Tulsa TV Memories      

Jimmy Webb in Concert
An Appreciation by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

I used to play Jimmy Webb songs on Radio 74---KRMG. That dude from Delight, Arkansas, Glen Campbell, did all the singing: "Galveston," "By the Time I Get To Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress."

At my Tulsa flat just behind Edison High, Jimmy's songs were sung on my stereo mostly by Richard Harris. They came from the Irish actor's album called, "A Tramp Shining."

Most everyone I knew thought "MacArthur Park" was a silly song. It didn't make any sense. But it did to me. The metaphor and subtext in Webb's words spoke volumes in my ears. And I imagine even many more volumes in the composer's. Yes, the songs created by Jimmy Webb of Elk City, Oklahoma were just 'off center' enough to fit my taste to a tee.

A couple of less familiar works by Webb that (as Jimmy would put it) blew my mind away are, "Saturday Suit" and "Mr. Shuck 'n' Jive." Both sung by Art Garfunkel on his recording, "Watermark" (another Webb song). The great back story to "Mr. Shuck 'n' Jive" is that it was the last session played by the mighty and gentle jazz alto player Paul Desmond.

Jimmy Webb told me on a Sunday night after his February concert that Desmond had come into the studio quite ill to play that one track then went home and passed away not too many days later. Webb said to me, "You can hear it in Paul's horn on that track."

Yip, Jimmy, you're right, I did and I still can. "Mr. Shuck 'n' Jive" has a haunting way of slipping in and out of major then minor.

The place was Harlow's in Midtown Sacramento on "J" Street. The club was full. I was a bit late and had a little trouble finding a seat. Alone at the piano, Jimmy was already into his first song.

The short list included: "Galveston," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," "Up, Up and Away." "All I Know," "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress," and "MacArthur Park." But it was an extended string of his songs I heard, all neatly taken in turn with Jimmy's warm, personal commentary.

I don't know every song ever composed by Jimmy Webb, but whenever I hear one--whether or not it's the first time-- I can always tell it's his. Assuredly, Jimmy has added his own sonic brand to American music.

Yet, when you hear Webb sing one of his songs with just his piano accompaniment, you're experiencing quite a different piece from the same one you heard first with another singer and Jimmy's larger, more complex score. But you still know the music and the words, and realize the song is just as open in its communication and even more personal.

Jimmy Webb's songs aren't just romantic and very poetic. Sometimes hurt and cynicism slip into the mix, as follows from that lesser-known one I mentioned above.

If you can get yourself together,
           kindly write a criticism of this song
How it's exquisitely constructed, yet
           mechanical, and somehow slightly wrong
Put it in your book about the enemy
           you never even met
You know you might just make it yet---
But I don't think you'll survive
Mr. Shuck 'n' Jive

Gary Chew and Jimmy Webb (photo by Mindy Giles)
Gary Chew and Jimmy Webb, 2/10/2008 (photo by Mindy Giles)

Gary Chew can be reached at gchw7@yahoo.com.
Copyright © 2008, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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