Santa Maria Times Features "The Doctor Of Country Music"

Forget everything you know — or think you know — about country musicians. James Robert Webb breaks virtually all those stereotypes.

A songwriter, guitarist and singer, Webb flew out to California from his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week to join a Saturday night concert at Solvang Festival Theater to raise money to rebuild Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp and Outdoor School.

 

 Country singer, James Robert Webb is performing Saturday in Solvang to raise money to restore Rancho Alegre, A Boy Scout camp destroyed in the Whittier fire.  Photo by Len Wood, staff.

Country singer, James Robert Webb is performing Saturday in Solvang to raise money to restore Rancho Alegre, A Boy Scout camp destroyed in the Whittier fire.  Photo by Len Wood, staff.

An estimated 90 percent of the camp, which serves youths across the Central Coast and is located off Highway 154 near Cachuma Lake, was destroyed when the Whittier fire roared through on July 8, leaving only the swimming pool and three buildings standing and killing all the animals in the Nature Center.

Webb will perform solo with his acoustic guitar as part of a country star lineup that includes Dylan Ortega, Eric Chesser and Jamie Lee Thurston at 5:30 p.m. in the open-air Theater.

One of the newest arrivals on the Nashville scene, Webb doesn’t fit the standard mold many country singer-songwriters are cast from. Writing and performing country music is not his “day job.”

But what he does for a living figures into why he would fly to California to perform a benefit concert for a Boy Scout camp that it’s likely no one in Oklahoma ever heard of.

“Part of it is the country station KRAZ,” Webb said Thursday, after giving an impromptu performance of his song "American Beauty" at the Santa Ynez Valley News office. “I got a call from Shawn Knight telling me they were having this concert and asking if I’d like to play. I said sure.

“They play a lot of my music at KRAZ, and I have some fans out here,” he added. “It was an honor to be asked by them.

“Another part of it is my connection to the Scouts from when I was a kid,” he continued. “Going camping, being in the outdoors. A lot of kids don’t get the chance to do that.

“And part of it stems from being a doctor, being altruistic. … It’s always good for me to help my neighbors when I see the devastation from things like that.”

That’s right, Webb is a medical doctor who spends at least part of every week helping people with back pain, primarily those suffering from osteoporosis.

He’s been researching the causes — it’s not just a disease of old age — and ways to treat it. He recently co-authored a paper about the disease that’s now being peer reviewed for possible publication.

“I think people are lucky to find a calling in life,” he said. “For me to find two, I’m doubly lucky.”

So how did he end up writing, performing and recording country music?

“Music is what always made me tick,” he said. “It kept me sane. I’ve played since I was a little kid.”

In fact, he was named the all-state jazz piano player when he was in high school, and the free-flowing jazz style has influenced his songwriting, along with “outlaw” country artists and a diversity of others.

His influences range from Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills and Asleep at the Wheel to Garth Brooks, the Eagles, Jim Croce, Maynard Ferguson and even early 1960s doo-wop.
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“I still gravitate to the old melodies, the classic melodies, by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, stuff from the American Songbook,” he said.

But he’s also drawn by the lyrics.

“Usually just songs about people — country, especially, because it’s just about regular people,” he said. “It’s about things we can relate to.

“I think the best songs, to me, have lyrics open to interpretation,” he added. “Like ‘Every Breath You Take” by the Police. I’ve heard some people say it’s about a jealous lover … some say it’s about government spying. ‘Hotel California’ might be the quintessential song open to interpretation.”

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Webb practices songwriting and performing in much the same way he practices medicine.

“Most of the time, I’m a physician,” he said. “But if I can write a song that touches people, that’s part of that altruism. Songwriting can ease people’s suffering."

Two songs from Webb’s 2016 debut album “Pictures” reached the top 40 on country charts, and he just released his second album, “Honky Tonk Revival,” on Bison Creek Records.

When he takes the stage Saturday night, he’ll be playing some of the songs from those releases, including “American Beauty,” which was inspired by his father’s military service, and “Not Always Next Year,” about a father passing his hard-earned wisdom on to his son.

Webb believes that wisdom is understanding that it’s not what you’ve done when you look back at the end of your life, but what you haven’t done.

“At the end of the day, it’s about being true to who you are,” he said.