certain songwriters and artists that have such a signature style. There’s no doubt about when you hear a Jimmy Webb song, you know who it is. I can hear a Jimmy Webb song and tell you it’s a Jimmy Webb song in a second.

Christian John Wikane is a NYC-based journalist and music essayist. He's a Contributing Editor for PopMatters, where he's interviewed artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Janelle Monae. For the past three years, he's penned liner notes for more than 100 CD re-issues by legends of R&B, rock, pop, dance, and jazz. Since 2008, he's produced and hosted Three of Hearts: A Benefit for The Family Center at Joe's Pub. He is the author of the five-part oral history Casablanca Records: Play It Again (PopMatters, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @CJWikaneNYC. 


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