Tuesday, 18 April 2017


During the late Sixties and early Seventies, Jimmy Webb was arguably the most successful mainstream songwriter alive, churning out sweeping, richly orchestrated hits for Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra, among others. Yet while that success made him famous, it also saddled him with a "middle road" reputation that was totally out of step with his actual lifestyle. Veteran songwriter recalls his hard-partying early days, brushes with the Beatles and other career highs and lows chronicled in new memoir, The Cake and the Rain...

-Paul McCartney was also a big fan of your work and you visited the Beatles in the studio while they were working on the White Album. There was a lot tension and acrimony going on within the band at the time. Could you sense that?
Well, the room was set up [so] that the characters were sort of presented in this tableau, with John on the right with Yoko and Paul on the left with Linda and George sort of standing uneasily in the middle. It was pretty clear to me that it was Paul's album, it was his song, and John didn't come in to listen. Even though he was sort of diffidently strumming an acoustic guitar. There were candles on that side of the room. It was very much like a shrine over on the Lennon side. And over on the McCartney side, it was just hijinks. It was Linda and Paul clowning around and she's sort of hanging onto him from behind and sitting around him on a piano bench, which, from a piano player's perspective is, like ... almost impossible [laughs]. It's almost impossible to be in that position, but you know ... And then there's the disembodied voice of Ringo Starr. Literally almost from somewhere else because the drum booth was down below the control room, so he wasn't visible, and we rarely heard from him. He'd be like, "Hello." And he would knock on the microphone. "Is this working?"

-In that scene, McCartney keeps referring to you as Tom Dowd, who was a famous engineer for Atlantic Records. It's pretty weird, since he'd called you the previous year and asked you to write a song for a project he was involved with. They obviously knew who you were. What was going on there?
Well, I know for certain that George Martin and George Harrison knew exactly who I was. John didn't come into the booth, nor did Ringo. There was a schism going on in there, so it was a sensitive moment, and to be honest, I didn't know how much they hated to have people around during their sessions. I mean, you don't really know something about that when you're just a kid and you're reading fan magazines, but they really hated the people – and I don't know why I was invited, first of all, but once I was there, it was pretty clear to me that I was being sent up, and when I talked to the people about it years later they said, "Oh, they would always do that." You know, they loved to take the piss out on someone. Preferably someone who thought they were important. Or might be important, and when they came to America, in a way Americans fell in love with that kind of deadpan ... you know, "You're taking this very seriously but we're not." That sort of thing. I don't know. I don't know what it was with them.

-You were a witness to John Lennon and Harry Nilsson's infamous "lost weekend" in the early Seventies. There's a scene in the book where they call you up at 3 a.m. to bring them hundred dollar bills and cocaine (or as they call it "hee haw"). What was it like growing up looking up to the Beatles and then to see John Lennon at the worst state of his life? That's a very dark passage in the book.
I was as taken aback as you probably are by reading it. And I guess that's what I'm trying to communicate. I really want to hasten to add that when John was struck down the way he was, I was absolutely shattered, and I ended up writing a lot of music about it and really going through some bad emotional stuff. It may be perceived as some sort of a get-back or something, but he never did anything to me. He basically was an impassive person. I never got a reading off him, ever. If you ran a magnetometer over him, it wouldn't indicate anything. He was, like, so placid.

But I think that he revealed probably a lot more to people who were closer. Harry Nilsson was very close, but I was sort of called in as the bag man when they had gotten themselves into some sort of a jam. It was done out of love. It was done out of dedication. I mean, why would you be out in the middle of the night doing a drug run unless you ... I wasn't getting paid for it. I had a lot of money. So there was a loyalty there, and there was a code. There was an unwritten code that if the Beatles ask you to do something, you did it. And I'm not kidding about that.
-What was it like to watch Harry Nilsson's disintegration?
Some people had a sense of abandonment that was awesome to behold, like someone sitting a Lotus race car and holding the accelerator wide open and trusting to fate. And most of those people died. I can't explain the attitude. I might go out and spend three or four days but at some point I'd look up and say, "I think I need to get back to my house." My drummer used to call it "a lifeboat."
I didn't wanna die. I came close a couple of times. The impulse to just run the machine wide open until it broke. It's easy to write someone off as a druggie or a drug addict. There was in the case of Harry a magnificent brilliance. I would've killed to sing like him and I loved his voice and I loved his records. I really wanted to record something Harry would like. He came in one night spitting blood into my kitchen sink and he said, "I left it on the mic," and I said, "That's not funny. What are you doing?" The combination of John Lennon and Harry Nilsson created a nuclear self-destructive device – they found some negative energy that was overpowering.

source:Rolling Stone

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