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A spinner of tales ; Singer Jimmy Webb brings his magic to Tralf on Saturday

Around 5 a.m. one morning in March 1974, singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb was awakened at his home outside Los Angeles by someone pounding on the front door.

The visitor was Webb's wild-eyed drinking buddy, the late Harry Nilsson, and the groggy Webb spotted a limousine in the driveway.

"John Lennon is in the limo You have to come with us!" Nilsson said. "We're going to a lawyer's office, and you have to give a sworn statement that you've been with us all night, and that you never saw John punch a photographer."

Webb went back inside, put on some clothes and hopped into the limo with Lennon and Nilsson.

"In those days, there was a code. If a Beatle asked you to do something, you forgot all about your flag and your religion, and you went along with it," Webb recalled. "I went to that lawyer's office and I perjured the heck out of myself."

It was one of many adventures Webb has had in a fascinating musical career that now spans 45 years. As one of the most successful American songwriters of the 20th century, Webb got to know or work with an amazing array of music stars -- Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, all four Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Art Garfunkel and James Taylor, to name just a few.

His hits include "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Galveston," "MacArthur Park," "Didn't We," "All I Know," "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," "Highwayman" and "Up, Up & Away" -- again, just to name a few.

He'll make his first Buffalo appearance ever Saturday night at the Tralf, singing, playing piano and telling a few stories.

Webb has plenty to talk about. At 63, he knows every intricacy of the popular music world and has amazing stories to tell.

He grew up in Oklahoma as the son of a Baptist minister who wouldn't allow his son to play Elvis songs in the house, but he ventured into the music world as a teenager in the mid-1960s, landing a job at Motown Records' California division.

After that, he wrote and arranged songs for rocker Johnny Rivers. Webb played piano in Rivers' band at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, one of the most successful rock events of all time.

"I had very long hair and was wearing a vest made of fur from a yak, and frankly, the yak fur had not exactly cured yet," Webb recalled with a laugh during a telephone interview. "People could smell me coming with that vest on."

His singing career has not been as successful as his songwriting, but his albums usually get great reviews, and he has a devoted following. Sitting at a piano, without a band, he is a powerful interpreter of his own songs.

Webb gets great joy out of hearing new versions of his work.

"A couple of years ago, James Taylor, one of my all-time favorites, recorded 'Wichita Lineman,' and I loved it," Webb said. "I got to play with James at Carnegie Hall. There I was, playing piano, with James doing my song. It was such a wonderful moment, I actually was thinking to myself, 'Am I back on drugs again?' "



WHAT: Singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday (doors open at 7)

WHERE: Tralf Music Hall, 622 Main St.

TICKETS: $25 presale through Ticketmaster; $28 day of show

INFO: 852-2860

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