Postcards from the past

PITTSFIELD — Jimmy Webb's songwriting career with singer/entertainer Glen Campbell is rooted in the Oklahoma panhandle.

Webb was 14 years old growing up in Elk City, Okla. around 1960 when one day while riding a tractor he heard Campbell sing "Turn Around, Look at Me" on his transistor radio.

"The voice, the arrangement, the song all knocked me out," he said.

Webb eventually drove 22 miles to buy the record he would wear out playing it over and over and inspiring him to write songs for Campbell.

Four years later living on the West Coast, an 18-year old Webb wrote "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" which another '60s singing legend, Johnny Rivers, gave to Campbell. The rising country singer recorded it as the title track his Grammy award-winning album of the same name in 1968. The song itself also garnered two Grammys for Campbell's performance which thrilled Webb to no end.

"There was so much divine intervention. I was in the right place at the right time and there was such a demand for good songs," he said in a recent phone interview with The Eagle.

Dozens of collaborative songs and 50 years later, Webb is saying thank you and paying tribute to his professional partner with "Jimmy Webb: The Glen Campbell Years."

The tour that kicked off last May, with the Campbell family's blessing, comes to the Colonial Theatre on Saturday. Webb says Campbell is unaware of the tour due to the 80-year-old being in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. The illness was diagnosed six years ago.

Yet, Campbell's spirit is felt on stage and in the audience.

"He's out there with me. He knows we're doing his music and there's time when the crowd knows it," Webb said.

The 90-minute show highlights some of the 100-plus recordings from the Webb/Campbell songbook with such hits as "Honey Come Back," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston."

Webb launched the tour mainly to remind his fans and others of the huge impact Campbell had on the music scene of the 1960s and '70s, often writing hit songs for other artists, along with performing his own chart-toppers.

"Glen was a hidden influence in the music industry," he said. "He was the hidden Beatles ... so connected to the world."

Webb himself has a resume that could rival Campbell's, writing hit songs for other signers that include "Worst That Could Happen," "The Highway Man," "Up, Up and Away" and "MacArthur Park." He has shared the stage with such legends as Billy Joel, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne.

Webb is the youngest inductee into the National Songwriters' Hall of Fame and its current chairman.

Politically and socially, Webb and Campbell differed significantly, according to Webb, more in tune where it really counted — in the recording studio.

"He was always fresh, always innovative, always creative," Webb noted. "He was very capable of having a career without me, but we had a special sound together."

"Postcard from Paris" was the last Webb song Campbell recorded in 2013 as Alzheimer's would rob the two of any more musical collaborations.

Initially, Webb's tour was to keep Campbell's musical legacy, not his illness, in the public eye. The response as been a catharsis for Campbell's fans and those who identify with his medical plight, many of whom Webb greets back stage after the concert.

"From the very first show, I had people connected with those who had Alzheimer's who would be crying," he recalled. "I didn't expect that because the only time I mention his Alzheimer's is once toward the end of the show."

Webb added, "I didn't intend to do a revival meeting. I just wanted people know what a great guy Glen was in American music."

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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