Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Although singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb was born in Elk City, Oklahoma, on August the ’15th’ 1946, he grew up in Laverne, Oklahoma. His father, a US Marine Corps veteran, was now a baptist minister, who ran and preached in churches in rural southwestern Oklahoma and west Texas. The Webb’s were a family a religiously conservative family. However, the church was where Jimmy Webb’s musical talents first came to prominence.

His mother had encouraged her son to learn to play the piano and organ. Jimmy Webb was a naturally talented and gifted musician.

By the age of twelve Jimmy Webb was good enough to accompany the choir on the organ at his father’s church Each Sunday,his mother played accordion and his father the guitar during worship. The Webb family were all musical. Despite this, strict restrictions were placed on the music that Jimmy Webb could listen to.

His father only allowed him to listen to white gospel and country music on the radio. Meanwhile, Jimmy Webb’s musical creativity was burgeoning.

The more he practised the better Jimmy Webb got. By the late-fifties, he was still playing at his father’s church. However, he was already rearranging hymns, improvising and breathing new life into them. He even wrote some new religious songs. However, already the aspiring songwriter was changing direction because of the music he was hearing on the radio.

A big influence was Elvis Presley who he had heard in the radio. However, the first record that fourteen year old Jimmy Webb bought in 1961 was Turn Around, Look At Me by Glen Campbell. It was the singer’s distinctive voice that the young songwriter was drawn to. This was fate.

Just six years later, on October ‘23rd’ 1967, Glen Campbell released By the Time I Get to Phoenix, which was written by Jimmy Webb. It was one of the singer’s most successful singles and this future classic won two Grammy Awards. That was still to come.

In 1964, the Webb family moved to from Oklahoma to Southern California. Jimmy Webb enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College where he studied music. However, in 1965 tragedy struck for the Webb family.

After Jimmy Webb’s mother passed away in 1965, his father started making plans to return to Oklahoma. His son decided to stay in LA and continue to pursue his career as a songwriter. As his father, Robert was about to leave Southern California he warned his son: “This songwriting thing is going to break your heart.” Seeing that his Jimmy Webb was determined to make a success of his chosen career, he handed his son $40, saying: “It’s not much, but it’s all I have.”

Jimmy Webb’s breakthrough came when he was hired to transcribe other people’s music for a small music publisher in Hollywood. This was just the start.

Like so many aspiring songwriters Jimmy Webb went in search of a songwriting contract. After several rejections he made his way to Jobete Music, the publishing arm of Motown, in LA, where he had  a meeting with Frank Wilson and Marc Garden.

Fortunately, Frank Wilson who spotted Jimmy Webb’s potential and offered him a songwriting contract. 

In 1965, The Supremes recorded My Christmas Tree for their 1965 album, Merry Christmas. This was the first time that a Jimmy Webb song had been recorded. Despite this, his time at Jobete was short-lived. However, it wouldn’t be long before Jimmy Webb made a name for himself as a songwriter.

After leaving Jobete Music, he moved to the Audio Arts company where he over the next few years, Jimmy Webb wrote several of the songs that established his reputation as a musical master craftsman.

Meanwhile, Marc Gordon joined forces with singer Johnny Rivers to setup Music City Records. They needed singers and songwriters. That was when Marc Gordon remembered Jimmy Webb. 

They went in search of the young songwriter and having found him, and listened to the new songs that he had written, realised that he was a truly talented songwriter. Jimmy Webb signed to Music City Records, and the next chapter in what would be a long and illustrious career began.

It’s documented on Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook, which was recently released by Ace Records. It’s the latest addition to the label’s long-running and critically acclaimed Songwriter Series. It features classics, singles, album tracks and hidden gems penned by one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.

Opening Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook is the cinematic opus By The Time I Get To Phoenix by Glen Campbell. It was the title-track to the 1967 album released on Capitol. When it was released as a single it reached just twenty-six on the US Billboard 100. It’s one of the songs that Marc Gordon and Johnny Rivers bought the publishing rights to. Later, Frank Sinatra called this classic: “the greatest torch song ever written.” That’s very true, and the perfect way to open the compilation.

Although Sunshine Company  originally recorded Up, Up and Away, it gave 5th Dimension a number seven hit in 1967. A year later, in 1968, it was covered by Dionne Warwick for her Valley Of The Dolls which was released by Scepter. The song was produced by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Their carefully crafted multilayer production includes lush, meandering strings, subtle bursts of horns that provide the perfect accompaniment to a vocal that’s best described as tender and benefits from an intimacy and is beautiful.

The Latin-tinged Carpet Man was the third single that Jimmy Webb wrote for 5th Dimension. It reached twenty-nine on the US Billboard in 1968. Later that year, the song was covered by The Nocturnes, a Manchester-based group. Sadly, the single wasn’t a hit and remains a hidden gem. from a group who went on to release two further albums before splitting-up in 1969 after five years making music together.

Jimmy Webb penned Honey Come Back while he was a songwriter at Jobete Music, Motown’s publishing company. In 1967, soul man Chuck Jackson covered the song. It featured on his Goin’ Back to Chuck Jackson and features a needy, impassioned, pleading vocal.

The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress was recorded by The Walker Brothers in 1975, but wasn’t released until 2001 when it featured on the If You Could Hear Me Now compilation. It’s a tender and deeply moving rendition of a this Jimmy Webb song.

Tony Joe White’s cover of Wichita Lineman featured on his album Black and White, which was released on Monument, in 1968. It’s quite different to Glen Campbell’s version which was released the same year and nowadays, is regarded as a classic. Strings are also deployed on this version which benefits from a lived-in vocal that sounds as if it’s live the lyrics. Despite that, there’s a tenderness and warmth to the vocal, that’s a reminder of a truly underrated singer. 

Since James Darren first recorded Didn’t We for Warner Bros in 1967, over 150 artists have recorded the song. This version is slightly quicker than future covers. There’s a sense of melancholia as the lyrics are delivered by the former teenage star who was no longer as popular as he had once been. It was the one that got away, but is a welcome addition to the compilation.

In 1972  The Supremes released their Produced and Arranged By Jimmy Webb on Motown. One of the highlights was I Keep It Hid, a beautiful song which showcases the combined talents of this latest lineup of the group.

When Johnny Rivers originally recorded Do What You Gotta Do for his album Rewind in 1967, it was a powerful and heartfelt reading of the song. A year later in 1968, Nina Simone covered the song for her album Nuff Said. It was released as a single but stalled at eighty-three in the US Billboard 100. This beautiful,  soul-baring rendition breathes life and meaning into Jimmy Webb’s lyrics.

By 1699, B.J. Thomas was signed to the Scepter label. For his album Young and In Love he covered The Worst That Could Happen. He tries to exercise restraint upon receiving unwelcome news from a former girlfriend but still his vocal is tinged with emotion, sadness and regret.

P.F. Sloan was a tribute to Jimmy Webb’s fellow songwriter. He recorded the song o his album Words and Music, which was was released on Reprise in 1970. In  2012, Rumer covered the tribute to the songwriter for her 2012 album Boys Don’t Cry. It features a spartan country-tinged arrangement and a quite beautiful, rueful, tender vocal.

Closing Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook is If This Was The Last Song by Dee Dee Warwick With The Dixie Flyers. It featured on the album Turning Around which was released on Atco in 1970. The album was produced by Dave Crawford. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success but is a reminder of the genius of songwriter Jimmy Webb.

On August the ’15th’ 2022 Jimmy Webb celebrated his seventy-eighth birthday. He followed his dream and has spent a lifetime as songwriter and recording artist. 

Since his official debut album Words and Music in 1970,  Jimmy Webb has released albums to plaudits and praise. They may not have have been huge commercial successes but showcase a truly talented singer and songwriter who nowadays, is regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. 

Jimmy Webb has written countless classics and songs that nowadays, are regarded as standards. These songs have been recorded by the great and good of music, and are still heard on radio all over the world. Many of these songs are cinematic, painting evocative pictures that the vocalist brings to life. This includes many of songs on Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook. It features twenty-four tracks that are a tantalising taste of one of the twentieth century’s greatest songwriters and a musical master craftsman at the peak of his considrable powers.

Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook.

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