Jimmy Webb is one of the most influential and celebrated songwriters in American music history. With a career spanning over five decades, he has written some of the most iconic and timeless songs of all time. From “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” to “Wichita Lineman,” Webb’s music has touched the hearts of millions of people around the world.
Early Life and Career
Jimmy Webb was born on August 15, 1946, in Elk City, Oklahoma. He grew up in a musical household, with his mother being a piano teacher and his father a Baptist minister. Webb’s love for music was evident from an early age, and he began writing songs and playing the piano as a teenager.
After graduating from high school, Webb attended San Bernardino Valley College in California, where he studied music and started performing at local clubs. In 1965, he moved to New York City to pursue a music career. It was in New York that Webb met producer Johnny Rivers, who hired him to write songs for his label, Soul City Records.
Webb’s early success came in 1967 with the release of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” a song he wrote for Glen Campbell. The song won two Grammy Awards and established Webb as a talented young songwriter in the industry.
Over the next few years, Webb continued to write hit songs for various artists, including The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away,” Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park,” and Donna Summer’s “Heaven Knows.” He also began recording his music and released his debut album, “Words and Music,” in 1970.
Challenges and Resurgence
In the 1970s, Webb faced a difficult period in his career as his music fell out of favor, and he struggled to create new material. Despite the challenges, he continued to perform and record, but his popularity declined, and he was mostly forgotten by the mainstream music industry.
However, Webb’s career experienced a resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s, thanks in part to a new generation of musicians who were inspired by his music. Artists such as Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkel, and Joe Cocker recorded his songs and helped introduce him to a new audience.
In 1996, Webb released his autobiography, “Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting,” which became a bestseller and cemented his reputation as a master songwriter. The book offers an in-depth look at Webb’s creative process and provides insights into the craft of songwriting.
In recent years, Webb has continued to write and perform, collaborating with artists such as Carly Simon and Rumer. In 2013, he released “Still Within the Sound of My Voice,” a collection of duets featuring some of his most famous songs.
One of the hallmarks of Jimmy Webb’s songwriting is his ability to blend different genres and musical styles into his music. His songs often feature intricate arrangements, lush melodies, and poignant lyrics that touch on themes of love, loss, and longing.
Webb’s songwriting style is also marked by his use of unusual chord progressions and non-traditional song structures. Songs like “MacArthur Park” and “Wichita Lineman” are known for their complex arrangements and unconventional melodies, which have helped set them apart from other popular songs of their time.
Some of Webb’s most famous songs include:
- “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”: This song tells the story of a man who leaves his lover behind and sets out on a journey to find himself. The song’s soaring melody and poignant lyrics have made it a classic of the American songbook.
- “Wichita Lineman”: This song is perhaps Webb’s most famous composition,telling the story of a lineman working on the telephone lines in rural Kansas and his thoughts about his love interest. The song’s haunting melody and evocative lyrics have made it a timeless classic.
- “Galveston”: Written for Glen Campbell, this song tells the story of a soldier fighting in the Vietnam War who dreams of returning to his hometown of Galveston, Texas. The song’s memorable chorus and emotional lyrics have made it a favorite among fans of Webb’s music.
- “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”: This haunting ballad tells the story of a man who falls in love with the moon and imagines it as a beautiful and mysterious woman. The song’s poetic lyrics and haunting melody have made it a favorite among fans of Webb’s music.
Webb’s songs have been covered by a wide range of artists over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley, and many others. His influence on American music has been immense, and his contributions to the art of songwriting are widely recognized and celebrated.
Legacy and Awards
Throughout his career, Jimmy Webb has received numerous awards and accolades for his contributions to American music. In 1986, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2016, he received the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award.
Webb has also been recognized for his humanitarian work, including his efforts to raise awareness about the importance of music education. In 2003, he founded the Jimmy Webb Music Institute, which offers music education programs for students of all ages.
Jimmy Webb is a true master of the art of songwriting, and his contributions to American music are immeasurable. With his intricate arrangements, lush melodies, and poignant lyrics, he has touched the hearts of millions of people around the world.
From his early success with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” to his enduring classics like “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” Webb’s music has stood the test of time and remains as powerful and moving as ever.
As he continues to write and perform, it’s clear that Jimmy Webb’s influence on American music will continue to be felt for generations to come. His legacy as one of the greatest songwriters of all time is secure, and his music will continue to inspire and move audiences for years to come.
Purchase The Cake & The Rain: A Memoir here
Purchase Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting here