Jimmy Webb has given us a lot of great songs in the 20th Century, and at 75 years of age, he continues to stay active in the music business. Thanks to Webb we have added some great songs to the modern-day American songbook including; Up, Up And Away, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, and MacArthur Park. Webb’s lyrics might be corny and cheesy at times, but his music composition more often than not is breathtaking. Webb scored a few television themes, but all the shows were short lived. Those shows were the television adaption of the 1950’s musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (and Webb also scored the music and songs for the series as well) which ran for a full single season from 1982-83, the 1984 sitcom titled E/R (which was based on successful play out of Chicago's Organic Theater Company), and the 1986 animated fantasy series from Hanna-Barbera, Wildfire.
So not everything Webb did turned to gold, but still, he has a successful career. One song that he composed in the 1970’s is lesser known, but is popular among music fans. That song is called Highwayman. The first version of the song was recorded by Webb himself and released on his 1977 album El Mirage. Webb then brought the song to Glen Campbell who scored hits with three of Webb’s songs (Phoenix, Lineman, Galveston) and he recorded his own version of the song. Campbell then brought the attention of the song to Johnny Cash who at the time was assembling a Country music supergroup consisting of himself, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. However, Cash was not convinced to cover Highwayman. It was not until Marty Stuart nudged Cash into having his supergroup cover it. The supergroup did cover Highwayman, and named their supergroup after the song. The Highwaymen’s version would become the most popular version of this Webb classic as well is their signature song; becoming a smash on Country radio in 1985 (#1 on Billboard’s old Country Singles chart, and #4 on the Radio & Records Country chart). The is about four different men. Other than the Highwayman, the other men are a Sailor, a Dam Builder, and a Astronaut. In Webb’s version they are all the same person who is being reincarnated into the later three occupations. The Highwayman’s version has Nelson as the title occupation, Kristofferson riding the seas, Jennings taking on the role of building the damn, the "Man In Black" donning a big old white suit heading for outer space, “across the universe divide.”
A woke version of Highwayman came out in 2019 called Highwomen performed by the name sake group. New lyrics were written by members Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires with their protagonists singing about an illegal immigrant, a freedom rider, and a minster who was a woman just to name three of the four. My Facebook friend Steven Olivo who came across this, decided to write his own lyrics to Webb’s music in which he calls…
The Eternal Hero
You might not know me,
But long ago I was a knight
Armed with sword and shield bright
I fought the foes of both my country and my God
I laid them low beneath my Master’s iron rod
They say that men like me are all long dead and gone
But I still live on.
I was a pilot,
I flew the Spitfire for my king,
Made the Merlin engine sing,
I led a section out to drive the Nazis back,
One slipped behind me and I heard his cannon crack,
And when my plane crashed, well they say that I was killed,
But I am living still.
I was a spy,
Within the shadows I did roam,
To bring key information home,
My luck ran out, the KGB caught up to me one night,
They marched me to a place that never sees the light,
Like hundreds more they simply made me disappear,
But I know I’m still here.
I was a fireman,
Day and night I fought the flame
No two alarms were quite the same.
Then that September day the message hit the wire
The towers both were hit, the city was on fire,
And when the floor collapsed, that was the end of me
But I still will be.
I am the hero
I rise again in every age,
Although the names and faces change,
I’ll always be there to protect and help and save,
I rise again though evil sends me to the grave,
And though at times I rest until I know not when,
I know I’ll rise again, and again, and again…
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