Friday, October 2, 2009

jimmy webb - cloudman demos 1972

Up Up And Away, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and MacArthur Park made Jimmy Webb a very wealthy young man. So he did what any happening 21 year old songwriter would do in 1968. He moved into the former Philippine Embassy in Hollywood and filled it with fifty of his closest friends, a green baby grand piano and (one imagines) drugs. Back then, I avoided The 5th Dimension and their flower power pep rally shtick like the plague, but MacArthur Park was harder to hate. Irish stage veteran Richard Harris, a singing King Arthur in the movie adaptation of Camelot, seemed an unlikely candidate for Top 40 appeal, and the overwrought seven minute epic he tackled after The Association turned it down was, well, slightly insane. But I always listened to the whole thing when it appeared on the car radio, unsure whether it was a psychedelic delusion or a brilliant hoax. In the early seventies, during a brief stint as a gofer (mole) in the LA music biz, I heard Joe Cocker's version of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and puzzlement turned to admiration overnight. Maybe it was sappy next to the Fun House and Faust Tapes I needed after ten hours in Studio A with Lon And Derek Van Eaton, but stately and heartfelt and flat-out beautiful as well. Webb knew his way around chord structure and melody like no one I'd ever been exposed to and filled a need I never knew I had. I kept the whole thing a secret for decades. These demos are straight to the point, just composer (in unusually good voice) and piano and some really good songs. Songs that, underneath all the pretty, are as fevered and deranged as Gary Wilson's 6.4 = Make Out, with Webb as Cloudman becoming vapor to haunt a beloved creature his obsession has driven away. I've also included When Can Brown Begin, from the Letters album for which these demos were intended. The title comes from a comment Sammy Davis Jr. made as he and Webb commiserated over cocktails one night in Vegas. Weary of the 'all-in-fun' racism his show biz pals routinely shoved in his face (clown of vengeance Jerry Lewis dragged him onto his live ABC TV variety fiasco in 1963 to ask about his recent triumph at the legendary Carnigger Hall), Sammy decreed it was time the world moved beyond black and white, to... brown?? Scatological implications aside, explaining how salt and pepper 'cook' together and fire and water make steam still seems like a dubious path to racial harmony. But there it is in all its glory, to musical accompaniment worthy of God's own choir. The coda features a smoky horn winding a path through one of Webb's immaculate chord progressions, which steps steadily skyward as violins saw away on a Möbius strip of ascending spirals that runs out of fretboard as it curls back for another run up the ladder. Avant MOR. He's here, he's air, get used to it.

jimmy webb
cloudman demos 1972
rhino handmade rhm2 7820 (2004)

01 Saturday Suit 3.01
02 Cloudman 3.44
03 Fingerpaint Me 3.53
04 Mr. Shuck And Jive 3.30
05 Simile 3.31
06 Piano 4.08
07 When Can Brown Begin 4.16

How much do I love you?
Just as far as I can reach you now
But the floor feels cold this morning
Yes, I feel there's nothing left to teach you now
Soon, sweet lady, you will walk away from me
Into your own reality
But just remember air
Air is everywhere
The cloudman always sees it there
And waits to paint you pictures on the wind around you
Please recall the days when love found you
When the tide breeze rustling curtains in the summer evening
Bears the imprint of some distant twinkling chimes
Think about the cloudman sometimes
Think about me sometime.

cd @320


roberto t. said...

Good choice to publish the words, they seem to don't need any music. I got the Words And Music Lp many, many years ago and wore it out. Out of my sight for too many years, thanks for reminding me of this great artist!

. said...

Oh yeah. I know his tendency to blowsy orchestration is a failing, but as a songwriter - well, they don't get any better. I love that moment on the Albert Hall album where he plays Witchita Linesman as an instrumental because, as he reveals afterward, he forgot the words.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I wasn't aware of these recordings although I'm a long-time JW fan. "When Can Brown Begin" seems to be the same version as the one on "Letters" and "Archive", but "Piano" is different. "Cloudman" is also different from the version on "Land's End". Not heard Jimmy's own version of "Saturday Suit" before. Quite hard to find JW's albums on CD, especially the older ones.


gregg said...

Anybody got a copy of "Words & Music" by Jimmy Webb. My copy is plum-worn-out (and on top of that my turntable would make a beautiful anchor!) Thank you for posting some raw Jimmy Webb.... There is also some really nice JW pieces on YouTube, check'm out.

Miles said...


thanks for the tip on these demos. i'll look forward to hearing them. as '.' said, webb's tendancy for blowsy orchestration has always prevented me from fully embracing his work. but there's no denying that he is a truly gifted songwriter. perhaps these sessions will find there way into my heart. thanks again.

Miles said...

oh my! what beautiful stuff this is. and a well written piece i might add. thanks so much!

BrotherWill said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Its an end to a five year journey. I had that box set on hold back before it was released and due to a late release, I never got it. It sold out so fast and is nearly impossible to track down. This was what I wanted it for.

Any chance you have the other outtakes included on the box set disc?

Regardless, thank you so much for sharing.

cgm said...

Thanks for this. I have JW's 70s albums on vinyl, so held off that liitle bit too long when the box set was released. By the time I'd decided I really needed it sfter all, it had sold out. So this is truly welcome!

reservatory said...

Here's a link that actually works for the rest of the Rhino box outtakes disc -
I've stuck some Webb covers from here and there on the end. Summertime and the listening is easy...

jonah said...

both this post and webb's songs (duh) are beautifully written.

i have a special fondness for "land's end," the album "cloudman" eventually ended up on, above all the incredibly bombastic and--if you're in the right mood---powerful closing track, "asleep on the wind."

sample lyrics:

Love is a glass of wine
It's balanced on the side rail of a ship
Across the sea at midnight calm
It may not last the daylight calm
And the trip is long
And the waves are stong
But then again it might be up there forever

webb is making the rounds of press interviews these last few months, on the heels of yet another album in which he records songs from his catalogue. i guess he doesn't write too many new songs--he's not afraid to admit these things come after a lot of blood and sweat is shed. so i suppose we can forgive him for cashing in his laurels occasionally. those '70s records are massively great.

pattirules said...

thank you so much for this...unfortunately its long out of print. i would so much like t hear the rest of it....want to share?

dweller said...

Thanks so much for this. If I could just buy these tracks alone as a CD I would. Wonderful.

leesa said...