Jimmy Webb & Graham Nash - photo by Michael Sherer
Legendary composer and lyricist Jimmy Webb had a well deserved tribute concert dubbed “The Cake And The Rain” at the highly prestigious and pristine sounding Carnegie Hall this past Wednesday evening. Proceeds go to the Alzheimer’s Association and I’ll Be Foundation, in behalf of Webb’s long time close friend and fellow songwriter Glen Campbell, who has unfortunately been stricken with the disease. Webb’s wife Laura Savini was the main organizer of this special event.
An eclectic gathering of artists were in tow to honor Webb’s long, successful musical journey. The concert coincides with the recent release of Webb’s autobiography, also entitled “The Cake And The Rain.” Webb, 70, played piano along with many of the performers. They included, in random order, Judy Collins, Art Garfunkel, Johnny Rivers, Graham Nash, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, B.J. Thomas, Dwight Yoakam, Hanson, Toby Keith, Amy Grant, Michael Feinstein and Catherine Zita-Jones. They each sang two or three songs. Actor Michael Douglas (husband of Catherine Zita-Jones) was the MC. Douglas and Webb were once roommates, hence their connection and long standing friendship.
Glen Campell was referenced throughout the concert, with his daughter Ashley performing her father’s music as well. Webb has said that he became enamored with Campbell’s music in 1961, when Webb, then 14, first listened to Campbell’s “Turn Around, Look At Me” record. The two would be first introduced to each other when Campbell heard Johnny Rivers performing Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” in 1965, helping to break Rivers. This is one of Webb’s earliest songs, and certainly one of his very best and most emotional. The song was instrumental in launching Webb’s career. Upon hearing the tune, Campbell loved it and thought he could have a hit with it, which he did in 1967. The song also won Campbell Best Contemporary Male Solo Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal in that year’s Grammy nominations. Soul singer and composer Isaac Hayes also fell for the track, and performed it as a nineteen minute opus with a then unheard of eight minute spoken intro on his debut solo record in 1969. Hayes slowed it down, brought his deep baritone voice to it and had himself a gorgeous hit as well.
Every artist here spoke of what Webb’s music meant to them personally and what drew them to perform the songs of his that they chose. In the case of Toby Keith, he explained that they’re both born and raised within twenty miles of each other in Oklahoma, and that performing Webb’s music and meeting him has been on his bucket list. Keith then covered what I consider the other best song of Webb’s, that being MacArthur Park, released in 1968 by actor and singer Richard Harris. It was subsequently covered by several other artists including Donna Summer, who scored a number one with it in 1978 with her sensational rendering. Keith turned in a fantastic version himself, and a more soulful rendition than might be expected from the country based singer. Webb’s provocative lyrics about a cake being left out in the rain is a unique and personal song, and it has dramatic peaks and shifts. Explaining in an interview with Q magazine, Webb said: “It’s clearly about a love affair ending, and the person singing it is using the cake and the rain as a metaphor for that. OK, it may be far out there, and a bit incomprehensible, but I wrote the song at a time in the late 1960’s when surrealistic lyrics were the order of the day.”
Most of the artists expressed what a thrill and honor it is to be on the stage of Carnegie Hall. Built in 1891 and holding 3,671 seats, it’s a dream come true for any performer to make it there. Especially known for it’s spectacular sound for classical music, the stellar group of backing musicians, including a small string section and female backing vocalists shined behind the performers. Every nuance resonated clearly and fully. Webb’s extensive catalog of famous songs are filled with rich, heart felt emotion and thought, and there’s no better place to hear them in all their glory. Congratulations, Mr. Webb. Tonight you deservedly had your big ‘ol cake and ate it too.