LIVE: Jimmy Webb Takes Us Beyond “Galveston” in His Cohoes Music Hall Concert, 11/23/2019
After seeing him in concert, I better understand why and how Jimmy Webb has created million selling records for everyone from Glen Campbell to the Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.)
When I was writing my Buddy Guy biography I was searching for what it was in his background that gave him the ability to create music on his guitar that was like no other.
I ended up writing the book twice without coming up with the answer. A quarter century and thousands of interviews later, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people are just born with a God given talent to do certain amazing things. They can mold that talent, tweak it, adjust it to appeal to enough people to earn a living at it, but the seed of their ability is innate.
Buddy has the talent to transfer into his guitar a primal scream like no one else. Jimmy Webb’s talent is that he hears melodies in his head. Those melodies inspire him to create realities, anecdotal stories that touch deep feelings in millions of people. He told an audience at Cohoes Music Hall on Saturday, November 23rd, that his “Witchita Lineman” as sung by Glen Campbell sold 44 million copies.
I hated Glen Campbell in the ’60s. I thought he was a wimpy, simpering country music sycophant appealing to a low common denominator fan who lacked a spine. Then, one morning in 1969 at 4 a.m. I was sitting in my Grand Prix between hours on and hours off guard duty in the motor pool at Fort Lee, Virginia, pulling in clear channel radio stations from across the country. And “When I Get to Phoenix” flew into the car and became a wormhole in my head.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the song half a century later, it’s sung from the point of view of a man physically escaping a woman by driving as far away from her as he can. But mentally, he can’t get her out of his mind and imagines what she must be doing each hour as he gets further and further away. He may be able to escape physically, but she owns his mind. “By the time I make Oklahoma, she’ll be sleeping. She’ll turn softly and call my name out low, and she’ll cry just to think I’d really leave her. Though time and time I’ve tried to tell her so. She just didn’t know I would really go.”
Glen Campbell was merely the vehicle for delivering Jimmy Webb’s song.
Mick Jagger was my main man in 1969. But he disposes of women like used Kleenex. From his “The Singer Not The Song:” “The same old places and the same old songs. We’ve been going there for much too long. There’s something wrong and it gives me that feeling. Inside that I know I must be right. It’s the singer, not the song.”
Jagger is a cynic. Jimmy Webb is a romantic. Jagger is perpetual youth. Webb is more mature. He understands the value of a relationship even though maintaining that relationship can require work, and we all sometimes run away from it.
At 73, Jimmy Webb has more balls than Mick Jagger. And while his songs may have given Glen Campbell a public persona that let him rise above my perceived image of him, Webb brings a clearer image of the music that went gold for Campbell.
He introduced “Galveston,” another hit he wrote for Campbell, with an explanation about his, Webb’s, father who was a Marine and a southern Baptist preacher, a potentially toxic combination and certainly not one that we might expect would coddle the muse of a 12-year-old son who was already playing piano in daddy’s church. That background DID, however, inspire Jimmy to write “Galveston,” another song about leaving one’s love. This time, though, the singer is a young soldier. “Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying. Before I dry the tears she’s crying, before I see your sea birds flying in the sun, at Galveston.”
For half a century, I’ve thought “Galveston” was just another vacuous city song. Glen Campbell totally missed the mark on the sensitivity of that song. Webb sang it with passion and gusto. In his nearly two-hour concert that was half singing and playing piano and half intimate “conversations” with his audience, he presented himself as an artist every bit as talented and tortured as Mick Jagger but with a sensitivity that was eye opening. The last line of the last song of the night, “Witchita Lineman,” defines his message as an artist: “I need you more than ever. I want you for all time.”