Jimmy Webb

"By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," "Didn't We"—the songs of Jimmy Webb can only be classified as hits. While most writers work a lifetime hoping to write just one standard, Webb began writing them at 20 and had written half a dozen more by 25. Though he's had hits recorded through the '90s, it's his songs from the late '60s, with their moody character sketches and epic arrangements, that have secured his place in the pantheon of great pop craftsmen. Webb is also an engaging live performer—with only piano for accompaniment, he strips his songs to their emotional core and repossesses them, singing with an intensity that is simultaneously theatrical yet intimate. Many of his tunes are recognizable from countless easy-listening versions over the years, but his own interpretations of them are anything but. Lesser performers might drag an audience down with such heavy material, but Webb's self-deprecating charm allows the audience to relate to him like an old friend. His reminiscences alone about the show-business characters he's met are worth the price of admission for aficionados of pop culture. Webb could (and did) hang with the best of them: the Beatles in London, Elvis in Vegas and rogues like Richard Harris (a friendship that inspired last year's Twilight of the Renegades).

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Andy Mclenon