Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The WEBB of Infidelity: "EVIE"

Reading Jimmy Webb’s new memoir, “The Cake and the Rain,” I learned that his rather obscure song “Evie” nearly won an International song competition in Brazil. It’s about a real person. Evie is the fun-loving wife of Leslie Bricusse (both still alive) and in her early days as an actress, appeared in a few Hammer horror movies. In the days when England swang like a pendulum do, she was frisky enough to openly cheat on him with Webb. He wanted to marry her. She wasn’t sure. Bricusse got more prickly about this as the situation became more and more serious. This led to a very engrossing confrontation that saw Webb-fan David Hemmings get between Evie’s two rivals before any punches could be thrown. 

Evie had called Webb from her home, desperate for a rescue. In fact, she chose to escape with Webb, leaving her husband with Hemmings. But…a few days later she returned to him. Oh, Jimmy eventually realized, maybe it’s for the best.  

As most every sensitive singer-songwriter would admit, what’s the point of a life experience if it can’t be fodder for a song? “Evie” is one of those rather self-indulgent ballads in which the hero gets to show there are no hard feelings, just maybe a lingering hardon now and then. I’d put it in the category of an “I’m gonna stand tall” number from Gene Pitney, but somewhere in the book Webb wryly quotes Pitney as saying, “I never got Jimmy Webb.”  

Webb figured that Bill Medley, the lanky, dark-haired half of the Righteous Brothers, was the perfect choice to put “Evie” into the Top 10. Medley was willing to go down to Brazil and sing it as America’s representative in the song contest. As it turned out, the song never made the Top 100 and the entourage (Medley, Webb and a variety of musicians and users) figured the contest was more an excuse for partying than anything else. How could the song win in a corrupt country that was going to rig the judging for its own entry? 

As Jimmy relates in the book, the main thing was to try not to get killed down there. Angry Latinos were shouting the Spanish word for “fag” at him (for having long hair) and the Fascist police seemed to be losing patience with the gringos and their attempts to smuggle marijuana. 

Poor Bill Medley, saddled with a second-rate “Didn’t We,” gets kudos for being determined and gutsy, singing this rather awkward slow ballad to a restless and downright dangerous crowd. The audience was only calmed when another singing contestant came out to try and shield him, and make sure nobody threw anything dangerous at his head. It’s just one of many vivid anecdotes in this engrossing memoir. 

Despite some hype here and there from his publisher, the book is NOT “the story behind the songs” in most cases. “Evie” is an exception. There’s nothing about one of my favorite rock songs of his, “Laspitch,” which is a Harry Chapin-esque O.Henry story-song about a preacher’s infidelity, and how the Man of God’s wife reacts. Webb doesn’t even bother to cite the song as a very unusual example of a number where the closing instrumental is actually longer than the song itself. 

The dramatic music, perhaps intended to accentuate and continue to shake up the listener after the punchline, continues for another three minutes. The song ends up almost as long as “MacArthur Park.” As Webb progressed from songwriter to singer-songwriter, his work became much less commercial. He was pretty much “hired” to write the awful and overripe “Up Up and Away” for a proposed teen movie about ballooning, and it became one of his major hits. Less known would be “If You See Me Getting Smaller I’m Leaving” describing his decision to have a “borderline career” touring small clubs and be taken seriously. 

In discussing Webb’s work, detractors often get stuck on Jimmy’s work for traditionals like Sinatra and Streisand, and how the MOR-world embraced him for his work with The Fifth Dimension, or how even Andy Williams took on “MacArthur Park.” But his work has encompassed every form of music, from soul and R&B (take Pocketful of Keys” from Thelma Houston), disco (Donna Summer), doo wop (Johnny Maestro and “The Worst That Could Happen), and tough C&W (“The Highwayman” as sung by The Highwaymen). (C)rapper Kanye West even stole a melody off Webb for “Famous.” In addition, Webb worked his way up from a rather nasal and annoying variation on Neil Young into a class act playing the same venues as Randy Newman, and attracting almost the same kind of intelligent, informed crowd. 

Have I digressed? Say hello to EVIE, the frolicsome 60's babe and ex-scream queen (who performed as Yvonne Romain.

EVIE BILL MEDLEY sings WEBB Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart egocentric passwords. No malware or spyware anywhere.

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