Jimmy Webb shares the stories behind his songs

CLEVELAND.COM
By Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio – It would be too simple to say that songwriter Jimmy Webb gave us the VH-1 "Behind the Song'' stories of hits like "Wichita Lineman,'' "Galveston,'' "Didn't We'' and "MacArthur Park'' Saturday night. Oh, the affable Oklahoma native did tell a packed Music Box Supper Club the backstories of those four and four others - "By the Time I Get to Phoenix,'' "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,'' "Up, Up and Away and "The Highwayman.''

PHOTO: CLEVELAND.COM

PHOTO: CLEVELAND.COM

But what we got was so much more than just the origins of the songs that Glen Campbell, Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins, the Fifth Dimension, Richard Harris and scores of other artists turned into megahits.

For ninety fascinating minutes, intentionally or not, the Grammy winner revealed himself through sometimes funny, sometimes poignant and always entertaining stories that were only tangentially about the songs.

Yeah, sure, the history was there. "Galveston'' is about a Texan who gets sent to Vietnam. Johnny Rivers was a typical boss, making what seems on the surface to be unreasonable requests just before going on vacation. Campbell recorded 120 Webb songs. Collins rescued "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress'' from the scrap heap. Sinatra – MISTER Sinatra – was as good at yanking a chain as he was at dooby-dooby-doing.

All that stuff was fascinating. But really, some or all of the information is available through Google.

What's not there - or on Wikipedia, allmusic.com or any other website - is what turned a cotton-pickin' Oklahoma plowboy whose dad was a Bible-thumping, gun-toting, telepathic Baptist preacher into one of the most prolific and gifted songwriters of his generation.