It was Up Up and Away last night at the Eissey Campus Theatre as Jimmy Webb, one of America’s most highly regarded songwriters spent an evening playing and singing his music for the Palm Beach Audience. It’s always thrilling to hear the stories behind the creation of iconic music, and I was thinking as Jimmy performed his songs, I guess this is what it must have been like if the likes of George Gershwin and the other great composers were around to spend an evening describing the process and inspiration of creating music and lyrics.
Multiple Grammy-winning songwriter Jimmy Webb has topped the charts from pop to country to disco numerous times with interpretations by some of the industry’s greatest, from Glen Campbell to Art Garfunkel to Linda Ronstadt and covers by everyone from Guns n’ Roses to Josh Groban to Little Big Town. Since Webb’s Grammy sweep in 1968 when his own “Up, Up and Away” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” vied for Song of the Year (and “Up” won) to the use of his “Do What You Gotta Do” in Kanye West’s “Famous,” the man often praised as “America’s Songwriter” remains an icon in popular music – and continues to challenge his artistic boundaries with projects like a classical nocturne.
His most famous songs are touchstones for a generation yet remain timeless – “MacArthur Park,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Worst That Could Happen.” Last nights concert concert at Webb brings fans of his music a unique connection to their favorite songs, revealing the stories behind his hits as far back as his first songwriting job at Motown through a career trajectory that took a teen preacher’s son from a farm town in Oklahoma to the top of his longed-for profession, with pitfalls and blessings in equal measure between.
While most of Jimmy’s songs may be more familiar in their recordings by other artists, like Frank Sinatra (who declared “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” the greatest torch song ever written) to Shawn Colvin, Jimmy’s own voice is the perfect instrument for expressing the vividly romantic emotions that drench his songs; his recent CD, Live and at Large, makes this perfectly clear.
Lauded as “one of the real, real geniuses” by the late Sammy Cahn, as “one of the most innovative and musically proficient songwriters of our generation” by Billy Joel, Jimmy himself says simply: “I like words. I like the way they clash around together and bang up against each other, especially in songs.”