Those of us who like to read liner notes often notice that the person who sings a particular song is not the person who wrote it. In fact, many artists have made a career out of singing songs written by others, and many songwriters have made a career out of writing songs that other people sing.
Webb's songs have been covered by an amazing list of artists, and he is most closely associated with Glen Campbell, who sang the definitive versions of his songs "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston."
Bonoff, who also has many songwriting credits, is most closely associated with Linda Ronstadt, who recorded her songs "Someone to Lay Down Beside Me," "Lose Again" and "If He's Ever Near" for her 1976 album Hasten Down the Wind.
But to call Webb and Bonoff "songwriters" doesn't do justice to the fact that both have also released (and sung on) their own wonderful albums over the years.
This is a hometown show for Bonoff, who has lived in Santa Barbara for nearly two decades. Although Webb no longer calls California home, his son Charles is a UCSB alum who still lives here.
• • •
Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?
Jimmy Webb: My show is entertainment. I play a lot of hit songs. I also furnish a kind of anecdotal backdrop to some of that, to the way the business works. It definitely has its humorous side.
Some truly crazy things happened to me when I sort of stumbled onstage in this business. When I got the idea that I wanted to be a songwriter I was 14 years old, and I was plowing a field of wheat in the panhandle of Oklahoma. And four years later I had a recording on the radio stations by Glen Campbell, who was probably the greatest vocalist of our generation.
My co-star is Karla Bonoff. We've been out many, many times together. We've shared a musical history with Linda Ronstadt, both of us having numerous recordings by Linda. We do some work together onstage, but mostly she does her show, I do my show. It's a good mix. It's two completely different voices, different textures, different careers, but all familiar music. People know that they're in the right place when they're at our concert.
Karla Bonoff: I'm bringing a musician with me, Nina Gerber, who some people know. She's played with me here before. She's a wonderful guitarist from the Bay Area, pretty well-known up there. So we do the show together, the two of us. And I do music from all of my albums, going back to the late-'70s all the way up to doing some new songs. I play piano and guitar. It's a pretty unplugged, acoustic style. Then Jimmy Webb does a long set, and we do one or two things together.
JM: Jimmy, do you have a favorite song that Karla wrote?
JW: I do. I really love "All My Life." But there are so many songs, and she's so well regarded, extremely well regarded in fact among the people who know what songwriting is about. And it's nice to have someone on the program who can actually sing, as well. She has a Linda Ronstadt-like beautiful soprano voice.
I'm more the songwriter-singer type, and nobody has ever rhapsodized about my vocal quality. I think that she's my saving grace. I adore her and her songs. We're really a good partnership. I just played a few gigs with her in the Washington state-Oregon area. She had her dog along with her, and her guitarist/friend Nina.
JM: Karla, do you have a favorite Jimmy Webb song?
KB: My favorite Jimmy Webb song is "Wichita Lineman." There's something sentimental about that one. One of the ones I'm doing with Jimmy is a song called "Adios," which I know from Linda Ronstadt covering it. That's also one of my favorites.
JM: Karla, I'm a big fan of your first record. Could you give me some reflections on that particular album?
KB: That was a culmination of about eight or nine years of writing for me, from the time I was probably 18 until I made that record. So it was a collection of the best stuff that I had compiled by that point.
It was also a real special time for me and Kenny Edwards, who produced it. He'd been touring with Linda Ronstadt, and it was his first production. We were both new at it, and working in that studio The Sound Factory down in Los Angeles where Ronstadt had been making her records, and James Taylor and Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon.
We were all working with the same engineers, so there was kind of a group of us doing that. I was lucky enough to have Don Henley and Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther sing on my album, and incredible musicians, you know Joe Walsh and Garth Hudson. So I was really able to draw on the best of what was out there. Who knew what was going to happen?
But that record came together wonderfully and I was able to go out on the road and open for Jackson Browne. It was a pretty special time for me. And also, Ronstadt had just maybe six months prior to that record coming out recorded a couple of my songs, so people knew who I was. In some ways that really gave me a leg up because the music had already been out there a little bit.
JM: Jimmy, you mentioned Glen Campbell, and of course some of your best known songs were sung by him. When did you finally get to meet him, and what was that like?
JW: We had a couple of records on the charts before we met. It was strange, really, to have spoken to him on the phone and to have had at least one big record, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," which he won a Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance in 1967, and we hadn't met. It was like, "We should get together sometime. Play some songs, or something."
It turned out to be a very off-the-wall thing where I ended up in the studio one day doing a commercial, just playing on a commercial, and he was there. I recognized him, of course, because I saw him on television like everybody else. I was really excited.
I was a complete hippie, whacked-out kind of a guy. I had hair down to my shoulders, and at the time I wore a yak vest [laughs]. He was very turned out, always very polished and wore a suit on television and stuff like that. In those days the music business was very polarized, with the hairy guys on one side and the clean-cut guys on the other side. Well, he was one of the clean-cut guys.
I walked over to him, and I said, "Mr. Campbell, I'd like to introduce ... ," and he looked at me, without even letting me finish, and he said, "When are you going to get a haircut?" [laughs] That was the very first thing he said to me. Years later he would deny that, say, "Oh, I never said that to you." But that's exactly what he said.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.