MALIBU, Calif. — Glen Campbell’s performance Saturday (March 10) with songwriter Jimmy Webb at Pepperdine University in Malibu had a personal ring to it beyond the mere fact that the Smothers Theatre is a cozy venue with fairly intimate seating for just 450 people.
For starters, it was a hometown show for Campbell, who moved from Phoenix to Malibu less than two years ago. He played up family a bit, as his oldest daughter, Debby, and youngest daughter, Ashley, sang three-part harmonies with him for the first time on stage.
His former work as a session guitarist was also ever-so-slightly on parade: Debby performed “Suspicious Minds,” a song made famous by Elvis Presley, who just happened to be one of Campbell’s many clients when he was part of the Los Angeles studio team the Wrecking Crew. And Brian Wilson, whom Campbell replaced in Beach Boys concerts for six months after Wilson’s 1964 nervous breakdown, was in the audience at Saturday’s show.
But it was also personal because Campbell, a 2005 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, shared the stage with Jimmy Webb, whose ultra-melodic compositions landed him a spot in the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986.
The combination of Webb’s elegant material and Campbell’s flexible tenor made for one of the most successful pairings of songwriter and artist in country music’s history. Webb’s name appeared in the parentheses beneath the title on five of Campbell’s hits, three of them — “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” — achieving enough commercial and critical respect that they were ranked among the 500 greatest country singles of all-time in the Country Music Foundation book Heartaches by the Number. Campbell was also the first to record the Webb-penned “Highwayman,” a song that eventually made its mark in a 1985 reincarnation by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.
With Webb at the piano, Campbell on guitar and four other musicians filling out the sound at the Malibu show, the two opening numbers, “Wichita Lineman” and “Still Within the Sound of My Voice,” quickly established the tone that gave their collaborations such a timeless quality. Both songs use languid, lonely atmospherics to capture the romantic reflection of someone whose job takes them away from home, and Campbell delivers them with such natural grace that the songs manage to be artful and neighborly at the same time.
The connection between the Oklahoma-bred Webb and the Arkansas-born Campbell might have been predestined. Following intermission, Webb recalled the first time he bought a record for himself. It was Campbell’s debut single, “Turn Around, Look at Me,” and Webb prayed that he might one day write a song attractive enough that Campbell would sing it. That prayer was obviously answered. Webb now calls Campbell “my staunchest supporter.”
The two have plans for a cooperative album and showcased several songs that are likely to be featured on the project. “It Won’t Bring Her Back,” which Webb performed solo, tackled heartbreak and self-destruction. “Postcard From Paris” provided a sort of poetic postcard of a European vacation.
Both Campbell and Webb veered out on their own during the two-hour show. During the show’s second half, Webb crafted a four-song piano-and-vocal set that included several of his songs associated with other performers. “Easy for You to Say,” made famous by Linda Ronstadt, sounded much darker and haunting in Webb’s hands as he emphasized the rainy bass notes and midrange in the keyboard. He chipped in the Fifth Dimension’s familiar “Up, Up and Away” and turned in a reading of the Art Garfunkel-recorded “All I Know” that was so quiet and understated that the listener practically leaned toward the stage to gather in its tender emotions.
Campbell naturally turned to a litany of familiar music before the break, offering the ultra-positive “Try a Little Kindness,” the breezy “Southern Nights” and his signature “Rhinestone Cowboy.” After performing most of those songs for at least three decades, Campbell now makes subtle melodic changes without damaging the material’s basic blueprints. And he turned in some rather dazzling guitar work throughout, embodying the chicken-pickin’ of Jerry Reed, the frenzied riffing of Vince Gill and the anthemic rock approach of late Chicago guitarist Terry Kath. In fact, Campbell could afford to add more guitar work to the show. It provided greater dimension to some of his songs and added an effortless spontaneity to the proceedings.
As the show reached its conclusion, Campbell provided an excellent vehicle for Webb’s seven-minute pop opus “MacArthur Park, ” and the two provided a poignant finale with “Adios,” a farewell song with very appropriate references to the California coast.
It might not have been a show for the ages, but it was a solid one that reinforced the collaborative spirit of music: A singer can’t really make it without the right song, and a songwriter likewise needs to find the right voice. Campbell and Webb are master tutors in the art of matching singer and song.
Some songwriters have a knack for capturing the mood for a certain artist.
There’ve been plenty of instances in country music history in which one writer or pair of writers land multiple album cuts with the same performer. But it’s still rare when songwriters are so in tune with an artist that they actually write scads of bona fide hits for a particular act. Here are 10 examples in which an artist found at least five different hit titles from a specific songwriter:
- Glen Campbell (artist), Jimmy Webb (songwriter): “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Honey Come Back,” “Still Within the Sound of My Voice.”
- Ronnie Milsap (artist), Mike Reid (songwriter): “Prisoner of the Highway,” “In Love,” “How Do I Turn You On,” “Stranger in My House,” “Still Losing You,” “Show Her,” “She Keeps the Home Fires Burning,” “Inside,” “Where Do the Nights Go.”
- Barbara Mandrell (artist), Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan (songwriters): “Wish You Were Here,” “Crackers,” “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” “Fooled by a Feeling,” “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” “Years,” “In Times Like These,” “There’s No Love in Tennessee.”
- The Everly Brothers (artist), Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (songwriters): “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bird Dog,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Devoted to You,” “Problems.”
- Eddy Arnold (artist), Cy Coben (songwriter): “Easy on the Eyes,” “Eddy’s Song,” “Hep Cat Baby,” “Free Home Demonstration,” “I Wanna Play House With You,” “Older and Bolder,” “There’s No Wings on My Angel.”
- Don Williams (artist), Bob McDill (songwriter): “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” “Turn Out the Light (And Love Me Tonight),” “Falling Again,” “Rake and Ramblin’ Man,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” “It Must Be Love,” “Say It Again,” “I’ve Been Loved by the Best.”
- Tammy Wynette (artist), Billy Sherrill (songwriter): “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” “Good Lovin’ (Makes It Right),” “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” “He Loves Me All the Way,” “My Man,” “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.”
- George Strait (artist), Dean Dillon (songwriter): “Ocean Front Property,” “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye,” “Famous Last Words of a Fool,” “Unwound,” “If I Know Me,” “Easy Come, Easy Go,” “Lead On,” “I’ve Come to Expect It From You,” “It Ain’t Cool to Be Crazy About You,” “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,” “The Chair,” “She Let Herself Go.”
- Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (artist), Cindy Walker (songwriter): “Bubbles in My Beer,” “Dusty Skies,” “Cherokee Maiden,” “Sugar Moon,” “You’re From Texas.”
- Connie Smith (artist), Dallas Frazier (songwriter): “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone),” “Ain’t Had No Lovin’,” “I’m Sorry If My Love Got in Your Way,” “Where Is My Castle,” “Just for What I Am,” “Run Away Little Tears.”