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PCP nights and John Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ Jimmy Webb on his extraordinary life in music – Glasgow Live

PCP nights and John Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ Jimmy Webb on his extraordinary life in music – Glasgow Live

PCP nights and John Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ Jimmy Webb on his extraordinary life in music – Glasgow Live
May 09
10:55 2018

He’s one of the greatest songwriters that’s ever lived, he’s worked with everyone from Glen Campbell and Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash, Nina Simone and Diana Ross.

He’s the man who wrote Wichita Lineman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and MacArthur Park, but Jimmy Webb’s story has never really been told until now.

The 71 year-old legend has just released the first volume of his memoirs, The Cake And The Rain and it’s a brutally honest, fascinating insight into his life, one that’s been so packed with huge events that he had to end this first book way back in 1973.

Jimmy said: “The book ends after a personal crisis that almost claimed my life and having recovered my memory enough to know what a piano is.

“Writing my memoirs has been a long time coming, but it stops in 1973 because it’s not the end. That just seemed like an appropriate moment to pause the story, as it was such a turning point. There’s a second volume already being written, which I think will be even better.”

That personal crisis was an accidental overdose of PCP coming after a series of events where he was a witness to John Lennon’s infamous ‘lost weekend’ with Webb’s close friend Harry Nilsson. Jimmy was on call to deal with any issues the pair might be having, from delivering drugs and money when required to even acting as a witness when Lennon was accused of assault and being threatened with deportation, even though he wasn’t actually there at the time.

The Beatles (left to right) Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison (Image: PA Wire)

For Jimmy though, he thought nothing of it, as they way he saw it, when a Beatle needed you, you came.

He said: “As far as Lennon and all that goes, I was just drawn in. I think I was a bit jealous of Harry Nilsson’s relationship with him as they became joined at the hip and Harry was my friend.

“If they got in a jam though, they’d call me as I was the stable guy with at least a semblance of a normal life. It was Lennon that entered my space, not the other way about, contrary to what people thought.

“When he was on the verge of being kicked out of America, he needs someone to stand up for him in court, it was me they asked.

“That was dangerous for me and a lot of people couldn’t understand why I’d risk my freedom for John Lennon. The answer is we believed all that stuff about All You Need Is Love and The Beatles were the leaders of that ideology.

“They were changing the world into a better place and anything or anyone that opposed them were wrong. It sounds crazy, but that’s what we believed.

“They were heady times. It was very idealistic, high minded stuff so The Beatles were above criticism and above the law even. If they called, you answered.

“If Ringo needed something, you’d go get it. If John was in trouble with the U.S. government, you did what you could to get him out. It was an unwritten code of honour.”

Those drug-fuelled days of excess were a far cry from how Jimmy started out, initially writing songs in church before getting his big break at the legendary Tamla Motown, where he would go on to write 45 songs while still in his teens.

Glen Campbell (Image: Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He said: “I had tried to get a songwriting deal many times, with all the big labels.

“I’d walked Sunset Boulevard many times with my songs under my arm and got turned down time and time again.

“A friend suggested I try Tamla Motown, which I didn’t have much expectation from, but it was like I was a long-lost member of the family immediately. I fell into the most successful record company in America, which was at the time the ultimate songwriting university in the world.

“I spent two years there under contract, I wrote for The Supremes, I worked with the great Billy Epstein. “To put it bluntly I ended up in charge of what was called ‘white projects’, but I was never treated differently from anybody else. They were loving, fair and avuncular to me.

“Eventually they got me a job at Johnny Rivers Music and that’s where it all really started for me.

“He reached out to Al DeLorean and Glen Campbell with my song By The Time I Get To Phoenix and it just clicked for me.”

It was that relationship with Campbell that provided Jimmy with some of his biggest hits, like Wichita Lineman and By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Big also formed a deep friendship that lasted until Campbell’s death from Alzheimer’s only last year.

He said: “He was my friend and he was my antagonist from time to time as we disagreed on a lot of political stuff, but we absolutely spoke the same musical language.

“We could conjure a landscape between each other and I think I can speak for both of us when I say we had some of the greatest moments of our lives onstage together.

“We played a lot together over time, even in his last years, where we did a lot of shows with orchestras and just had a fun time with each other. Our kids grew up together, our lives were intertwined. The Webbs and the Campbells, we were two Celtic clans together for most of our lives.

Elvis Presley (Image: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“He was one of the five guys in my life who I would have called a close friend, but we still always had an edgy relationship because of politics, but we were still the best of friends. You don’t have to agree about everything.

“To lose him was strangely anti-climactic because they call Alzheimer’s the Long Goodbye, so I never really said goodbye to him.

“I was visiting him in the hospital and he’d seen normal enough to forget about the disease, then he’d look at me and ask if I wrote By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

“It was so painful, that so much of our mutual experience was gone to him.

“I think about him every day. He was irreplaceable.”

Webb’s politics were on the opposite end of the spectrum from another icon who he worked with, Frank Sinatra, who made no secret of his dislike of hippies. Again though, music brought them together.

Jimmy said: “He said that Elvis’ music was ‘the music of cretinous goons’, which I always loved.

“He reluctantly did a show with him though and it turned out they really got on. By the time he met me, he was already recording Lennon and McCartney songs, so he’d mellowed to rock n’roll.

“The secret to Mr Sinatra was he loved great songs, so he didn’t care what you looked like if you walked in with something he liked.

“I met with him many times with my long hair and would just sit and play songs with him. We even had a dream project called Seasons, where I would write a song for each month for him.

“He was a very kind and princely fellow and very wonderful to my father. After he took him to dinner, he had a different spring to his step, my dad was like a made man after that. There’s a lot of different stories about Mr Sinatra, but I think there’s a lot of exaggeration there.

“To me he was a gentleman. He even told me one time that he thought By The Time I Get To Phoenix was the greatest song ever written.

“I like to think that we were friends.”

Jimmy’s style of classic songwriting and his association with more establishment figures like Sinatra and Campbell gained him a reputation as a middle of the road, easy listening type of artist, but nothing could have been further from the truth. He was as counter-culture as they come, but it took a lot of effort to finally shake that tag. He managed it though and he’s got no regrets.

He said: ” I really resented being tagged as a middle of the road, establishment figure when in fact I was very virulently anti-war, voted liberal candidates and did what everyone else was doing at the time. “The press labelled me as a country songwriter or middle of the road and it bothered me.

“I did try to do something about it though. I stopped playing Vegas as that was seen as square, you couldn’t do that if you wanted to be part of what was my generation, which is ironic as now people will do anything to play there. Doing commercials wasn’t cool then, which I did. It wasn’t cool to have friends like Sinatra or Glen Campbell, which I did. They were middle of the road, even though I wasn’t.

“I stopped all of it, started making my own records with people like Joni Mitchell and Daryl Hall. Anything but that middle.

“I succeeded in two things by doing that, being spectacularly unsuccessful, which is always appreciated on the left, as well as drifting out the crosshairs of the mainstream media, which suited me perfectly.

“It let me create another persona that was more me.

“I can live with that and I can die with that.”

An Evening With Jimmy Webb is at Glasgow’s Mitchell Theatre tonight (Tuesday May 8).

Source: PCP nights and John Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ Jimmy Webb on his extraordinary life in music – Glasgow Live

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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