Monday, May 23, 2011

Songwriter Extraordinaire JIMMY WEBB!

He is quite arguably one of the greatest American songwriters in the last 50 years with hits like "Wichita Lineman", "Galveston", "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", " Up Up and Away", "MacArthur Park", "The Worst That Could Happen", etc...Jimmy Webb's string of hits made his catalog of songs rank second in total airplay only to the songs of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Today, Jimmy is still going strong with no signs of slowing down! I spoke with him as he prepares for next weekend's Port Jefferson show before embarking on a much anticipated Australian tour...

MICK: How many Grammy Awards have you won?
JIMMY: I have three of them. I've been associated with a lot more. My songs have won Grammy Awards for other people but those three are mine!
MICK: How did you meet Glen Campbell?
JIMMY: I actually met him in a recording studio after we had a couple hits together. We were doing a commercial for General Motors. I was pretty excited about meeting him as I walked in. Of course I knew exactly what he looked like because he was on television every week. He was tuning his guitar and looked up and I walked up to him. I stuck out my hand and said "Hello Mr. Campbell". He looked up and said 'When are you getting a haircut?" My hair was down to my shoulders. That was pretty much the substance of our relationship over the years. He was politically different in another ballpark than I was. We overcame our differences and we managed to make a lot of fantastic music together. We've been close friends for a long time.
MICK: Do you still keep in touch with him?
JIMMY: Of course! Glen's part of the family!
MICK: How was Richard Harris chosen to sing "MacArthur Park"?
JIMMY: He wasn't really chosen. We were hanging out in Los Angeles working on an anti war type protest rally kind of thing. He and I got used to hanging out after the show around the piano, have a few beers, sing some Irish songs and talk. I got to know him well even before I saw the movie "Camelot". I went and saw 'Camelot" and he did a nice job singing in the film.
At some point I said "We should make a record together". He telegraphed me from London a few weeks later and said "dear jimmy webb...come up and make richard". Very short telegraph. It was my first trip out of the country. I got on a 707 and went over there. We were committed to making an album. We just ran across "MacArthur Park" in a pile of songs. He liked it and wanted to do it. He stood up and smacked the piano and said' I'll have that one Jimmy Webb and make a hit out of it!" We were just playing around and having fun and something really wonderful came from it.
MICK: Was his version of "MacArthur Park" your favorite? I know it was recorded by many people.
JIMMY: His version is definitely my favorite.
MICK: You were recently elected Chairman of the Board of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. What exactly are your duties as the chairman?
JIMMY: I have the great privilege presiding over the annual gala where we induct our new members into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. This year we have Leon Russell, Garth Brooks, Billy Steinberg and a few others going in. It's the show of the year! The hottest ticket in New York! We are having Hal David accept an award for excellence for the last ten years of shepherding the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Our ultimate goal is to create a building somewhere so we can honor all of the great men and women where they deserve to be honored, people like Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, etc...We are looking forward to it. I don't know if I will be able to do it but I will give it a hell of a try.
MICK: When you write a song, what comes first for you, the music or the words?
JIMMY: There is no rule. Traditionally in the generations that preceded me, in duos like Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, Rogers always wrote the tunes first and Hart put the words to the music. When Rogers started working with Oscar Hammerstein, Hammerstein wrote the words first and Richard Rogers put the music to the words. In our generation, starting with singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, in some degree the British invasion, the tendency from that point on has been to write the lyrics first and the music later. I've done it every way you can think of.
MICK; You will be appearing in Port Jefferson at First United Methodist Church on May 28th. What can your fans expect to hear?
JIMMY: It's an entertaining evening. I play and sing. A lot of the stuff is very well known material, hit material. There's some lesser known songs that I talk about that had distinctive and distinguished careers with artists like Judy Collins, Shawn Colvin, Nancy Griffith. I talk quite a bit about my relationship with Mr. Sinatra. It's anecdotal stuff. It's not somber by any means, it's a very light hearted evening to make people feel better and leave in a great mood. Sometimes I even get them to sing along with me! Anybody who wants their money back I will personally refund it! It's never happened yet but I personally stand behind that guarantee!

MICK: How long have you lived on Long Island?

JIMMY: My wife Laura and I have lived in Bayville for the last six years.

MICK: Are you excited about your upcoming Australia tour?

JIMMY: I'm always excited about going down there. It's an extraordinary, kind of kookie upside down land full of crazy animals. Great people who are very much like Americans. To me, the whole country itself is very close to a younger version of America of 50 years ago. There's a lot of wide open spaces. In the north there's beautiful jungles and beaches. Take the Daintree National Forrest for instance. There were 15 original flowers in the world. Flowers are relatively recent developments in the world of botany, say in the last 2-3 million years. Thirteen of those original flowers still grow in the Daintree Nation Forrest. So you can go there and see the original flowers. That's pretty cool. My wife and I have gone snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. There's places that I play there almost as much as some places I play in the United States. There's a wonderful club in Sidney called "The Basement" that I can't wait to get back to. It's like home base to me. We go as far west as Perth and Fremantle. That's a six hour flight from Australia's east coast. The people are very accepting and grateful.

MICK: Your newest album is "Just Across The River". Do you have anything new coming up?

JIMMY: The record company has asked me to go ahead and do part two of 'just Across The River" because the current one is very successful. It actually landed on the charts. It was comfortably up on the charts which is pretty good for an old geezer like me! I'm also working kind of quietly on another Broadway show. I don't really talk about it much because I think it's bad luck. I'm also trifling around with my memoirs too. A lot of my shows are based on anecdotal material and people always come up and say I should write some of those stories down before it's too late. That's an inspiring comment "do it before it's too late". I'm working on that! I may be starting some projects with my wife, perhaps something for PBS. Experimenting with some ideas in the education field. I'd love to do more with that because the government is cutting back farther and farther on the school programs. We are having less music in our schools and our children growing up without understanding what music is. That's a big thing to take out of a person's life. My wife and I have agreed that it is something we want to address. I'm also vice chairman of the ASCAP Organization. I stay busy and I'm definitely not bored! Sometimes I'm plum tuckered to tell the truth! But I'm still writing music and very much enjoying performing. My voice is stronger than it's ever been in my life. I've been very fortunate to have really bloomed later rather than earlier as a vocalist. I see no reason to quit. There's no expiration date on a career in music. Someone like Louis Armstrong is my idol! I want to be just like Louis Armstrong when I grow up!

MICK: Who do you like listening to?

JIMMY: I'd say that 80% of the music I listen to is classical music. When I'm in the studio, I listen to what I'm recording. I have some favorite singers and writers like Sarah McGloughlin whom I like very much. Every once in a while I will hear something that turns me on but I'm not hooked into any of the new music in a significant way. I like Radiohead and think they are really striving to create original things. I still love Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, and the Beatles. I love the big bands too! I listen to Jonathan Schwartz on the weekends. I'm not the band of the week kind of guy. I not that crazy about Lady Gaga. I've listened to a couple tracks. Maybe one of these days she'll be one of my favorites. But so far it's touch and go with Lady Gaga. I like musical stuff. I like tunes and lyrics and all that old fashioned stuff. I'm hopelessly mired in the traditional craft of songwriting. If someone is not doing a good job songwriting, I'm probably not going to be listening closely.

MICK: Are any of your children musically inclined?

JIMMY: All of them! Two years in November, I was touring with my five sons. I have five sons and a daughter. She's at Berkley now. They are all musical. The three oldest boys are professional musicians who play and sing extremely well. They were all out on the road backing me. We did 15 dates in England and had a blast. It cost a fortune but it was a blast! For the lucky few that got to see us, it was pretty inspiring to see a family like that together on the bandstand. It was one of the best feelings I've had in my life. I'm trying to work it out so we can go out and do it again. They're rockers and play guitars! Our drummer was Cal Campbell, Glen's son! He's a monster of a drummer. My oldest son Chris and second oldest son Jamie are both working on solo albums. I'm also getting ready to go in and do another solo album. I guess it will be a while before we get the band together again. That was really one of the high points in my life. You can't have awards that make you feel as good as that makes you feel!

You can catch Jimmy Webb in concert this Saturday, May 28 @ 8:00pm

First United Methodist Church in Port Jefferson

For more on Jimmy Webb:

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