Jimmy Webb’s story starts as a young boy with a prayer in the middle of a wheat field in Oklahoma.
He wanted to be a songwriter. What happened next, he says, was “this most unbelievable series of events.” He built a career around writing hit songs – mostly about ordinary people – and, in doing so, became a living legend.
“I just thank God every day I’ve been allowed to see the things I’ve seen and, most of all, know the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know in this business,” said the 72-year-old, who performed 50 concerts last year and intends to finish out this year with 70.
Even if you don’t necessarily know Webb’s name, you know his songs.
He’s the man behind such hits as “Wichita Lineman,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Galveston” for Glen Campbell. Webb’s “Up, Up and Away” for The 5th Dimension swept the Grammy Awards in 1968. The only artist to ever receive Grammy Awards for music, lyrics and orchestration, he won another in 1969 for Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” and another in 1968 for “Highwayman,” recorded by Johnny Cash.
Those are just a few.
Simply put, through decades of country, pop and classical hits, he’s known worldwide as a musical storyteller – both through the award-winning lyrics he’s written since the 1960s and on stage as he enthralls audiences with tales of the artists he’s worked with and the meaning behind his music.
In a concert presented by Promote Woodstock and Real Woodstock, he’ll bring those stories to the Woodstock Opera House at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets cost $46 at www.woodstockoperahouse.com or 815-338-5300.
“I’m sort of a folk musician who plays the piano, except it’s very difficult to carry a piano around on your back from city to city,” said Webb, who released the album “Still Within the Sound of My Voice” in 2013 and soon will release “SlipCover,” his piano interpretations of contemporary composers, including Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson and Randy Newman.
“I’m kind of hoping that the album will find an audience,” he said. “The ’60s and ’70s went so fast, to some degree, that we really didn’t have time to appreciate some of the melodies and chord that were there. There was some really beautiful music composed that could hold its own against any music anywhere.”
As for his live performances the past decade or so, Webb said simply, “I sing and tell stories.”
“I found it hard to believe,” he said, “but people were coming up to me [after shows] and saying, ‘We love the music, but could you do more stories?’”
So, gradually, he’s added more stories. He talks of time spent with Frank Sinatra as Sinatra had “a couple fingers of Jack Daniels and maybe a cigarette.”
“He loved music and songwriters,” Webb remembered. “I’d play as long as he wanted to listen.”
Webb’s hits have proven timeless. This past year saw his “Wichita Lineman” on the set list in three major artist tours – Guns N’ Roses, Little Big Town and Toby Keith – and used prominently in an episode of the Netflix series “Ozark.”
His list of songwriting credits is endless, including “All I Know” by Art Garfunkel and “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” by Joe Cocker, to name a couple. He’s behind film scores, Broadway musicals and classical music ranging from the soundtrack for 1982’s “The Last Unicorn” to the theme music for the television sitcom E/R in 1984.
He’s also a producer of albums, including “Stars” for Cher in 1975 and a self-titled album for The Supremes in 1972. And he’s an author, having published the “The Cake and the Rain: A Memoir” in 2017. His first book, “Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting,” is considered a “bible” among musicians.
He said he feels privileged to have led the life’s he’s led, the life he dreamt about as the son of a Baptist minister who started out playing the organ at his father’s church and working in farm fields.
“I didn’t know they were my family yet,” he said of all the artists he’s friended through the years, “but when I was out there enduring all that manual labor and sweating and dreaming of being a songwriter all these people were already waiting for me to show up.”
If you go
WHEN: 8 p.m. April 27
WHERE: Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., Woodstock
COST & INFO: A true living legend of songwriting and four-time Grammy Award winner, Jimmy Webb’s been crafting songs, many of which have become cherished standards, for 40 years. Presented by Promote Woodstock and Real Woodstock. Tickets cost $46 at www.woodstockoperahouse.com or 815-338-5300.