Jimmy Webb

Jimmy Webb (born Aug. 15, 1946) is an American singer, songwriter, producer, and arranger from Elk City, Okla.

He was born Jimmy Layne Webb on August 15, 1946, in Elk City, Oklahoma. His father, a baptist minister, forbid all but country and white gospel music in the home. Encouraged by his mother, young Jimmy learned piano and organ. Starting at age 12, he played backing to his church choir, accompanied by his father on guitar and his mother on accordion.

As a teenager, Webb’s sudden interest in rock n’ roll inspired him to take liberties with the rhythms and themes of the pieces he played at church. In 1964, his family moved to Southern California, where Webb studied music at San Bernardino Valley College. That September, his ballad “Take Marion for Example” was recorded by pop singer Millie Rodgers. The following year, his mother died and his father returned to Oklahoma, giving his son a $40 parting gift.[1]

Webb first worked as a music notationist for a Hollywood publishing firm. He was then signed as a songwriter to Jobete Music, the publishing division of Motown. During 1965, he wrote and arranged singles for The Contessas, Danny Day, and Don Ray Sampson. His most prominent early credit is “My Christmas Tree,” recorded by The Supremes for their 1965 seasonal album Merry Christmas.

In 1966, Webb signed a publishing deal with singer and producer Johnny Rivers, who included one Webb composition (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”) on his album Changes and seven on the following Rewind, including the much-covered “Do What You Gotta Do.”

Rivers then presented his material to soul-popsters The 5th Dimension, who recorded five Webb compositions for their 1967 debut album Up, Up and Away, including the hit title-track (later covered by Hugh Masekela, Willie Bobo, and Nancy Sinatra). The group enlisted Webb as sole writer/arranger for their followup album The Magic Garden, which spawned the hits “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man.” It also includes the first-recorded version of “Worst That Could Happen,” later a hit for Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge.

Meanwhile, country singer Glen Campbell won the Grammy for 1967 Song of the Year with his version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” The singer then scored a further million-seller with Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” later covered by The Meters. “Phoenix” was also recorded by Frank Sinatra, who praised it as the “greatest torch song ever.”[2]

In 1968, Webb wrote and arranged the album A Tramp Shining for Irish actor Richard Harris. It spawned the seven-minute melodramatic opus “MacArthur Park” (US #2), later covered by Beggars Opera and Donna Summer. Later that year, their partnership yielded a second successful album, The Yard Went On Forever.

Webb’s career as a recording artist began unofficially with the 1968 Epic release Jim Webb Sings Jim Webb, comprised of old demos that were string-embellished by label engineers without the artist’s consent.

During 1969, Campbell scored further hits with the Webb compositions “Galveston” and “Where’s the Playground Susie.” Elsewhere, prior hits received second chart runs by Isaac Hayes (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix“) and Waylon Jennings (“MacArthur Park”). Later that year, Webb wrote and arranged Sunshower, the debut album by soul-pop singer Thelma Houston.


  • Jim Webb Sings Jim Webb (1968)
  • Words and Music (1970)
  • And So: On (1971)
  • Letters (1972)
  • The Naked Ape (OST, 1973)
  • Land’s End (1974)
  • El Mirage (1977)
  • Voices (OST, 1979)
  • Angel Heart (1982)



  1. Thrive: “Words and Music: Jimmy Webb” (April 2006, broken)
  2. Philadelphia Daily News: “The Man Behind The Hits” (1/17/92)

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