September 11, 2010

Jimmy Webb live at Country Music Hall of Fame

What an amazing opportunity to listen to Jimmy Webb play the songs he wrote such as “ Galveston” and listen to tall but true tales of a landmark songwriter, one that cannot be duplicated.

Such was the case last Saturday at the Theater inside The Country Music Hall of Fame , packed with Jimmy Webb at the piano playing not only his hits but songs from his just released CD “Just Across The River”.

Jimmy grew up in West Texas, the son of a Baptist Preacher, near an Air Force base famous for the B36 Bomber. They would fly so close to his family home that “the utensils played “Chinese Fire Drill” and were “rearranged” and had to be put back in their place.” While he was still young he quietly prayed to God (so as his parents couldn’t hear his crazy plans) to be a great songwriter and work with somebody as great as Glen Campbell after he heard, um.. Jimmy Webb forgot and Fred Mullins, who happened to be sitting next to me, blurted out “Turn Around “.

Well, Jimmy said you don’t need Stephen Hawking to believe in God. The fact that he was working for Glen Campbell at age 17 was all the proof you need. Glen was able to interpret his songs in such a way that he probably could be considered the first Country crossover artist charting high in the pop charts. It was for the most part, unheard of at that time.

Waylon Jennings was a great friend; Jimmy shared how he was talking to Waylon the day after the Grammys when he won for his song “Highwayman”. He said Waylon would sit laid back on his couch and with his hat tilted forward covering half his face, appeared half asleep most of the time. Jimmy said “I had a good one with that song”. “What song?” I won a Grammy for “Highwayman””.  “What for?”  “Country”. Waylon then said “What Country?” Waylon was relentless on teasing him that day.

Jimmy said Waylon was one of the most interesting people he had ever met. Waylon had recorded “Macarthur Park” three times.  Jimmy wondered why, but then again, if he had asked Waylon he probably would have not given him a straight answer.

Interestingly enough, Jimmy spends fifty percent of his time listening to classical music. To him, it is all the same, what  makes a great Classical piece, like repeating a motif later on by another instrument or inverting the motif as you would hear in a good country song to get you to remember the melody are used the same way in great classical music.

He talked about a workshop he attended where Billy Joel dissected “Wichita Lineman” had him red with embarrassment as Billy would talk through a line while playing it and stop and say something like “Why does he need her more than want her?” Finally, at the end, Billy Joel said the song was about” an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts”. Jimmy at that point felt he got it. He knew what he was after. Billy actually performs the song with Jimmy on his new CD, which also features Jerry Douglas on Dobro.

Jimmy was amazed at how different Lucinda Williams interpreted “Galveston”. He didn’t think it was possible, after all the different recordings, to have a new spin on the song. He complimented Lucinda on her ability to bring something new to the song.

He performed “Macarthur Park” I guess as a tribute to Waylon and their friendship.

He finished the hour, leaving the room with a standing ovation without performing “Wichita Lineman”. How could that be? Well, a few calls for “Wichita Lineman” and enough clapping and cheers and he sat back down at the piano and played the best rendition of “Wichita Lineman” I had ever heard. At the end the motif climbed up the piano and repeated in different keys until he hit softly over and over the highest key on the piano almost like Morse code. You could feel that distance as the Wichita Lineman was working his way down the line far away from home. I hate to say this but I was choked up. Music can get me emotional when everything puts me in that space. Jason, who was sitting next to me, visiting the Americana Music Conference from the U.K. said after he finished, “I don’t even know what to say”. I couldn’t say anything, I just nodded and looked away because I was a little misty and felt like I didn’t want to share that.

Jimmy Webb CD signing

It was impossible not to buy the CD and have him sign it in the music store at the Hall of Fame. They say people will buy CD’s to memorialize a show. I bought the CD because there was no way I could not after hearing his music on such a personal level.  It felt like a house show with a few guests except there were a couple hundred more behind my second row seat. “Wichita Lineman” has and will continue to be one of my all time favorite songs.

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN