They say the heyday of the American Songwriter was the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s as great poetry and beautiful melody were combined by such stalwarts as the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, among others. No doubt the arresting lyrics and haunting melodies of these treasured classic live on as the Great American Songbook, but great writing did not end with these legends. The tradition of uniquely American experience and sounds are laced through the evocative music of Jimmy Webb, who for forty years has captured the special tenor and sound of the everyday American life in an intimate way that elevates the simplest introspective moments to romantic and sentimental imagery.
Jimmy Webb was born in Oklahoma, the son of a minister, and immersed in the sound of southern Baptist gospel and country music. He learned very early the power of good story telling in a song, and with a prodigious musical talent learned to craft complex melodies that provided impressionistic background to the words. He was a songwriting success almost from the beginning as people flocked to his songs that reflected the classic everyday American experience in a positive light, at a time in the late 1960’s when such positive themes were considered old hat and unsellable. In his twenties, he was responsible for multiple chart topping hits such as Up, Up, and Away, Galveston, By the Time I get To Phoenix, MacArthur Park, Didn’t We, Highwayman, and the Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and of legendary status, Wichita Lineman.
Webb continues to write beautiful music that define our time like the legendary songwriters defined theirs. He deserves a special mention when the modern concept of musical verse is considered and shows that the vitality of the craft of songwriting remains strong and fresh. Holding up the great tradition of American musical creation, he is one of the Rampart’s People We Should Know.
Every great songwriter has had his favorite muse. For most everyone in the Great American Songbook it was Frank Sinatra, who seemed to understanding song phrasing better than anyone, and created untouchable versions of many of the songs that defined his time. Jimmy Webb had his in a voice that captured better than any the sound of the great western expanse, and the people who lived in it. That singer was Glen Campbell, and no one became more associated with Jimmy Webb than he. The songs seemed to yearn for Campbell’s clear crystalline high tenor that brought out the idealism, intimacy, and hopefulness of America, and its simple goodness. Campbell’s country inflected voice is linked forever to Jimmy Webb’s special claim to the pulse of the heartland, and his interpretations will be the definitive versions of Webb’s songs as long as they are sung: