He's the music man behind countless hits, including "Wichita Lineman" and "MacArthur Park," and the only person to receive Grammy Awards in all three categories—music, lyrics and orchestration. Gayle talks to songwriter, singer and composer Jimmy Webb about some of the highlights of his illustrious career and where he finds his inspiration.
Jimmy says a love of music was instilled in him from a very early age. Though his mother passed away when he was only 16 years old, Jimmy says that she used to play the accordion while his dad, a Baptist minister, played guitar. "Music was an integral part of our lives," he says. In fact, Jimmy started writing songs at the tender age of 12, which he says goes to show that inspiration doesn't just come from a single source.
"There's always this secret person that's a part of each one of us that no one else knows, and I think that I write with that secret person—I let that secret person in on the deal, and so in a way, there's a surrender to it and it's saying, 'Okay, I'm going to let this go where it wants to go, not necessarily where I want it to go,'" Jimmy says. "I believe strongly in inspiration, inspiration literally meaning 'full of the spirit.' I do believe that it comes to you."
Gayle says "MacArthur Park" is one of her all-time favorite Jimmy Webb songs, especially as it was performed by Donna Summer, who had a number-one record with the tune in 1978. Jimmy says the song is named after a real park in downtown Los Angeles where he used to have lunch with an old sweetheart of his—until she broke his heart and left him for another man. "The song is really just kind of an outpouring of angst, grief … and it sort of mixed in with images of this place where we used to go all the time," he says.
Although the song holds sad memories for Jimmy, it has happy ones, too—it was the first of his songs to top the U.S. charts. When the song reached first place, Jimmy says he rented a limousine to celebrate his success. "I rode all around Hollywood listening to Donna Summer, looking out the window—all by myself—just going, 'I'm number one!'" Jimmy, who was about 30 years old at the time, says it was a moment he'll never forget. "It's a pretty extraordinary feeling," he says.