A Conversation with Jimmy Webb about Harry Nilsson

Mike Ragogna: Jimmy, how've you been?

Jimmy Webb: Good. I'm on the road, I'm literally on the road but I'm enjoying myself. I've had some good gigs...that's my Summer tour. I'm just staying in the trees and I'll sit by the pond with my buddy. That's about it, that's the outlook. I read a really good review of the Harry Nilsson box set in Rolling Stone. It was a four-star review, it really made me feel good.

MR: And there's also the new book Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter.

JW: It's funny because I've got Alyn Shipton's book laying here on the floor of the car and I love the book. It's really a cool time for Harry, I just feel it.

MR: I wonder what it is about Harry Nilsson that people keep evoking him, using him as a source of inspiration, and citing him as one of their influences though Harry--with the fifteen or so albums that he had--didn't seem like he was one of those artists that was, at the time, considered as important as he ended up being.


JW: Well, he said to me one time while we were sitting and having a drink a couple of years before he went down, "You know, Jim, the way it's looking, people are only going to remember me for singing 'Without You.'" In a way, we're all victims of our heads. People have a tendency to focus on the chart material and a lot of the other stuff slides by. I wrote a full-on cantata, almost a secular cantata--even though I did deal with Christ to some degree--for Artie Garfunkel and Amy Grant called The Animals' Christmas. It cost a king's ransom and was probably two years in the making with a cast of thousands. Geoffrey Emerick was on the board and we put the thing out, and they had no idea what to do with it, CBS and Sony. It just went under the radar. I think that a lot of Harry's albums came out, some of them very good. He doesn't get a lot of credit for A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, but that was the first standards album. Everybody's gone hog-wild cutting American Songbook records, but Harry was the first one. That was an original thought, that was a real thing.

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