Today in 1968 Glen Campbell started a five-week run at No.1 on the US album chart with ‘Wichita Lineman.’ American Songwriter Jimmy Webb’s inspiration for the lyrics came while driving through Washita County in northern Oklahoma. Webb was driving through an endless litany of telephone poles, each looking exactly the same as the last. Then, in the distance, he noticed the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop a pole. Webb then “put himself atop that pole and put that phone in his hand” as he considered what the lineman was saying into the receiver.
Correspondent Bill Nutt spoke with Jimmy Webb as he payed homage to his amazing journey with Glen Campbell.
Jimmy Webb remembers the first time he met Glen Campbell. It was not an auspicious moment.
In 1967, Webb was in the early years of his career as songwriter. He had been a fan of Campbell, and he further appreciated the fact that Campbell’s version of his song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was a hit on the country charts.
So Webb went to a recording studio to meet Campbell.
“I had long hair, and I wore a vest and a pair of jeans I never took off. I was in my hippie stage,” Webb says.
Campbell was fiddling with a guitar and amp, apparently paying no attention whatsoever to his visitor. “Finally, I said, ‘Mr. Campbell, I’m Jimmy Webb.’ He looked up at me and said, ‘When are you gonna get a haircut?’ ”
Now Webb laughs at the meeting. “He was a straight shooter, clean-cut,” he says. “I was a stoner. I was the mad professor, and he was the cowboy.”
From that unlikely mixture, however, came a fruitful collaboration and a deep friendship. Campbell ended up recording over 100 Webb compositions, including acclaimed versions of “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” The rapport that blossomed between the two men arose from similarities that overcame any differences, according to Webb. He points out that he was born in Oklahoma, while Campbell was a native of Arkansas.
“We came from dead identical backgrounds, very poor in adjoining states, and from a fecund mix of church music, country, and a lot of family singing. We brought that common origin story. I’ve been accused of writing melodies that are rangy. My songs modulate; they start in one key and end in another. Glen had the ability to sing what I wrote, and not everybody can. It’s past time to go back and look at Glen’s contribution’s to music, which have been sadly overlooked. 50 years of friendship and partnership. There was a lot of love on both sides that resulted in unsurpassable pop music. Glen and I touched the sky a couple of times.”