VERO BEACH - Jimmy Webb has written so many classic pop songs that he is legitimately called “America’s Songwriter.” Fans will have the chance to hear five decades of hits at Mr. Webb’s March 21 concert at The Emerson Center.
Jimmy Webb’s credits read like a greatest hits album from the 1970s. “The Worst That Could Happen,” “Up, Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “All I Know” and “MacArthur Park” are just a few of his classics.
Mr. Webb’s songs have been recorded or performed by Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Glen Campbell, Art Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, R.E.M., Isaac Hayes and Judy Collins, and Guns and Roses. In 2016, Rolling Stone listed Jimmy Webb as one of the top 50 songwriters of all time.
“I always wanted to be a pure songwriter,” Mr. Webb told Hometown News. “I didn’t start thinking about performing until the early 70s. I was a pure songwriter, and when I heard Carole King’s “Tapestry,” I knew I had to become a singer.”
“I was on the cusp of this new wave of entertainers, singer/songwriting, which was also the perfect economic model. If you were a guitar player, you could put your show in your guitar case and take off, and play all over the United States, and come home and keep all the money. You weren’t paying a band, you weren’t paying for a lot of hotel rooms. One of the attractions of singer/songwriting was this is a great business model for a musician.”
Mr. Webb’s first album was 1971’s Words and Music, “which is a terrible title for an album. So many mistakes were made, actually, it was ridiculous. I talk about them in my book, “The Cake and the Rain.” It’s not a tale of woe. I look at the comical side of always doing things slightly wrong.”
While some Jimmy Webb songs seem written specifically for the artist who sang them, most of his hits were chosen off his albums by the artists.
“Wichata Lineman I wrote specifically for Glen Campbell. There are a few songs along the way that I wrote for someone, but most of the people who have had hits with my songs have cherry-picked them out of my catalog, off of my albums.”
“Wichata Lineman” is the song that Mr. Webb feels is the perfect marriage of song and artist.
“I’ve had a few songs come very close to what I intended. “Wichata Lineman” was a nearly perfect record. The record was so strong, it’s kept the song alive all these years, and it’s still being recorded, it’s still being performed live, Guns and Roses were doing it in concert every night last year, and it sort of has a place in the cultural framework of America. So I would have to pick that one.”
When he submitted the song to Glen Campbell and then didn’t hear back, Mr. Webb concluded that he didn’t like the song. While thinking the song had been rejected, Glen Campbell was actually writing the guitar solo that has made the song a favorite of bands to this day.
Regarding that guitar solo, “I had left that whole section blank. I didn’t think the song was finished, and I thought maybe we would do a third verse. I wrote it in a hurry, about three or four hours, and sent it over to them, and I didn’t hear anything for a long time. About a month later I ran into Glen, and I said ‘I guess you guys didn’t like Wichata Lineman?’ He said “Wichata Lineman? Oh wow, we cut that!” And I said “but Glen, I wrote you a note saying the song wasn’t finished, and he said “It is now!” And he was right! He put that nice, mellow guitar solo on the bottom strings of the guitar, and it’s got a real timeless quality to it.”
On occasion, Jimmy Webb hears a version of one of his songs and thinks “look what they’ve done to my song,” but he declined to specify those.
“I’ve been one of the fortunate ones in the sense that songwriting and performing have really furnished me with a good living for a long time.”
That good living was threatened by the rise of digital music services, much as it had been threatened a generation earlier by juke boxes. Mr. Webb has been on the board of ASCAP for 20 years, where he has become known as a passionate advocate for artists’ rights.
“It’s an ongoing struggle. It always has been. We had to litigate over jukeboxes, where they could buy one record, play it a thousand times, but only pay us for that one record, one performance, when the record was being used as a means to make money for these automated machines. It’s not too different from the digital music challenge. They take your record and they go and use it the way they want to use it, and they charge for it. For that, we want to be compensated for it as creators.”
Tickets are on sale now for Jimmy Webb Thurs. March 21, at 7 p.m. The Emerson Center is located on the campus of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, on the southeast corner of 16th St. and 27th Ave., Vero Beach. For tickets, visit www.MusicWorksConcerts.com or call (800) 595-4849.
Jimmy Webb will also appear on Wed., March 20, 4 p.m. at the Vero Beach Book Center to speak about his book and autograph copies. Bring your book or buy one there. There will be a question and answer period, and admission is free. The Vero Beach Book Center is located at 392 21st St., Vero Beach.