Pegi Young--yes, wife of legendary artist Neil Young--has a new video of her song "Starting Over" that was directed by Jonathan Demme. HuffPost has the premiere of the music clip as well as a free download of the song "Starting Over," and the track is featured on her new album Foul Deeds. Its first 5000 copies will include the bonus live DVD Love Like Water, directed by filmmaker Jonathan Demme, at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia.
"Starting Over" MP3: http://www.pegiyoung.com/fouldeeds/04-Starting-Over.mp3
A Conversation With Jimmy Webb
Mike Ragogna: Hey Jimmy, how are you doing?
Jimmy Webb: It's been a good day for me, my album came out, and it's already number thirty-eight on the country chart. It just feels good to have so much positive energy around. I'm going up to Huntington today to meet some fans and sign records, and I'm looking forward to that...just hanging with them for a while. It's almost a holiday.
MR: Can you tell me why your new album Just Across The River took a more roots-ish approach than any of your previous releases?
JW: You put your finger exactly on the right nerve in the sense that it was my producer Fred Mollin's intention to take me home, to take me back to where he felt my voice belonged, and to where I tend to naturally want to sing. It's like when I talk to people on the east coast, most people pick up on my accent though I've been here for twenty-five years. I was in California for twenty years before that, but I still have this twang, this Oklahoma sound to my accent, and I think that that's true of my singing as well.
On this album, I was just able to relax and not try to sound like Billy or Elton or anybody else, but just relax and sing the way I sang growing up around the kitchen table with my dad playing the guitar and my mom playing the accordion. I hate to tell you how old I am, but I remember the days before television, because I can remember the first time I ever saw a television set, when families really sat around in the country and after-dinner entertainment was provided by the people that were there.
MR: When you were sitting around the table with your family, what songs did you sing?
JW: My dad's favorite singer was Ernest Tubb, and dad loved to sing, "I'm Walking The Floor Over You." We would listen to a lot of Hank Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and personally, I was very interested in Elvis Presley and some of the up-and-coming singers. But that music was frowned upon in our household because my father was a Southern Baptist minister, and among other things, we weren't allowed to dance.
MR: What other genres and artists did you explore?
JW: Well, I was very much into the kind of softer side. I loved Neil Sedaka, and Ricky Nelson was actually my sister's heartthrob, but I also liked Ricky Nelson.
MR: Do you remember buying your first record?
JW: I was fourteen years old and I borrowed a dollar and a quarter from my dad and bought my first forty-five RPM record. The record was "Turn Around, Look At Me," and guess who the artist was.
MR: Very familiar...okay, who was the artist?
JW: The artist was Glen Campbell. He had a full-fledged hit, and it was some years before his real advent as an important personality, but he definitely had this nice little song called, "Turn Around, Look At Me" and I studied it intently. I always loved the ballads. I grew up loving Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Brill Building writers like Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and I loved Teddy Randazzo who did all the Little Anthony records. I always loved ballads, but I hasten to add that my favorite band was, and still is, The Rolling Stones, and my favorite album of all time is Sticky Fingers.
MR: You're not alone, that was one of my favorite records when I was growing up, too. Loved that record.
JW: It's a blessing and a curse because I have this wide-ranging musical palette and I love all kinds of stuff. Bitches Brew is on my top ten, I used to love Mahavishnu (Orchestra), Steely Dan, and I just get around.
MR: On Just Across The River, you revisit many of your classics such as "P.F. Sloan," "Galveston," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," "All I Know," "The Highwayman," and other classics. Can you talk about what was behind your song choices?
JW: I shared the responsibility for that with my producer, Freddy Mollin, and I just have to give credit where credit is due. This album was Freddy's idea. It was his idea to line up the best musicians in Nashville for this album, and it was rather difficult, just from a scheduling point of view, to get that organized. It's a wish list of the guys that sort of rule the roost down there.
MR: The process must have been fun.
JW: He (Mollin) said, "I want you to come down, I want you to do a couple of days, we'll do thirteen tracks in two days." He said, "You'll have an epiphany, you'll actually have fun making music again." And he said, "After that, it's just going to be gravy, we're just going to have the time of our lives."
MR: Was it the time of your life?
JW: You know? It was clearly a pinnacle in terms of just being a joyous moment of musical expression with a group of kindred souls. There didn't have to be a lot of vocal communication, there was just a joy and a great love of the process, and then this kind of magical telepathy that flies around between these players when they're working, where they almost seem to anticipate each other's next move in almost an uncanny way. Sometimes, you can't believe what you're hearing because you'd never heard it rehearsed that way, and there were just magical things rolling out of the speakers. It's a story that's been told many times about Nashville and I had never had the opportunity to experience it. It just exceeded my expectations as a musical experience.
MR: That's something that I've heard before, especially with musicians from Nashville and Memphis. It's like magic, it's almost like they're playing from another level of consciousness.
JW: It's very metaphysical, and I found myself thinking of country chamber music. It was so well organized but intuitive at the same time, so yeah, you're onto something there. There's an uncanny, eerie feeling that comes over you that this track was just meant to be this way, it couldn't be any other way, it had to be this way. So, after you do that for a couple of days, you just get higher than a kite. There's no drug in the world that makes you feel as elated and empowered as really good music being played right in front of you.
MR: You've got a superstar list of guest artists on Just Across The River, including folks like Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, Mark Knopfler, and you even had Glen Campbell join you on "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." You also included one of my all-time favorite artists in Lucinda Williams. How you were able to round up all of these guest artists?
JW: She (Lucinda) was one of the first ones that jumped on board with us. We had not planned on doing a celebrity album, I think that was one of the furthest things from our minds. But Lucinda really wanted to sing "Galveston," it was one of her favorite songs from when she was a little girl; again I've been around for a while. So, we thought, "Well, that will be good because it'll give 'Galveston' a new perspective. You'll have the man's side with the soldier, then you'll have the woman at home waiting." So, cinematically, it works because you have a two-character piece and, without overcomplicating it, it came out great as a duet. So, that was the first piece of the puzzle, and then the idea became "Why not? Why can't we use the greatest talents that are available, we've used the best musicians in the world, why can't we use the best singers to come in and sing along and compliment these songs? Particularly if the songs mean something to them, if they mean something to them personally, like 'P.F. Sloan' being Jackson Browne's favorite song of all time.
I'm not bragging or spouting off, but Jackson loves that song. When there was a personal connection between the artist and the song and also there was a history to the relationship--like Vince Gill and I have known each other for years and we're both Oklahomans and we wrote the Centennial State song for Oklahoma in 2007 together. So, it's not that we feel like we have to explain ourselves, but if we had to back it up and explain why those people are there, there's a reason for them to be there, not just because they're famous.
MR: It's interesting you mention that about "P.F. Sloan" because it could also be titled, "Jackson Browne." It's amazing, when he started singing and I heard his voice on that melody, I could hear how it was a heavily influential song on him. It obviously affected his style for the rest of his career.
JW: Well, I'm not sure that the song had that much to do with making him a star, but he certainly sounds natural singing it. And he can sit down at the piano and play the thing note-for-note which just surprised the Holy Moley out of me.
MR: I think that some songs are just naturally influential. Unconsciously, evolving artists probably just absorb certain things they hear and see, and it gives them a frame through which they view the world for your artistic approach.
JW: I also knew him from letter "A." If you scanned the album notes, you may have seen that I was invited over to David Geffen's house one day and he said, "I have a young songwriter over here." So, I walked into this house, and it was the same house that I had lived in when I was about sixteen years old. I was staying with Johnny Rivers; David had bought that house. And so I'm walking into the same house, and here's another young songwriter who's sort of staying on as a semi-permanent house guest, and he sat down on the floor. He was the most beautiful young guy, he had big, brown eyes, so young. We were all young then.
He was sitting there cross-legged holding this guitar. I could never forget this moment because it's a wonderful moment, actually. You always hope that it's not going to be something that you don't like because it can be one of the most embarrassing moments, hearing a song. He played a song called "Opening Farewell," and that song just tore my heart out. That first song out of his mouth was just this beautiful, completely realized work of art, and I looked at the kid and said, "You're going places." I was there the night that he was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame, I stood right at the edge of the carpet so I could shake his hand. I wanted him to know that I was there.
So, those are the kind of, I guess you would say, providences that we attach to the appearances on this record. They're not commercial ploys to get people to buy the album. These are people that went into this with nothing but love. There was some admiration and friendship there for me, but I have to say that the music was the important thing. The music really got elevated in the making of the record, and I think that people hear that.
MR: You mentioned that Just Across The River was produced by Freddy Mollin. Now, you have another album, Ten Easy Pieces, that also was produced by him, right?
JW: That's right, it was about a decade ago. That also marks the beginning of my friendship with Mark Knopfler because we went up to Canada to Freddy's house in Toronto. We worked in the basement, and we worked in a studio nearby. Every day driving over to the studio where the piano was, we listened to Mark Knopfler who is a close friend of Freddy's. He said, "Listen to this guy. You need to get into this, we want to get away from this operatic stuff. We don't want high notes, we don't want vibrato." And I was guilty, I had been trying to sound like Billy Joel and trying to sound like Elton John, and spending a lot of money on these big albums with some of the greatest players in the world. I mean, one of my albums was produced by George Martin, another was produced by Linda Ronstadt. Nothing was spared to create some sort of a hit album.
But, like you were speaking metaphysically a few moments ago, sometimes, the harder you try to do something and the more energy you put into it, the less you get out. There comes a moment where you have to let go, and somewhere in the voice of Mark Knopfler is that whole lesson of "just let it come out." Don't try to sing so much, let it come out, and communicate.
So, every morning, I was listening to Mark, and it was like I got religion from Mark. I really changed my way of singing. And he and I became friends and got together in London. and we said, "One of these days, we'll have to do something together." But in this business, that might never happen because of the schedules people keep--they're either touring or busy with something else. I mean, the fact that we have this cast of characters on this album is a miracle just because of the constant touring and performing. It's very hard to find a minute, even a minute. And the fact that Mark was able to, for many, many years, keep that passion for doing a Jimmy Webb project, to keep that alive and finally have a chance to do this with him actually took us about ten years. So it's another example of explaining that the presence of the artists on this record is no accident, it's no commercial ploy, it's the end result of a relationship in many cases.
MR: And you can hear the love these artists have for you and the material. For example, when Glen Campbell joins you on the track "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," it sounds like he's revisiting the piece from a more mature perspective which makes sense because it's many decades later. But still, it's pretty special.
JW: Well, there is a mellowing to his voice that I think is an improvement, really. Glen always sang like a bird, I'm not implying any criticism there. But I just love the way he sings today.
So, I'll tell you how that (Campbell appearance) happened. He and I played a concert down at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center with the Nashville Philharmonic and it was such a big success. Everybody was talking about it. It's a small town, and everybody was saying, "Did you see the Jimmy Webb / Glen Campbell concert?" So, we were all on such a high after the show, and then Freddy came running up to me and said, "Do you realize where we are?" I said, "What?" And he said, "We're in Nashville with Glen Campbell, we have to get him over to the studio tomorrow to sing 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix.'" He said, "You guys have never sung together on a record." And I thought (about it) for a second because I was going to argue with him. Then I started thinking, and, in fact, we've never sung together. Strange, because I've played on a lot of things and I've been in the studio with him, but we've never sung anything together, at least not on a record.
So, the next day, he walked into the studio and I had sung the first verse so we brought him in on, "By the time I make Albuquerque she'll be working..." And when he started singing I thought, "Well, there are singers and then there are singers."
I know I sang pretty good on this album, and I'm probably not going to sing any better. But when he came in, it was obvious why he is Glen Campbell. He was born with some kind of special equipment in there, in that package that we're all born with. But his was special. That's what separates the really memorable singers from just people who sing.
MR: In addition to the Glen Campbell covers, some of my favorite Jimmy Webb associated projects are things like The 5th Dimension's second album, it was called The Magic Garden. Then, I think, their label Soul City changed it a bit.
JW: I don't ever remember them changing it, but what you may be referencing to is that they changed the cover.
MR: Yes, that's it.
JW: At one point they changed the cover and then they changed the cover back. That was one of the first albums where I was given more of a responsibility as a producer, and I was working with Bones Howe who is great. He's actually a legend in Hollywood for his tape cutting abilities. Back in those ancient days, when you actually took the tape and everybody held their breath while the chief engineer took a razor blade to cut the tape, to physically cut the tape, it was almost like a moment of danger for the whole record. He was one of the best editors with an editing block and a razor blade, and he made some amazing cuts where he actually edited in a sixteenth note, stuff like that that we do without even thinking about today on Pro Tools.
But he let me do some things--that was the first album that I was ever allowed to do strings and horns on. He and I were more responsible for the production on that album, and I think it was one of the better things that The 5th Dimension did. Unfortunately, something happened to us on the promotional department (side), and we did have a hit on that album called "The Worst That Could Happen" that was actually picked up by a group called Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge. And they worked off of that song for fifty years, but for some reason, the record company (Soul City) would not release that track.
MR: Wasn't "The Girl's Song" on that record too?
JW: That was also a single from that album.
MR: Throughout your career there are so many moments of importance, specifically to my life, but also to entire generations of music listeners. For instance, there's Art Garfunkel's first solo single after Simon & Garfunkel, "All I know." You have a lot of magic in your songs, some that aren't even on this record such as "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress." That could be my favorite song of yours of all time. When I heard Judy Collins sing it, I was like, "I've never heard anything like this." And the Arif Mardin arrangement and production on that track and the Judith album was amazing.
JW: Arif was totally unlike the usual baritone sax and all of the horns that he was really a master of. For Judy Collins, he created a string quartet arrangement and I just couldn't believe it.
MR: Being Arif Mardin, of course, it was going to be incredible, whatever it was.
JW: Absolutely. I just thought to myself, "Arif Mardin does this?" It caught me by surprise. Later on when I worked with him, I realize what a consummate musician he was. His concept of music didn't begin or end in any particular place, he was just this great composer and arranger and this great consummate man of music. And it was wrong of me to think of him as a guy who (just) wrote Otis Redding tracks.
MR: I think, as he matured, he was really like fine wine.
JW: Yeah, I think he could have conducted a symphony orchestra if he had wanted to, and I miss him, I miss him very much. I remember that we went out to a party, I think it was one of the Carly Simon albums that I produced.
MR: Yeah, Film Noir.
JW: We had gone to this party and he came over to me and said, "Do you mind if I take a picture of us together?" I said, "I'd be honored." Then he said, "Well, so would I," and he put his arm around me, and you know how people reach out with the camera and take a picture? It's kind of a new phenomenon with all these little, tiny cameras. We have a whole generation of people who are used to taking pictures of themselves. But he took this picture of the two of us and, within a month or so, he was gone. That moment has special significance to me that, in a way, it was a good bye.
MR: What a great moment you had with him, what a sweet goodbye.
JW: His was a great life, and his life was such a great contribution to music on so many different levels.
MR: Can you tell me more about your history with Glen Campbell, like how did you get involved with having a string of hits with him?
JW: We didn't know each other very well at all, we probably had two chart singles before we ever physically met, and we had agreed to do a commercial for General Motors. Back in those days, everybody was just shocked, there was such disapproval over any attempt to make money. But I really suffered--not really suffered--all the way to the bank. I took money for "Up, Up and Away" and you know the attitude I'm talking about, "This Note's for You," and all that crap. But we were doing a commercial for General Motors, and I had written a song called "Song For The Open Road," so this was actually the first time that we were going to get together. It was at Armin Steiner's, up at Yucca and Argyle--it's hard to think of two more comical sounding streets than Yucca and Argyle--and it was called Sound Recorders. So, I walked in and he was standing there, fiddling with his guitar, with that kind of bemused expression that all guitarists have on their faces as they're playing with the strings and the bridge and fiddling with their guitars. They all do it, believe me, they all do it. So, that's what he was doing as I walked in, and he was not looking at me. But I guess he saw me out of the corner of his eye somehow as I walked over. I knew him because he was on television every night, but as far as I knew, he didn't know me, so I had gone over to put out my hand and said, "Hi Glen, this is great. I'm Jimmy." And before I had said a word he said, "When are you going to get a haircut."
MR: Busting you pretty early, that's funny.
JW: You know, I had my hair down to my shoulders. So, that kind of took me aback. I said, "I don't know, do you think I need one?" I can't really say that there was any earth-shaking pronouncements or memorable exchanging of ideas, or anything like that, that's just the way it picked up. We were always kind of political opposites, he was swinging a little towards the right and I was swinging a little towards the left, except that he would surprise you by doing things like recording "Universal Soldier," which clearly swings towards the left. You could never really get him completely in the crosshairs.
But we were good friends and have always been good friends. I don't think we've ever had a falling out. There were times when we sat in hotel rooms and drank Jack Daniels 'til all hours of the morning and talked about the bible and about women and talked about everything life has to offer. And we've been on stage many, many times together. Some of the most wonderful moments I've ever had as a performer have been on stage with Glen because he's just one of the most remarkable players that ever picked up an instrument. He was probably a kid that first time he picked up a guitar and played something on it, someone that was born with music coursing through his veins. He's an American treasure, and one of these days, we're going to look back and say, "Maybe we could have treated him with a little more respect that we did." God forbid, but he's going to be missed as one of the greatest American entertainers of all time.
MR: And I'm with you. A lot of people remember him as TV's Good Time Glen, though many came in at other points in his career.
JW: I just remember somebody who always went to the heart of the song. There was never any wasted motion, it was always right to the heart of the song. And then, how do we translate the song into something that we can disseminate to the public and gain a wide public acceptance for this material?
MR: And what you just described also applies to this new record, Just Across The River. There are a lot of guests on there, but the guests don't matter. They're all wonderful, but this is truly a Jimmy Webb album that revisits his roots, and it's a very beautiful project. Jimmy, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today about your current release in addition to your past work.
JW: Well listen, the pleasure is all mine.
MR: Thank you so much and take care, Jimmy.
JW: Okay, thank you.
(Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
1. Oklahoma Nights - with Vince Gill
2. Wichita Lineman with Billy Joel & Jerry Douglas
3. If You See Me Getting Smaller - with Willie Nelson
4. Galveston - with Lucinda Williams
5. P.F. Sloane - with Jackson Browne
6. By The Time I Get To Phoenix - with Glen Campbell
7. Cowboy Hall Of Fame
8. Where Words End - with Michael McDonald
9. The Highwayman - with Mark Knopfler
10. I Was Too Busy Loving You - with J.D. Souther
11. It Won't Bring Her Back
12. Do What You Gotta Do
13. All I Know - with Linda Ronstadt