With soaring, sophisticated melodies and elevated wordplay, Jimmy Webb became
one of the most acclaimed and important pop and country songwriters of the
Webb wrote standards including "Wichita Lineman," "MacArthur Park," "Up, Up and
Away" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," the latter of which was BMI's third
most-performed song during the 50-year period between 1940 and 1990.
The son of an Oklahoma preacher, Webb bought a copy of Glen Campbell's "Turn
Around, Look at Me" single when he was 14 years old, in 1961. He was
immediately enamored of Campbell's strong voice, though Webb had no way to know
that Campbell's voice would one day be crooning Webb's lyrics and melodies to
The Webb family's 1964 move to California brought the budding songsmith closer
to the music business, and he went on to study music at San Bernardino Valley
College. His first cut came in 1965, when the Supremes recorded Webb's "My
Christmas Tree" for a holiday album. In 1966, Johnny Rivers signed Webb to a
publishing contract and recorded the first version of "By the Time I Get to
The next year, Webb rose to major prominence, as the 5th Dimension (a group
Rivers produced) hit the Top 10 with "Up, Up and Away," and then Campbell's "By
the Time I Get to Phoenix" began its run to immortality. While "Phoenix" only
rose to #26 on the Billboard Top 100, it was a #2 country hit, and
Campbell's single sold more than a million copies. Frank Sinatra described "By
the Time I Get to Phoenix" as "the greatest torch song ever written." "Phoenix"
and "Up, Up and Away" won six Grammy Awards in 1968, with Webb taking home the
all-genre Song of the Year prize for "Up, Up and Away."
Between 1967 and 1969, Webb scored six Top 10 hits, including "By the Time I
Get to Phoenix" and Campbell's epic 1969 versions of "Galveston" and "Wichita
Lineman." Those songs secured but did not define Webb's legacy, as he would
spend the following decades continuing to write, record and expand his musical
horizons. He recorded as a solo artist, but his greatest successes came through
the voices of greats including Campbell, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Linda
Ronstadt, Ray Charles and the country quartet called the Highwaymen: Johnny
Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.