Jimmy Webb is among the greatest American songwriters of the past 55 years, with Billboard Top 10 hits ranging from the 5th Dimension’s “Up Up and Away” to Art Garfunkel’s “All I Know” to Donna Summer’s 17-minute disco opus of “MacArthur Park.”
But the Oklahoma native is best known as the man behind a string of country standards made popular by Glen Campbell, including “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”
Their partnership is music legend, with Campbell recording more than 85 of Webb’s songs. On Saturday, Webb will be at Spirit Square doing a tribute to Campbell, who is in ill health and unable to communicate due to Alzheimer’s.
The concert will feature humorous, occasionally moving stories about their collaborations, punctuated with photos, video and audio clips that will allow the two friends to trade verses on their best-known hits. Here are excerpts of a recent Observer interview with Webb.
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On meeting Campbell when Webb was about age 20: “Glen and I love each other, but it didn’t start that way. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but we were polarized. There was 10 years difference in our age. He was the ‘old man’ at 30, a Republican, and I was a Democrat. He thought I was a hippie and indeed I was to all outward appearances, with long hair. And there he was, wearing a little cowboy suit with his hair blown out and coiffed for TV. He was eye candy and women ate him up.”
How the two eventually clicked: “He and I grew up in similar circumstances, rural neighborhoods in adjacent states (Campbell was from Arkansas) surrounded by religion. ... My father was a Baptist minister at one point. ... Glen’s family was Protestant. It was the same greenhouse. ... Fundamentalism permeates society there, and it’s not an atmosphere where dancing, drinking and singing are looked on with affection. You were a rebel if you wanted to be a country singer.”
How they found success: “He had that instrument that was like Thor’s hammer, a gift from God. It was a five-octave voice with a plaintive crack, a kind of wail. If you listen to ‘Wichita Lineman,’ he breaks your heart. Glen was born to be the ‘Rhinestone Cowboy.’ Once we got together, it was like a house on fire. I get chocked up real quick thinking that won’t be in my life any more.”
The last time the two visited: “I talked to him a year ago, but his attention was constantly changing. ... It came crashing on me that day that I was going to lose him, and I never bothered to even get his autograph on a picture. ... It wasn’t easy to accomplish but he was (months later) persuaded to sign one last autograph for me. He put his name on the very last Glen Campbell Guitar made by Ovation in this country. He certainly wouldn’t recognize me now.”
What song Webb will most be remembered for: “The song that has surprised me most with its tenacity is ‘Wichita Lineman.’ It continues to be re-recorded in a lot of reincarnations, including punk. ... ‘MacArthur Park’ is the more controversial. I just wish I had a dime for every time someone asked me what does it mean that ‘someone left my cake out in the rain.’ I’d be Donald Trump.”
Jimmy Webb’s tribute
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org/events.