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Concert review: Jimmy Webb Sunday night at the Blue Door

Anyone who has heard a Jimmy Webb song – and if you’ve listened to any popular music in the past four decades or so, it’s hard to imagine you haven’t caught at least a few of his iconic hits – knows that the Oklahoma native has an immense gift for storytelling. But until you’ve seen the legendary songwriter in concert, you can’t know just how adroit he is at weaving a hilariously engaging tale.

Jimmy Webb

On the second of a two-stand at the Blue Door, the multiple Grammy winner held the sold-out audience in his thrall Sunday night as he shared memories, played piano and belted hits like “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman.” The intimacy of the listening room suited Webb’s down-home, free-wheeling show; in fact, he said he considered the venue, which he has played regularly for the past nine years, his performing home in his home state.

Webb, 67, opened the show performing “Oklahoma Nights” in honor of singer-songwriter Sarah Lee Guthrie, who attended the show with her husband and musical partner Johnny Irion. Guthrie is the granddaughter of Okemah-born songwriting icon Woody Guthrie and the daughter of singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie, who was the first person to record the song back in 1981.

The songsmith cracked up the crowd with his tales of growing up in Elk City, including his uproarious imitation of his Baptist minister father, his youthful prayers that he would one day get to work with country star Glen Campbell and his experiences outraging the little old ladies in his father’s congregation with his lively variations on “Amazing Grace,” which naturally led to a rather impressive reenactment on the keys. Of course, Campbell recorded several Webb songs, including “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman,” and the Songwriters Hall of Famer expressed his admiration for Campbell’s grace in handling his Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, including playing a full farewell tour with the debilitating illness.

Read the complete review > 

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Performance Review: "It Just Doesn't Get Any Better Than This"

The Austinist reviewed Jimmy's recent performance at One World Theatre in Austin, Texas, September 22, 2013.

Jimmy Webb, the only artist to ever receive Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration, was in town recently to kick off a tour of select cities in support of his most recent collection of duets, Still Within the Sound of My Voice. He started his tour in Texas, which he claims as one of his two home states (Oklahoma being the other).

Jimmy Webb

Mr. Webb greeted the enthusiastic audience at One World Theater, noting that it had been a while since he'd last performed (by our reckoning, it's been a little more than five years since his last Austin performance at the Cactus Cafe). He then proceeded to flub the lyrics on the first song, "The Highwayman," restarted and then played it through without a hitch. Jimmy, we forgive you, because the air that evening was thick with songs and the stories around and behind them. From talking about his daddy who was a Southern Baptist preacher and "a person you could call at 2:00 a.m. to take care of a snake with a .45," to getting "at least two album's worth of songs" out of a good breakup, he kept the audience listening and laughing during the 90 minute-plus performance. He stayed after the performance for meet-and-greet with the audience, signing CDs and having photos taken until the last person in line had a chance to visit with him.

For those born sometime after the Baby Boomers, mentioning his name usually gets a "Who?" in return—until you mention the names of the dozens of hits he's written over the years. The list goes on and on, as does the roster of artists who've recorded them—a veritable "who's who" in music of the past 50 years. At the end of the day, Webb is a songwriter—a tunesmith, with more in common with Tin Pan Alley and the writers in the Brill Building in NYC, as well as with our own community of beloved Texas songwriters. These are people who found their most enduring life's work to be the songs they wrote for singers who vocal talents were a match for their material.

Webb's two most recent albums are both collections of duets with well known singers, including the singer/musician who has been most closely associated with his work, Glenn Campbell. The first of these, Just Across the River, includes a duet of "Galveston" with Lucinda Williams, who wanted to sing it with him because it was a song her mother had taught her when she was a little girl. The last song on the album is "All I Know" (which gave Art Garfunkel a major hit in the '70's). This one is particularly poignant, because it's likely the last known performance by Linda Ronstadt, recorded prior to the loss of her singing voice to Parkinsons Disease.

Both albums capture some of the 'lighting in the bottle' level of magic that has always been rich within his songs. The A-list singers performing on the most recent one - including Lyle Lovett, Keith Urban, Art Garfunkel, Joe Cocker, Brian Wilson, and Kris Kristofferson with his manly commentary-and-warble - make this collection a veritable snapshot of some of the very best of popular music, and a musical love letter to future generations. When it comes to songwriters and the singers who interpret these tunes, it just doesn't get any better than this.

 

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Songwriter Jimmy Webb Wows Crowd at Dallas Kessler Theater

The son of a Baptist minister, Jimmy Webb grew up in rural Oklahoma. It doesn’t sound like the kind of pedigree that would help create one of the great American songwriters, but that’s precisely what Webb became.

By the late 1960s, he had written such hits as “Up, Up and Away” (for the 5th Dimension) and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” (all for Glen Campbell). He would go on to write songs for dozens of other big-name vocalists, including Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand.

At 67, he has trouble reaching the highest notes, but he can still play a mean piano, and he has to be one of the best storytellers in America. On Sunday night, he performed a 90-minute set at the Kessler Theater to a crowd that hung on every note in what amounted to a love fest. It was, however, a deserved love fest.

Webb’s alchemy of storytelling and music is so special that it’s not a leap to imagine it as a one-man Broadway play, not unlike Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays.” Helping to make the evening even more special was warm-up act Grace Pettis, a former award winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival, whose lyrical ballads set the tone perfectly.

Webb opened with “The Highwayman,” and after the song, began telling his remarkable stories. He explained that, during the 1960s, songwriters turned increasingly to politics, though he did not — his way of noting that “Galveston” is not an anti-war song aimed at Vietnam.

He hasn’t always had success with radio stations, as he said in telling a wonderful story about KOMA, the big station in Oklahoma, refusing to play “Up, Up and Away” because they thought the subject matter was drugs. Webb’s ex-Marine preacher man of a daddy loaded up his Bible and a .45 and drove to KOMA, which had the song on the air in 15 minutes.

“It’s now part of the family folklore,” Webb said with a laugh.

He told terrific stories about “Mr. Sinatra,” who recorded “Didn’t We,” as did Streisand. Webb sang a gorgeous version of “All I Know” and offered a heartbreaking aside about Linda Ronstadt, who sang it as a duet with Webb on his 2010 album, Just Across the River. Ronstadt recently announced that she has Parkinson’s disease. As Webb said sadly, “This may be her last recorded song.”

He sang “Wichita Lineman” and did a one-song encore of the more-than-eight-minute “MacArthur Park.” And then he went to the Kessler lobby and signed autographs until every single fan had gone home.

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Jimmy in the News with Album Reviews and Interviews

Jimmy's brand-new album, Still Within the Sound of My Voice, is garnering rave reviews around the U.S.A. following is a sampling with links to complete reviews. Jimmy's also been available for interviews and following are links to those.

Reviews: 

The Washington Post: Jimmy Webb spins another unique album, ‘Still Within the Sound of My Voice’
Album review > 

The Los Angeles Times:  Album review: Jimmy Webb's 'Still Within the Sound of My Voice'
Album review > 

Chicago Daily Herald: Jimmy Webb spins another unique album
Album review > 

Interviews: 

Huffington Post: A Chat with Jimmy Webb
Interview > 

My SS News: Jimmy Webb remembers: America’s songwriter talks about Elvis, Kenny Rankin, Linda Ronstadt and Glen Campbell
Interview 

 

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Jimmy's New Album Earns 4 (****) Stars in Rolling Stone

JImmy's just-released album, Still Within the Sound of My Voice, has received four stars in the new issue of Rolling Stone. It's also received four and a half stars from Rolling Stone readers. Following is an excerpt and link to the complete review: 

Jimmy Webb

For well over four decades, Jimmy Webb's songs have helped shape the American musical landscape. And "landscape" is the operative term. A native of Oklahoma, Webb imbues his songs with a cinematic expansiveness and a musical sophistication that smooths the edges of his rootsy sources. They sometimes evoke specific places – "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" – but more often Webb's songs summon an internal realm of the imagination. Yearning and regret loom large in Webb's songbook, as does a particular kind of American loneliness, the emotional flip side of the country's obsession with individualism. His work uniquely explores how it's possible to feel so alone, regardless of whether you're finding love or losing it. 

All this is indelibly clear on Still Within the Sound of My Voice, an equally appealing follow-up to Webb's 2010 release Just Across the River. The two albums work on the same premise: Prominent singers – in this case, Lyle Lovett, Keith Urban, Kris Kristofferson, Art Garfunkel, Joe Cocker and Brian Wilson, among others – join Webb for duets on some of his greatest tracks. It's a tribute to Webb's craftsmanship and the depth of his catalog that after 27 songs, the quality of the selections on these two albums has not dipped a notch. And it's a testament to the power of Webb's own highly personal, granular style of singing that none of those high-profile guests ever quite overshadows Webb himself. 

Read the complete review >

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Jimmy to Release New Album on September 10, 2013

Jimmy Webb's resurgence continues with "Still Within the Sound of My Voice," a brand-new album due September 10 on Entertainment One Records. The album follows the highly successful "Just Across The River"  release which featured Jimmy performing duets of some of his greatest songs, featuring some of the today's top performers.

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"Still Within The Sound Of My Voice" again unites Jimmy with some of todays biggest selling and enduring artists for once in a lifetime performances, including the iconic MacArthur Park.

In celebration of its 45th Anniversary, Jimmy reached out to Brian Wilson for his inspirational vocal harmonies which take this American Classic soaring to new heights.

The Album is full of inspirational vocal performances from the breathless seduction of Carly Simon on Easy For Yoy To Say to the joyful contemporary styling of Keith Urban on Where's The Playground, Susie. 

In celebration of Jimmy Webb's Career as a singer, songwriter and performer it is easy to see why so many Artists have joined together for this amazing collection of duets from the Jimmy Webb Great American Songbook. Besides the Artists already mentioned other Special Guests featured include Lyle Lovett, David Crosby & Graham Nash, Marc Cohn, Amy Grant, Joe Cocker, Kris Kristofferson, Art Garfunkel and Rumer.

For more information, track list and links to purchase, please visit the Store page > 

 

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The Huffington Post: Chatting with Jimmy Webb on Harry Nilsson

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.

harrynilsson

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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Los Angeles Times: Jimmy Webb returns to 'MacArthur Park' in story-filled night

On Saturday night, Levitt Pavilion at MacArthur Park was gradually melting into dark as Jimmy Webb took the stage a little after 8 p.m. and sat before a grand piano. 

The personable, chatty songwriter greeted the crowd, many of whom were sitting on blankets or lawn chairs, and over nearly a dozen songs sang of long-gone love standing on the shores of Galveston, of highwaymen, sailors, dam builders and starship pilots, and excursions headed up (up and away) in his (beautiful) balloon. 

In between, the longtime Angeleno since relocated to New York, told stories like he was sitting in a living room among friends.

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Los Angeles Times: As 'MacArthur Park' turns 45, Jimmy Webb will play it in that park

Jimmy Webb wrote the odd 1960s hit 'MacArthur Park,' recorded by Richard Harris. He has a sense of humor about it. And yes, he saw a cake left out in the rain.

Jimmy Webb L.A. Times

Before becoming a widely lauded songwriter, Jimmy Webb was just another aspiring musician living in a dingy Los Angeles apartment.

The Oklahoma transplant would wander from his low-rent flat in Silver Lake to a place that would inspire one of his most indelible hits, MacArthur Park. There, between Wilshire and 7th, he'd wait for his girlfriend to get off work from her job nearby.

"I used to eat lunch in the park," said Webb, 66. "It was a place you could be away from the dreariness of a really bottom-scale apartment."

The scenes he saw there day after day inspired him to write "MacArthur Park," the unlikely 1968 hit single sung by actor Richard Harris.

Now, 45 years after the location he immortalized became an unlikely pop-culture touchstone, Webb will sing "MacArthur Park" in MacArthur Park on Saturday to kick off a summer concert series. It's a first for Webb, who's never performed the song at its namesake location.

"MacArthur Park was — perhaps I'm painting it with the brush of nostalgia — a kind and gentle place," Webb said. 

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Jimmy Webb the recipient of the 2012 prestigious Ivor Novello “Special International Award."

Songwriters Hall of Fame Chairman Jimmy Webb was the recipient of the 2012 prestigious Ivor Novello “Special International Award,” and was presented with in London on May 17th.

Jimmy Webb

The Ivor Novello ‘Special International Award’ recognizes non-British writers and composers who have made an extraordinary contribution to the musical lands cape globally. Previous recipients have included SHOF inductees Brian Wilson, Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Hal David, Smokey Robinson, Diane Warren and Stephen Sondheim. This year, PRS and the British Academy of Songwriters Composers and Authors will to pay tribute to Jimmy Webb for his incalculable impact on music throughout the world at their 57th annual event.

The Ivor Novello Awards, named after the Cardiff born entertainer Ivor Novello, are solely dedicated to recognizing the work of British and International composers and songwriters. They are presented annually in London by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), and were first introduced in 1955.

Fellows of the British Academy of Songwriters Composers and Authors include SHOF inductees Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, John Barry and Sir Tim Rice.

 

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Jimmy Leads Special Tribute to Glen Campbell with Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley

Glen Campbell was reunited with hitmaker Jimmy Webb at the Country Music Association Awards on November 1, 2011 as part of a star-studded tribute to the legend.

The singer, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in June (11), was honored by Webb, who performed Galveston, Wichita Lineman and By The Time I Get to Phoenix - songs he wrote for the veteran - with Vince Gill, Keith Urban and CMAs co-host Brad Paisley at the Bridgestone Arena event in Nashville, Tennessee. Campbell held back proud tears as he watched from his seat in the audience as a photo montage rolled by on a big screen above the performers during the set.

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The New York Times: Finally in Front of His Own Hit Parade

Is it possible for a musician to emerge unscathed from the kind of early success enjoyed by the singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb? In the late 1960s, when he was barely 21, Mr. Webb was showered withGrammys for writing the Glen Campbell hits “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and the Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away.” Then there was “MacArthur Park,” the grandiose quasi-symphonic “cake out in the rain” popularized by the Irish actorRichard Harris and in 1978 remade into a disco fantasia by Donna Summer.

Jimmy Webb New York Times

The singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb in Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens. His latest CD, “Just Across the River,” has contributions from the likes of Billy Joel, Linda Ronstadt and Willie Nelson.

Jimmy Webb was present at major music events of the ’60s, though stage stardom eluded him. These songs established Mr. Webb — the son of a strict Baptist minister from Elk City, Okla., who moved his family to Southern California in the mid-’60s — as a pop music wunderkind with a Midas touch. But because his intensely romantic ballads straddled two worlds — traditional pop and country-flavored Southern California rock — Mr. Webb found himself on the far side of a generation gap. At the same time, he admits sheepishly today, he avidly subscribed to his generation’s slogan of not trusting anyone over 30.

To his profound frustration, audiences over 30 didn’t buy him as a singer-songwriter when he began releasing albums in the early ’70s. Not that that kept him from the customary excesses of the time.

“I lost it pretty badly,” he said of those days, “but unlike some others, I never wanted to die — not really.”

Sitting in his publicist’s Lower Manhattan office on a steamy afternoon recently, Mr. Webb, tall and rangy, now 63, still has a wild man’s gleam in his eye. He is a marvelous storyteller with the expansive style of a rural yarn spinner, who becomes more excited the more wound up he becomes. If he is an endless storehouse of real-life rock ’n’ roll adventure stories, set mostly in Hollywood and London in the late ’60s and ’70s, part of him is still a wide-eyed Oklahoma country boy agog with wonder at the goings-on in the big city. 

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