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Jimmy Webb - Raging Pages

  by Lisa Torem

published: 8 / 11 / 2022

Jimmy Webb  - Raging Pages


In her ‘Raging Pages’ book column Lisa Torem examines Jimmy Webb’s 2017 memoir ‘The Cake and the Rain'.

In Webb’s first book, ‘Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting’, the songwriter demystified the craft but, in his memoir, we see the stories behind his greatest songs as well as his youthful rise to success. What also kept me on the page was his reactions to the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Connie Stevens and more. True, if one was not familiar with these characters, the stories might fall flat—it’s hard to say, but I believe Webb gives enough background and detail to even please the unaware. What I mean is that you’ll get much more than the Five Ws answered here. Yes, Webb is thorough and has an excellent memory for details, but moreover, his use of language and imagery is unique, whether recalling his humble childhood in Oklahoma, his up and down relationship with his father or the loss of his mother. Webb depicts himself as a wild card. In the early stages of his career, he pours his energies into fast cars and married women. In some ways, he lives in a bubble. When he first meets singer/guitarist Glen Campbell, who would end up recording ‘Galveston,’ ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’ and ‘Wichita Lineman,’ Campbell zeroes in on the songwriter’s mane of hair and asks curtly when Webb is planning to get a haircut. Webb didn’t see it coming. ‘The Cake and the Rain’ is ultimately a beautiful timepiece which commemorates the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is not, however, written in chronological order. Instead, Webb juts back and forth between specific events that occurred during his drug--hazed, skirt-chasing and hit-making years and his humble childhood. I enjoyed these transitions and found that they did not distract from the story-at-hand, but others may feel differently. He is brutally honest about the emotional obstacles he faced as a young performer: “One reaches the point where the nerves are trying to climb up through the skin and escape the body. This is stage fright.” He knows talent when he sees it. Although unimpressed with Janis Joplin’s backing band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, at the Monterey Pop Festival, he recognizes the lead singer’s giftedness: “Her voice was a sawtooth blade that cut through the smoke and boredom.” Webb writes much about rubbing shoulders with musical legends. Frank Sinatra, a great admirer of talented songwriters, looked beyond Webb’s lengthy locks at their first encounter. Sinatra spared little expense and made sure that Webb received royal treatment. Nevertheless, he was a busy man with a tight agenda. Fortunately, Webb had learned by this point in his career to pick up on clues: “We talked briefly about doing a whole album together before a certain change of tempo in Mr. Sinatra’s speech was, to my alert ear, a precursor to the end of the meeting.” But this memoir is no mere celebrity brouhaha. Webb learned to orchestrate his music and does a fine job describing production and arrangement details that anyone familiar with his material will thoroughly enjoy. For example, Webb chose to end the haunting ‘Wichita Lineman’ with eerie sci-fi chording. He fought to keep ‘MacArthur Park’ free from radio edits and gave up trying to get singer Richard Harris from adding an “s” to “MacArthur.” There’s a whole lot of life to unpack here but the story is efficiently told in about 300 pages. And if you’re interested in Webb’s awards and the list of artists who have covered his songs, which are too numerous to mention here, you’ll find related information in the back.

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Interview (2012)
Jimmy Webb  - Interview
Jimmy Webb speaks to Lisa Torem about songs such as 'Wichita Lineman', 'Galveston', 'The Highwayman' and 'MacArthur Park', his many musical collaborations and what makes good songwriting
Interview (2009)

live reviews

(With support from Ashley Campbell and Thor Jenson), Cadogan Hall, London. 27/5/2022
Jimmy Webb  - (With support from Ashley Campbell and Thor Jenson), Cadogan Hall, London. 27/5/2022
Dastardly watches a captivating performance by Jimmy Webb proving he’s as skilled a raconteur as he is songsmith.
Old Town School, Chicago, 20/1/2012
Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 6/11/2009


Cottonwood Farm (2009)
Fabulous and inpsirational album which finds much legendary American singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb, collaborating with his four sons, the Webb Brothers, and also Bob Webb, his father

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