Jimmy Layne Webb was born on the 15th August 1946 in Oklahoma in the USA. He is a singer, composer and songwriter, who has written very many famous and successful songs.
His mother encouraged him to learn the organ and piano and by the age of 12, he regularly played in the choir at the churches where his father was the Baptist minister. Themselves musical, his father would often accompany him on guitar and his mother on the accordion. Webb enjoyed listening to the radio, although being brought up in a religious home meant that he was only allowed to listen to gospel and country music.
It was during the 1950s, that he began to become more creative with the music he was playing at his father’s churches. He became skilful at rearranging and improvising hymns and he soon progressed to write his own religious songs. However, new music of the time began to influence him in a different way, namely people like Elvis Presley and in 1961, he brought his first record at the age of 14; it was Turn Around, Look At Me by Glen Campbell.
1964 saw Webb and his family move to California. He enrolled on a music course at San Bernardino Valley College. Sadly, a year later, his mother passed away and his father started arranging to go back to live in Oklahoma. However, Webb decided to stay, so that he could continue studying music as he had ambitions of moving to Los Angeles and becoming a songwriter.
He began his career at a Hollywood small music publisher’s transcribing other people’s music. Following this, he gained a contract to write songs with Jobete Music, which was part of Motown Records. He wrote My Christmas Tree, which became the first ever song of his to be recoded commercially by The Supremes. He met Johnny Rivers, a producer and singer, soon after, who gave him a publishing deal for his songs. Many successful songs followed, including the song Up, Up and Away, which also became a top ten hit. In February 1968, it was named ‘Song of the Year’ at the Grammy Awards.
By the late 1960s, he was gaining more acknowledgement for his talent. Further successes came with more hits, including achieving a gold record with Worst That Could Happen. In 1968, he decided to create his own publishing and production company that he called ‘Canopy.’ A notable hit that came quickly was MacArthur Park, that was inspired by a girlfriend and was recorded by Richard Harris and reached number 2, despite its extraordinary length of over 7 minutes! It has been covered by many artists since and in 2005, it was skilfully arranged for brass band by James McFadyen. In 1969, Webb was awarded a Grammy for the song. Further hits followed for the rest of the decade.
He began to experiment with his song writing and even began work on a piece entitled His Own Dark City, which was a semi-autobiographical musical for Broadway and music for films too. In 1970, he decided he wanted to branch out to become a singer himself as well as continuing to write songs.
6 original albums of his were released between 1970 and 1982 to a generally favourable reaction. His song writing and arranging talents though, have far outweighed his success as a performer, with the music and lyrics of these albums being commended for their inventiveness.
During the 1970s and 1980s, his songs continued to be recorded by popular artists. 1972 saw Webb produce the last album for The Supremes and in 1977, an album for Art Garfunkel entitled Watermark. Donna Summer performed a disco version of MacArthur Park in 1978.
In 1974, he married Patricia Sullivan, a 17 year old model. The age difference between her and Webb caused much criticism at the time. They already had a 19 month old son at the time of their marriage. Their marriage produced a daughter and 4 more sons and they remained married for 22 years. In 1981, Webb moved to the state of New York.
Between 1982 and 1992, Jim Webb decided to concentrate on bigger projects, such as composing film scores, classical music and musicals for Broadway. Notable examples include the soundtrack for The Last Unicorn in 1982 and the soundtrack for the popular television series Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. 1986 saw him given the honour of being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and then in 1990, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1992, he worked with the Tennessee Repertory Theatre to develop a musical called Instant Intimacy. A year later, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award given to him by the National Academy of Songwriters.
Between 1993 and 2013, Webb has produced 5 solo albums. He has continued to write for films and musicals and also wrote some jingles for adverts. He wrote his first book in 1998 called ‘Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting,’ which was received favourably and it became very popular. In 2004, he married for a second time to Laura Savini. Live and at Large was a live album of his show that he released in 2007. It contains anecdotes and stories about many people that Webb had worked with over the years. He took part in a documentary in 2008 called ‘The Wrecking Crew.’ In it, he talked about the session musicians of 1960s California.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame elected Webb chairman in 2011, replacing Hal David. A year later, he received the honour of the Ivor Novello Special International Award for extraordinary contributions to global music. In 2016, he received the Academy of Country Music’s Poet Award. He was also listed this year in the top 50 songwriters of all times list for the Rolling Stone magazine. In 2017, he completed writing his autobiography entitled ‘The Cake and the Rain: A Memoir.’ Jim Webb has had his iconic songs recorded by such stars as Barbra Streisand, Art Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra and Michael Ball to name but a few.