A great-ish songwriter/producer, whose megaheyday was the 60's - if you've never heard of him, you've at least heard his songs, like the much-hated "MacArthur Park" (I quite enjoyed the Richard Harris version, actually; later versions by The Four Tops and Donna Summer were also hits, but not quite the phenomenon that Harris' recording was). His roots were in rhythm and blues (he was once a newbie staff writer at Motown Records), but his fame came from well-crafted middle-of-the-road tunes, like "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (Glen Campbell) and "Up, Up, and Away" (The Fifth Dimension).

Wrote many many great songs other than those mentiooned above, including The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Wichita Lineman, Galveston and The Highwayman. Has worked as a writer or arranger for such artists as The Beach Boys, Art Garfunkel and, most famously, Glen Campbell. Two of his children are also now in the music business as psych-pop duo The Webb Brothers.
He also wrote the single best book ever written on songwriting - Tunesmith, which manages simply and lucidly to explain the rudiments of music theory, rhyme, scansion and song structure, as well as tackling the much more difficult question of inspiration.
His most recent album, Ten Easy Pieces, sees him performing his own most famous songs.
For more info see www.jimmywebb.com


Here is how Jimmy Webb's website begins, and it would be hard to say much more that's meaningful about his feelings on the whole deal. It's a quote from his book, "Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting":

At the heart of the struggle has been the fact that logic, instinct and experience indicate that much of the material presented is useless for the following reasons:
  1. Inspiration comes from the guts.
  2. Technique is a personal and very private conceit.
  3. Creativity as a concept is perhaps not well understood by the people who practice it most successfully.
Then the website begins to play a snippet of Webb singing the intro to Wichita Lineman. I know some of you readers want to downplay this as pabulum music for old farts, but I can tell you that chillbumps are not negotiable. I get them when I hear Hollow by A Perfect Circle. I get them when I hear Freak by Radiohead. I get them when I hear Everlong by the Foo Fighters. And I get them when I hear almost any song from Jimmy Webb.

Glen Campbell (a good ol' boy from somewhere around here) made a career out of singing songs by Jimmy Webb in a voice that Webb would have loved to own. The biggest money makers were the "Lineman" song, Galveston (which is a great male vocal version of what ABBA was doing with those girls), and the biggest one of them all, By the Time I Get to Phoenix. You should learn "Phoenix" on the guitar one day and see just how easy it is to put together a masterpiece if you've got the simple tools of wit and melody.

Webb is from the same general area as Campbell. He's the son of a preacher in Oklahoma. Some of his lesser known money makers are The Worst That Could Happen by the Brooklyn Bridge and The Highwayman by Kris Kristofferson and that rag tag bunch.

My favorite work by Jimmy Webb is what he did with the drunken Sir Richard Harris when he spun MacArthur Park into two albums, A Tramp Shining (what a marvelous concept for all us tarnished hard-drinking fools of love with hearts of gold and consciouses of pudding and hands like Parkinsonian jackhammers) and The Yard Went On Forever.

And she would stand, amidst her understanding
And ask the children what they'd done at school that day
And the yard went on forever.....
These two are sometimes sold as a double album called Webb Sessions 1968-69.

I know a wonderful songwriter who wishes he could sing. It's his curse to be a wizard with the pen but a kludge with the pipes. Jimmy's not really that bad. He'll put on a show for you and do a good halfass job of rendering these tunes. But I'd stick with the pros' versions, if I were you.

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