Songwriter Spins Stories Behind the Hits
Pinch me. There are many different adjectives to describe the buzz or adrenaline leading up to attending a concert. Having the opportunity to see an artist for the first time just pushes that meter of expectations to nuclear levels. Saturday was one of those nights, when Hall of Fame songwriter Jimmy Webb graced the stage of the Music Box Supper Club with just a baby grand piano and a little journal book with a satin ribbon holding the spot where he left off.
And so it was, as the ever-smiling Mr. Webb took a seat at the piano bench and delighted the packed house with “Highwaymen” — a song originally written for Glen Campbell, that kept getting pitched to the legendary supergroup of the same name until Campbell himself played it for them. From there, Webb dedicated “Galveston” to the men and women of the armed services for a song written for many of his former classmates who participated in the Vietnam conflict. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Webb grew up pulling cotton and listening to his transistor radio. His life changed after hearing The Beach Boys “Surf City” and Campbell’s 1961 hit “Turn Around Look at Me.” He knew he wanted to be a songwriter and write one that Campbell would record. Six years later, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” began a close friendship that led to over 120 Webb-penned songs covered by The Rhinestone Cowboy.
1967 was a dream year for Webb as not only did Campbell’s hit top the country charts, but a song for The Versatiles, who were on Webb’s label run by Johnny Rivers, scored five Grammys with their breakthrough hit “Up, Up and Away,” after changing their name to The 5th Dimension. Campbell was looking for another hit single from Webb and asked the songwriter if he had any other songs named after towns. Webb sat and wrote a song that he feels Campbell’s voice melded with his notes better than any other, that became “Wichita Lineman.”
Another song that had been discarded from his songbook by artists but was finally picked-up and recorded by Joe Cocker and then Judy Collins in the mid-1970s, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” is still being recorded some 40 years later. Webb was thankful he grew up learning determination and wanted to have Frank Sinatra record one of his songs. The “Freaky Kid” finally received an invite from Ol’ Blue Eyes to visit him at his famed Hollywood home and another friendship was fostered with the song “Didn’t We.” Webb’s final song of the evening was a song that fostered another close friendship with his “evil older brother” living across the pond. Webb calls England and Ireland his second home from traveling the countryside with Richard Harris, who chose the very last song Webb played him as his debut release single. That song, my friends, was “MacArthur Park.”
Warming up the crowd prior to Mr. Webb was local singer-songwriter Kristine Jackson, whose voice can be compared to a female version of Ryan Bingham. Her 13-song set accompanied by just an acoustic guitar included touching numbers “Baby Girl,” “By Your Side,” “Proud To Say,” and “Hammer Mill 5.”