Jimmy Webb,

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“There was a poignancy to that moment,” he added, “be­cause I didn’t know if she’d ever sing again. Her voice sounds el­e­gantly beau­ti­ful on ‘ All I Know.’ I loved the metic­u­lous way she cov­ered my voice.”

Webb has al­ways writ­ten his own mu­sic as well as his lyrics, and he is the only artist to win Grammy Awards for mu­sic, lyrics, and or­ches­tra­tion. He is a mem­ber of the Na­tional Academy of Pop­u­lar Mu­sic Song­writ­ers’ Hall of Fame and the Nashville Song­writ­ers Hall of Fame. His ver­sa­til­ity is ev­i­dent in some of his most pop­u­lar songs. “Up, Up and Away,” was made into a hit by the Fifth Di­men­sion. “They cre­ated their own genre,” Webb said of the group. “They were un­like any of the other black acts of the ’ 60s with their own groove and sound. It was a more so­phis­ti­cated ver­sion of Mo­town.”

“MacArthur Park” was recorded by Donna Sum­mer, Way­lon Jen­nings, the Four Tops, and Fa­ther Guido Sar­ducci of Satur­day Night Live fame. Ir­ish ac­tor Richard Har­ris was the first to record it in 1968. “I can’t tell you the se­cret mean­ing of MacArthur Park,” he said. Of the line, “Some­one left the cake out in the rain,” Webb of­fered a clue, men­tion­ing that W.H. Au­den wrote, “My face looks like a wed­ding-cake left out in the rain.”

Webb’s suc­cess in­spired him to write Tune­smith: In­side the Art of Song­writ­ing (Hype­r­ion, 1999), in which he elu­ci­dates his method. “It’s about the build­ing blocks,” he said. “I start writ­ing things out. I write pages and pages for one song. I write pos­si­ble lines. Re­lated rhymes. I put my ma­te­ri­als out in front of me like a painter mix­ing paint on his pal­ette.” On his web­site, he writes, “I like words. I like the way they clash around to­gether and bang up against each other, es­pe­cially in songs.”

Webb started out at 16 writ­ing for the pub­lish­ing di­vi­sion of Mo­town. “The melody is only the ves­sel, the car­rier of a mes­sage. They drilled that into me: What’s the mes­sage?”

One of the mu­si­cal se­crets Webb dis­cusses in the book is the im­por­tance of chord pro­gres­sions. “Chords have a sub­lim­i­nal mes­sage,” he said, adding that some peo­ple are chord-deaf. “It’s like be­ing col­or­blind. They don’t hear chords.” One of the more sub­tle as­pects of song­writ­ing is choos­ing one chord over an­other, he said.

Al­though the new CD fea­tures older songs, Webb con­tin­ues to write new ones. Judy Collins fea­tured a Webb song called “Gau­guin” on her new record­ing, Par­adise. “I still make my liv­ing writ­ing songs,” Webb said.

As a mem­ber of the board of di­rec­tors for the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Com­posers, Au­thors and Pub­lish­ers (ASCAP), the mu­sic-pub­lish­ing ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, Webb has some strong views about mu­sic piracy. “There are a lot of brats out there on the in­ter­net who don’t want to pay for mu­sic,” he said, adding that his roy­al­ties were down 38 per­cent in the last year. “Other peo­ple’s lives de­pend on that money. It’s not like all the spoiled song­writ­ers are wor­ried about hav­ing to give up their Porsches. It’s about First Amend­ment rights. Most song­writ­ers are not rich. They have other jobs. They’re just get­ting by. These things we cre­ate are ours.”

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