Webb, Jimmy

Website: http://www.jimmywebb.com

Born James Layne Webb, 15 August 1946, Elk City, Oklahoma, USA. A music major at California's San Bernadino Valley College, Webb arranged a single for girl-group the Contessas while still a student. Inspired he moved to Hollywood where he secured work with Jobete Music, the publishing wing of Tamla/Motown Records. He wrote "This Time Last Summer" for Brenda Holloway and "My Christmas Tree" for the Supremes, before recording demo tapes of other compositions at a local recording studio. These reached singer Johnny Rivers, who recorded the original version of Webb's "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" in October 1966. Rivers appointed Webb in-house composer/arranger for his newly-launched Soul City Records where he worked with the fledgling Fifth Dimension. Having completed the intriguing "Rosecrans Blvd", the partnership flourished with "Up, Up And Away", a breezy recording indebted to west coast harmony groups and uptown soul, which sold over one million copies and was later adopted by the TWA corporation for a series of commercials. More impressive still, it was the song the Apollo XI astronauts played in their locker room as they journeyed to the moon. Links with the Fifth Dimension were maintained on two attendant albums, Up, Up And Away and Magic Garden - which included the exquisite "Carpet Man' - while Webb also worked extensively on Rivers" own Rewind.

The artist's relationship with the Fifth Dimension subsequently waned. By that point Webb had issued a single, "Love Years Coming", credited to the Strawberry Children. More importantly, Glen Campbell exhumed "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", which won a Grammy as the Best Vocal Performance of 1967. The following year Richard Harris scored a major international smash with "MacArthur Park", a melodramatic epic marked by lyrical extravagance and a sumptuous melody. Although less commercially successful, the follow-up single, "Didn't We', is arguably Webb's finest composition. He arranged and composed material for Harris" albums A Tramp Shining and The Yard Went On Forever (both 1968), but was dismayed when his own solo debut, Jimmy Webb Sings Jimmy Webb, was issued as it featured his early demo recordings, overdubbed and orchestrated without the artist's consent. Further success for Campbell with "Wichita Lineman" (1968) and "Galveston" (1969) demonstrated Webb's songwriting ability as its zenith. These moving stories expressed the writer's immense feeling for traditional, rural America and are rightly regarded as standards. Webb also composed/arranged material for Thelma Houston's impressive Sunshower (1969). The sole cover on the album - a version of "Jumping Jack Flash" - mischievously features a string passage based on Stravinsky.

The same year Webb completed the film score for Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, but grew impatient with a public perception of him merely as a songwriter. A 1970 tour revealed his inexperience as a performer, although Words And Music showed the episode had engendered a tighter rock-based style. "I wanted to scale things down," Webb later commented, "(and) find a role outside the 'Jimmy Webb sound', whatever that was." Guitarist Fred Tackett, later an associate of Little Feat, provided much of the accompaniment on a set including "P.F. Sloan", a heartfelt tribute to a much neglected songwriter. And So: On proved even more impressive, with superb contributions by jazz musician Larry Coryell. The excellent Letters, which included a superb rendition of "Galveston", was succeeded by Land's End, arguably Webb's finest creation. "Just This One Time', a conscious recreation of the Righteous Brothers" sound and "Crying In My Sleep" are breathtaking compositions while the title track is an inspired, orchestrated tour de force. The album featured a cameo appearance by Joni Mitchell, whose confessional style had a marked influence on Webb's subsequent work. Her own song, "All I Want" was a highlight on The Supremes Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb (1973), one of several similarly-styled projects the artist undertook at this time.

On Reunion (1974) Webb rekindled his partnership with Glen Campbell; Earthbound (1975) saw him recreating a partnership with the Fifth Dimension. His own albums were released to critical acclaim, but when sales proved negligible, Webb undertook other outside projects. He wrote and/or produced material for Cher, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker and Frank Sinatra, although Art Garfunkel proved his main supporter and best interpreter from this period. Watermark (1978) contains what many regard as the definitive interpretations of several Webb songs.

The artist resumed his recording career with El Mirage, which was produced, conducted and arranged by George Martin. The set included "The Highwayman", a title popularised by the country "supergroup" featuring Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Webb also continued to score film soundtracks, including Voices and Hanoi Hilton and by the end of the 80s was completing work on two musicals, The Children's Crusade and Dandelion Wine. Tiring of public indifference to his own releases, Webb ceased recording following the release of Angel Heart. However, he undertook several live shows in 1988 - the first in over a decade - and released his first studio album proper in 11 years with Suspending Disbelief. Sympathetically produced by Linda Ronstadt, it included Webb's own version of "Too Young To Die", previously recorded by David Crosby.

The set possessed all Webb's familiar strengths, but it is as a gifted composer, rather than vocal performer, that he will be remembered.

Close Window

© Copyright 1996 - 2018 SantaSearch. All Rights Reserved.