From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Renowned songwriter and Oklahoma native Jimmy Webb, who in June released a new album “Just Across the River,” will play Sunday and Monday in OKC
Jimmy Webb crafted a classic country hit with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” but it’s Oklahoma that the Elk City-born songwriting star takes with him wherever he goes.
“My mother, you know, taught me to treat people nicely. Manners were very important, and I think in a family where there are five siblings, manners are almost indispensible. You learn at an early age that you catch a lot more flies with honey. And that’s the kind of lady she was, and she taught me to behave that way. … And I think that’s something that has stood me in good stead all throughout my life,” Webb said in a recent phone interview from his home on Long Island, NY.
“On the other side of the coin, (there is) a certain toughness, a resiliency that I think the people of Oklahoma possess in great reserve to cope with the hard work and sometimes the failed crops and the storms and the vicissitudes of life on the prairie. I grew up doing a lot of physical labor on my granddad’s farm, and I think I learned a certain toughness … almost indispensible in the music or the entertainment trade because this is very difficult, disappointing business. Without making a mockery of my success, 90 percent of what you experience in the music business is negative. … There’s so many no’s built into it that it takes a tough person to live for the highs.” and not get depressed by so much negativity.”
The Baptist minister’s son known for penning an array of country, pop and rock hits, including “Wichita Lineman,” “The Highwayman,” “Up, Up and Away,” “MacArthur Park” and “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” will return to his home state to play Sunday and Monday at the Blue Door. He makes an annual pilgrimage to the Oklahoma City venue, calling it “a training ground for a whole future generation of songwriters and singers and performers.”
“It’s not just fun, it’s almost like a revival meeting. My fans are the best, you know,” he said of his live shows, often attended by folks who have driven hours to see the songsmith. “I take a lot of positive energy from this. And I’m pretty good at it at this stage in my career; I’ve been doing it for a long time.”
The Oklahoma Hall of Famer, 64, has spent a good part of the year on the road in support of his new album “Just Across the River.” Released in June, the retrospective features Webb and a star-studded roster of duet partners performing some of the most beloved compositions from his renowned four-decade songwriting career. Webb is the only artist to earn Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration., and he is a member of the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriter’s Hall of Fame as well as the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
He and producer Fred Mollin originally envisioned “Just Across the River” as a “simple solo album,” but the project, recorded over two days in Nashville, Tenn., morphed into a “friend fest.”
“It would be me singing in the voice that I grew up with and the accent that I grew up with it. We weren’t making a country record, but we were not making a pop record. I was just gonna sing the way I sing,” he said. “It was kind of, I guess, a conscious attempt to kind of slide back toward my roots a little bit. And then these friends and kindred souls begin sort of appearing out of nowhere.”
He opens the album recalling “Oklahoma Nights” with fellow Sooner State native Vince Gill, whom Webb says “may very well be the best singer in the world.” Billy Joel accompanies the scribe on “Wichita Lineman,” Willie Nelson croons along on “If You See Me Getting Smaller,” and Lucinda Williams, the first guest to join the project, helps transform “Galveston” into a true dialogue.
“I think of the people singing on the album as guests and friends, really not as celebrities,” he said. “There are no famous people on this album who are just there because they’re famous. They’re there because they have a connection with the material.”
The connection is particularly strong with Glen Campbell, who sings with Webb on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which BMI ranked in 1990 as the third most performed song in the past 50 years. Although the country legend turned “Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” into smashes, he and Webb had never recorded together before.
“I regard Glen as kind of a national treasure,” Webb said.
“I would say it’s one of the more touching moments on the album – and also illustrates the difference between songwriters and singers,” he added with a self-deprecating laugh. “When Glen comes in and starts singing, there’s no doubt about who the singer is, and I say that in all good humor. Glen is still an extraordinary vocalist at age 74. … His voice is as pure and beautiful as ever.”
Best known for his impressive string of hits in the 1960s and ‘70s, Webb also has scored films, made music for television and recorded several solo albums over the years. But he continues to pen songs, including the intricate epic “Gaugin,” featured on Judy Collins’ new album “Paradise.”
“It’s a phenomenal moment for me to know that that’s the linchpin of her new album, the very last cut on her album, and to hear my song blossom and to be touched by that magic wand of hers is just thrilling, just beyond belief,” said Webb, who played piano and conch on her recording.
“This is a very rich time for me to know that in my 60s that I’m still able to experience these rushes of disbelief, you know, that life could be so wonderful at this age and so rewarding.”
With: John Fullbright
When: 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday.
Where: The Blue Door, 2805 N McKinley.
Information: 524-0738 or www.bluedoorokc.com.