Jimmy Webb has written some of the most popular songs of the past fifty years. He also wrote some of the most heavily criticized songs of the past fifty years. And some of them are the same songs! When he took the corner stage at Hugh’s Room on Saturday night it was in front of a small group of fans with very few critics. The people loved him, and he returned the favour.
I’ve seen Jimmy four times, in two different venues. In an intimate club like Hugh’s Room, where everyone has just feasted on the Concert Special (which includes pasta and cheesecake), he’s a more relaxed raconteur. On a big stage in a theatre he is slightly more formal, but only slightly. The show began (after the beer and pasta and cheesecake) with a besuited Webb walking onto the stage taking his place at the grand piano and placing a notebook on the piano-stand. He noodled a bit and complimented the room. It’s his favourite place to play, he says. Then he launched into “The Highwayman” the ballad which launched the country supergroup of Cash, Nelson, Jennings and Kristofferson. After the song, he told the first of his long suite of stories. Walking into the studio to find Waylon asleep on a couch, cowboy hat covering his face, Webb reported on their dialog. I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version; after a few exchanges, Jimmy told Waylon, “I’m in the Country Songwriters’ Hall of Fame,” Waylon snorted and replied “Zat right…what country?”