Some of Jimmy's Hits:
By the Time I get to Phoenix-Johnny Rivers
The Worst That Cound Happen-Brooklyn Bridge
Up, Up, And Away-The Fifth Dimension
Wichita Lineman-Glen Campbell
McArthur Park-Richard Harris
Didn't We-Richard Harris
Except from Jimmy Webb Interview
By the time we made the move, I was 18 and I started my senior year at Colton High School in 1964.""How old are you now.?"
“God, you're the original boy wonder, aren't you.?"
"Well, journalists have overpainted that picture of me as a boy genius a little bit. I really detest that word any how; it's terribly hard to live up to. I've seen people like Brian Wilson called genius before and I've seen them suffer inside themselves because that's the idea some body had about them. It's a lot easier on you if you're just allowed to do what you do. I was young and I was talented, but I wasn't a genius by any stretch of the imagination."
The label was probably given to you because of the complexity of your songs.
"This has hurt me though. ...some of the complexities of what I do. It's the things I like best that are the most complex. Invariably, with the exception of MacArthur Park which was fairly complex for a pop tune, my most successful songs have been the ones with very simple, insinuating melodic lines. Like Wichita Lineman and By The Time I Get To Phoenix. things like that which are very easy for people to understand. So I try to address myself to that more and more. Otherwise, why not just go shut yourself in a room somewhere and I write the great symphony , the great American symphony?
"I used to be a crusader to educate other people in music. Invariably, someone would say, 'That's not very commercial.' Well, I'd say, I don't care because I believe the public has the capacity to understand that. Now, I don't know how I feel about that today."
"Art vs. commerciality? "
"Yes. Or the other factor that used to enter into it
I went into Motown and had my little tape with me. I had a song called This Time Last Summer and I went in and talked to the gal at the desk. She said, very officially, 'Well, sorry, we don't listen to tapes except on Tuesdays!' I did my scene and said Oh, wow. ..I've driven all the way up here and I'm trying to go to college.and I gave her my story and she kinda melted a little bit. She said, a great deal more warmly, 'Well, wait a minute,' and she took my tape through this awe-inspiring door and it closed loudly because it was THE DOOR! Both literally and figuratively. So, there was a silence in there for awhile and all of a sudden, I could hear my song through the door, ya know? The door opened and the most wonderful, soft spoken young man came out, who I found out later was Frank Wilson, and he beckoned with his finger and said, 'Would you come in here for a moment?' And that was the day THE DOOR opened, literally."
"How long had you been at it before? "
"Oh, months and months. I'd been kicking around a long time. You know, a lot of people who read this magazine probably figure you bring in one tape and the person you bring it to just falls over dead and that's it. Well, it's really not true. I don't think a person should be disappointed because one person in this business doesn't like their songs. Time and time again it happens that the song that has been rejected 8 times winds up being Top 10. Nobody knows how or why, but there's several people trying to kick themselves.
"I myself have been involved with several publishers. I had some dealings with Bob Ross who has several of my earlier songs and who also had a management contract on me. We are still the best of friends and I owe him so much because he was the one who took me from that frightened kid copying parts in pencil the night before the gig, and really helped me understand what it means to be an arranger. I owe him more than I could ever put in words. Anyway, after Bob, the Motown relationship began but, later, kinda fell apart. I had some things published a Christmas song on a 8upremes album. I had a good experience with Frank Wilson and Hal Davis and Marc Gordon who was the president and later managed the 5th Dimension. Then I started working for Jama Madeline Baker at Audio Arts and, from there, went to Johnny Rivers Music. I had a wonderful relationship there. some good times and great success.
I really believe Johnny was the key. He really had a lot of faith in Irle and gave me a lot of responsibility. Maybe he reaUy didn't know I had the ability, but he took a chance with me. After that, I formed my own publishing company. I felt I had paid my dues with publishers, and felt I deserved my own company. Today, I think it's nice for a young writer to come into the business and have a good friend; a confidant, who will say, Hey, you ought to start your own publishing company right now.' That's the ideal situation. Knowing what publishers do and what they don't do, we realize that you can have a publishing company in a drawer.get someone to answer the telephone and you've got a publishing company. You don't need a vast corporate monster; a bureaucracy. You don't need a thousand secretaries a computer. People starting out sometimes, they think that. They look at that structure as having a positive effect on the music and it's not true. The music is gonna get mistreated. These are my honest feelings. I feel that today, the wise young songwriter starts his own publishing company as soon as possible. Either that or he starts a publishing company in partnership with someone else and owns a piece of his publishing. ..So eventually. ...I suppose it was '69 I started Canopy Music. I feel' like at that point, I had really iputting it there.
It produces a surprised look from a person who's listening to it. You can thrill them that way because you give them something they're not expecting. If I studied anything, it's that; I try to deal with the unexpected in my chords. And dealing with that leads me to what you were saying. building, or going on, or continuing. If you go to a certain point where somebody is expecting an obvious solution to this chordal problem, and you give them something else, then you have to solve that. You've started another ball rolling and now you have to solve that. Obviously, it's gonna lead you somewhere else.
"So maybe there are a couple of times during a song where I will completely break the song's stride deliberately. I'll put it in another key. Or I'll put a minor chord where maybe somebody is expecting a major chord, and it will take me somewhere else. It keeps it fresh for me. I would be bored to tears otherwise and couldn't sit and work on these things the way I do. The predictable progressions are what kept me from being interested in pop music for a long time. just that lack of sophistication. The melodies were all the same. ..chord structure usually comes before melody for me. The way I begin to write a song is to sit down and explore a progression that gives me a tingle somewhere. In fact, I usually have 5 or 6 of these working in my mind even if I'm not at a piano. Sometimes I will hear one in a classical work and it's not that I steal it. ..but it's that it triggers something in me some kind of a little chemical reaction of some kind and I go hey. ..wait a minute. ..I'd like to hear that again. And I listen to it again and it gives me some information about how certain chord progressions work. Then I'II take that ~ 1nformation and make another song out of it. Because it inspires me; it gives me a wonderful feeling."
"You mentioned earlier that the pressure was off I assume by pressure you meant economics. Do you .find it easier to write your best when you're unhappy or you you’re broke?"
"When I talked about the pressure I was referring to economics. However, when I sit down and write a song, I don't approach it with an attitude of hey, I can do anything I want to; it doesn't make any difference. Today I have to be more careful about what I write than when I first started out. I can't sling those words around like I used to, ya know? I have to really consider carefully what I'm doing because some attention is gonna be focused on it immediately. You know, the financial pressures are off because obviously, I can make a living at this, and that was what I was worried about at the outset that I was wasting my life. It was a potential disaster. Not a lot of people were saying otherwise. In fact, most peopie were saying hey, you're on pretty thin ice here.
"In terms of finding it easier to write when I'm unhappy, I don't like this aspect but I think it's true that unhappimess breeds great songwriters. Now I resent it, and I wish it didn't work that way, and I wish I didn't have to be unhappy, but it seems to be that way. In my life, I've had no shortage of unhappiness ...not because of anything in particular but because that's the kind of person I am. Lately I find myself getting into those fantastic periods of just being happier than hell and having a great...continued