Eat.Enjoy.Live.: Eclectic Jimmy Webb to play Pittsfield

3/9/2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

Category: March

Friendship, laughs and hits: Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb on stage together during their June 2005 run at Feinstein’s at the Regency, New York City. ©Sandra Gillard/Lightkeepers

If the name “Jimmy Webb” doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll recognize his work if you’ve been listening to contemporary music for the last five decades.

This is the songwriter responsible for a variety of hits including “Up, Up and Away,” “MacArthur Park,” also for a strong of successes for Glen Campbell that include ‘By the Time I get to Phoenix,” “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman.”

Webb will be performing those songs and more in a multi-media show at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield on March 18.

Webb received his first gold record at the age of 18 and has been named by Rolling Stone as one of the “100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.” Webb has released ten solo albums since the 1970s, while continuing to write for other artists.  Looking at his own CDs one can get the sense of his significance in the music industry.

His CD “Just Across the River” features duets on some of his biggest songs with friends Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, JD Souther, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Michael McDonald and Mark Knopfler while a follow up collection, “Still Within the Sound of My Voice,” features Brian Wilson, Art Garfunkel, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Lyle Lovett, Carly Simon and Keith Urban.    

Last year, Webb premiered his first classical piece, “Nocturne for Piano and Orchestra (Nocturne for “Lefty”)” with Orchestra Kentucky. He has also released a memoir, “The Cake and the Rain.”

His appearance at the Colonial, “Jimmy Webb: The Glen Campbell Years” will discuss through music, videos and photos the working and personal relationship between the two men.

In an interview with Reminder Publications, Webb recalled how he grew up listening to classic country artists such as such as Ernest Tubbs, Hank Snow and Hank Williams – the music that his father preferred.

What Webb wanted to do with music though, was to be “a traditional songwriter who wanted to write hits.”

Webb was familiar with Campbell’s work, as he had started a solo career. “I already knew what he did,” Webb said, describing Campbell’s work as having a country flavor.

“When I met him I had a bunch of songs almost perfect for him,” he added.

Webb’s song "By the Time I get to Phoenix” was recorded and released by Campbell in 1967. “Wichita Lineman” was released in 1968.

Webb said at the time “pop radio had opened the door to country artists” to the Top 40 charts.

“It was a time of transition,” he said. “A time for things to be crazy and mixed up.”

He said that he and Campbell were “two different people.”

Webb explained, “He leaned to the right, I leaned to the left. He played golf and I wouldn’t be caught dead on a golf course. He played songs fast while I played songs slower. He proselytized Christianity while I had plenty of that growing up.”

Making music together was “a middle ground” for the two men. Webb said it was a “safe place.”    

He explained Campbell came to a solo career after a very well regarded one as a session musician. Campbell’s guitar work was in great demand and could be heard on an amazingly diverse number of recordings for artists such as varied as Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, the Kingston Trio, the Mamas and the Pappas and even Doris Day.

He was the lead guitarist on the revolutionary Beach Boys album, “Pet Sounds,” Webb added.

Webb noted Campbell had a successful television show, co-starred with John Wayne in the hit movie “True Grit” and a gold tournament. All of these projects were “manifest of the inner creativity that didn’t know any bounds,” Webb explained.

He added, “He could drive you a little insane with all of the ideas pouring out.”

Webb noted, “he never left a song the way he found it” and added Campbell always made improvements on a composition.

Campbell, who is now 80 and under care for dementia, toured until he could no longer physically perform – a conscious act Webb said showing defiance in the face of his illness.

“He was one of the bravest men I ever knew,” Webb said.

He said his performance is to remind audiences that Campbell “was more than just headlines” for stories about some of his personal behavior.  

Webb described his own process for song writing. He explained he doesn’t do many collaborations but that isn’t because he is “anti-social.” Songwriting for him is “a very private, almost secret thing.”

He composes at the piano and refers to a notebook in which he keeps potential song titles and rhymes he likes. Selecting a title for instance, he will play the piano to come up with an appropriate tune. He said he questions himself about whether or not the song needs a chorus.

He steps back from time to time to appraise what he has done so far.

“A lot of times the song itself is dictating where it wants to go,” he explained.

He doesn’t necessarily write for specific artists, because too many times he has experienced that custom song has been cut from a recording session.”

“It’s not a very creative situation to be in,” he added.

Webb said, “If you have confidence in what you do, you do what you do.”

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