Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The album WEBB will NOT Autograph

    I was very glad to buy Jimmy Layne Webb’s memoir (yes, the first name on the birth certificate IS Jimmy). I got it at a book signing, which also allowed me to say a few words to him about my favorite (obscure) songs of his. He was very nice and friendly. While it didn’t benefit him in any way, he even indulged some typically unwashed, stubble-chinned and obese losers who whined that he should autograph EVERY fucking piece of tatty memorabilia they put in front of him. 

      Fortunately, nobody seemed to be on line with copies of “Jim Webb Sings Webb,”  a near bootleg. At 21, he was used to selling his soul to the suits. This included bartering songs for studio time and producing demos that would then be “owned” by the publisher, leaving him hoping to make money off royalties). Once Webb became known for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Up Up and Away,” there was some interest in Jimmy becoming more of a performer than just a songwriter. That was when the owner of a set of demos licensed it all to Epic. 

    Jimmy was upset that his “debut” album was going to be unauthorized demo material, stuff he did years ago. He was surprise that Epic would not listen to reason, and allow him to give them “good” stuff instead. Epic was not known for being so nasty and underhanded as to release material against an artist’s wishes. That’s what Fantasy and Roulette were doing, among others. Perhaps their logic was that they’d already invested money into a project they felt was pretty good. Webb’s demo tunes were certainly up to the level of some other Epic pop artists (like the invented “Third Rail” collection of studio musicians). They’d already gotten producer Hank Levine to beef up the demos by adding his own arrangements and orchestration. Epic ignored Jimmy Webb and even compounded the misery by dubbing him “Jim Webb.”  

    Jimmy mentioned at the signing that he would NOT sign that album, and that fans who are crazy about that record are just plain crazy. 

    Judge for yourself. The first two tracks are below: “I Keep It Hid,” which has been covered by a few artists, and “You’re So Young,” which probably hasn’t. I don’t think that any of the tracks besides “I Keep It Hid” found life in the throats of other artists. That includes: “Our Time is Running Out,” “I’m In Need,” “Life is Hard,” “I’ll Be Back” and “I Can Do It On My Own.” 

    Webb’s memoir, “The Cake and the Rain”  lists the dozens and dozens of artists who sang “MacArthur Park,” and lists page after page of (sometimes obscure) songs he’s written, but there’s no annotation of who covered them. There’s also a list of his Grammy nominations and Top 100 hits. 

    Oddly enough, those pages almost diminish him. When you think of Jimmy Webb, you think of a one-man Bacharach who wrote dozens of hit songs over many decades. If you disregard the County charts (where “The Highwayman” was a #1) you can count his hits on your ten fingers. There are the Campbell classics (“Phoenix” “Galveston” and “Wichita” as well as the lesser known “Honey Come Back.” in 1970). You’ll remember the cringeworthy “Up Up and Away,” “The Worst That Could Happen” from the Brooklyn Bridge, Art Garfunkel’s early 70’s solo hit “All I Know,” and Joe Cocker’s 1975 “It’s a Sin When You Love Somebody.” Add “MacArthur Park” from Richard Harris and the disco remake from Donna Summer in 1978, the last year a Webb song hit the Top 20. Add it all up: ten, with the last Top 20 entry nearly 40 years ago!  

By comparison, Bacharach was at least creating new songs with Elvis Costello not long ago, and Randy Newman has scored hit songs in Pixar movies, and finally got a "Best Song" Oscar. All this, while Webb admittedly has treaded water with duets albums and recycling his greatest hits (including a very nice solo piano CD...something Newman's done a few times as well). 

    “Didn’t We” by Barbra Streisand stalled at #82, Judy Collins’ “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress” apparently missed the Top 100 entirely, and the last time a Webb song even scraped the Top 100 (if you discount the theft of part of a melody by Kanye West for “Famous”) was Linda Ronstadt’s “Easy For You to Say” in 1983. It’s also disturbing to realize Webb never had a hit on his own, despite developing into a very fine interpreter of his own songs including some great ones on his last album “Suspending Disbelief” back in in 1993 a mere 24 years ago. 

    Webb’s reputation resides, for most people, on the three years, between 1967-1969 when the public loved “Up Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “MacArthur Park,” “Worst That Could Happen,” “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman.”  Fans of “album tracks” and idiosyncratic singer-songwriters, probably new all along that like Randy Newman or Warren Zevon, Webb’s solo albums were not big sellers, even if they had a lot of great songs on them. “And So On” for example, features his sly disc jockey number “All Night Show” and “P.F. Sloan,”  the catchiest sing-along every to bear the warning “don’t sing this song.” When I had my own radio show, I played his stuff quite a bit. I didn’t realize how few were buying it.

       To this day, I think Jimmy Webb is still rather unfairly derided for the few numbers in his catalog that are either dated pop pap (like “Up Up and Away”) or awfully purple and precious, like “Adios,” or the sugary “Marionette.” Balancing that are so many songs that do rock (“Friends to Burn”), that have beguiling and tricky melodies and rhymes (“Elvis and Me”) and have an honest message ( “It Won’t Bring Her Back,” a song that features Jimmy’s trademark twang and his habit of making a quiet “i” a lot more audible. “Maniac” is sung as “mainy-HACK.”

    Webb’s book, by the way, is weirdly constructed. Each short chapter ping-pongs between early years getting beat up as a four-eyed Preacher’s kid to glimpses of star encounters with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the various Beatles. As befits a guy who considers himself part of the sex and drugs and rock and roll world, and not a sappy pop songwriter, he gives us glimpses of his excesses, and his relationships with a variety of hot babes. An irony is that songs of love and loss were generally inspired by him being the one to fuck things up. He’s the one who cheated on his muse Susan, and who ultimately moved on to find someone new. 

    In this free-love era, married women happily jumped into bed with other men, and his most enduring relationships after Susan, were with ladies who didn’t feel like leaving hubby: Evie and Rosemarie. His kiss-off song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” could easily have been sung by Rosemarie, who left Jimmy “so many times” to go back to her husband. A true tease, she kept popping up to romp with Webb. The vixen (perhaps hoyden, perhaps minx) once showed up saying that she would get a divorce and marry Jimmy IF he bought a house by the beach. 

    Webb dutifully shopped around with her, and she picked the most expensive one. He called his manager to arrange for selling his house and getting a loan to pay the difference. The couple celebrated with intimacy at their motel, but the next morning, Rosemarie enigmatically got dressed, kissed him on the cheek and with the sad smile of somebody pitying a fool, and walked out:  “I didn’t hate her…Nobody makes a fool of anybody, country music notwithstanding. Fools are volunteers.” 

    A big selling point for the book is that Jimmy dishes a bit on the “lost weekend” involving himself, Lennon and Harry Nilsson. Lennon turns out to be even more of a prick than McCartney. John’s excuse was being baked by drugs. There was the notorious nightclub incident that had John sporting a Kotex on his head and allegedly shoving or even punching a female photographer. Harry called Jimmy asking for help: please LIE and testify that you were with me and John, and that John is innocent! Webb dutifully testified that he did not see John strike the woman. (Sure, because Jimmy wasn’t even there!) 

       Webb found Lennon to be ungrateful, insufferable and self-privileged, but the ex-Beatle had style. One day, when Harry and John had exhausted themselves, they sent for Jimmy to bring more money and drugs. Webb found Lennon rolling up hundred dollar bills tightly, and placing them in the twat of a spread-eagled Asian woman (no, not May Pang). 

    You won’t need to roll up a $100 bill, with or without cocaine, to land a copy of “Jim Webb sings Jim Webb.” There are some hapless eBay dealers trying to unload it for $5 or $6, and there’s some kind of CD version of it out of Japan for $20. But no amount will get Jimmy to autograph it for you.

  I KEEP IT HID - YOU’RE TOO YOUNG    Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart egocentric passwords. No malware or spyware anywhere.


Timmy said...

I didn't know you were a D.J. Where, what stations & what years???
Thanx for all the relatively unknown info about Jimmy. And, I mean that for all 3 of these Webb related posts. He is definitely a great writer of song.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks, Timmy. Radio was long ago (70's) and I don't think I broke 100,000 listeners on what was more of a small town station. I think Chapin's 'WOLD' was a cautionary tale, especially since it would take a lot of years to reach the big time, and even then, to do what? Most DJ's were told by station managers what to play. I had freedom where I was (and when I was...which as mostly the midnight hours). Murray The K and a few others managed to be (w)OLD disc jockeys still respected by young listeners, but there IS a time limit. I found that in the publishing world. It's one thing to be a kid and interview your idols who are old enough to be your parents or an older brother or sister. It's something else to interview kids who are half your age, and who are making music you don't care about. Of course, the music biz feels the same way, so a star from the 60's or 70's usually doesn't get a record deal in the 21st Century, or shifts to an indie label and plays small venues more for fun than profit. Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, Carly Simon anyone? Harriet Schock or Patti Dahlstrom??

Timmy said...

Mr. Ill Folks, thanx for replying. I would still like to know the station, as I used to do a small bit of radio as well. Would you happen to have any air-cheqs from your past? email me, if you like, to reply: TICDS@SCBGlobal.Net