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The Wrecking Crew Dude Who Became the Rhinestone Cowboy

“I’m really mad at Glen Campbell because he’s the most talented human being in the world.”
-Merle Haggard

 “I wish I could have been in the control room at Capitol Studio A listening to the playback of “Wichita Lineman” the first time it came into the atmosphere. It must have been a perfect moment in time.”
-Marty Stuart

​“Glen Campbell showed me what country music was.”
-Keith Urban

“I love Glen Campbell. He never gets a mention.”
-Brian Setzer (Stray Cats Guitarist, Singer)

“Just everything that I’m trying to be with music, and now, television, Glen Campbell was the inventor of that.”
-Blake Shelton

“Had Glen Campbell “only” played guitar and never voiced a note, he would have spent a lifetime as one of America’s most consequential recording musicians. Had he never played guitar and “only” sung, his voice would rank with American music’s most riveting, expressive, and enduring. He left indelible marks as a musician, a singer, and an entertainer, and he bravely shared his incalculable talent with adoring audiences even as he fought a cruel and dreaded disease. To all of us who heard and loved his soulful music, he was a delight.”
-Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO

 “The greatest musician I’ve ever heard” 
-Jimmy Webb (Composer, singer)

Seventh Son

The seventh son in a sharecropper’s family of twelve children, Campbell was born into hard times. Glen  Travis Campbell was born on April 22, 1936, in Billstown, a tiny community near Delight in Pike County, Arkansas, to John Wesley (a sharecropper) and Carrie Dell (Stone) Campbell. The family lived on a farm, where they barely managed, by growing cotton, corn, watermelons, and potatoes. “We had no electricity,” he said, and money was scarce. To supplement income the family picked cotton for other farmers. “I picked cotton for $1.25 a hundred pounds,” said Campbell. “If you worked your tail off, you could pick 80 or 90 pounds a day.”

Guitar Man

From an early age he set himself apart with his proficiency on guitar, and by the time he was a teenager he was playing in his uncle’s western swing band. Oh yea, he was self-taught. He couldn’t afford lessons. 

By his early twenties, Campbell had moved to the West Coast. From October 1960 to May 1961 he toured as lead guitarist for the Champs, two years after they hit with Tequila. His first pop hit came in 1961 with Turn Around, Look at Me on Crest Records. In 1962 he played guitar and sang on Kentucky Means Paradise, a single by the Green River Boys. It was the first of Campbell’s efforts to hit the country charts, though he remained largely unknown to the public. The group released only one album, Big Bluegrass Special.

 The Wrecking Crew Wreaks Havoc

Between 1962 and 1967 Campbell was in much more demand as a session guitarist and vocalist than as an artist. He was part of the legendary LA session players, the “Wrecking Crew”, which featured such luminaries as bassist Carol Caye, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, and some dude named Leon Russell. During the 1960’s he worked with the Beach Boys, Bobby Darin, Merle Haggard, the Mamas & the Papas, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, and Frank Sinatra, among countless others. In 1964 he toured briefly with the Beach Boys as Brian Wilson’s replacement. During these years Campbell also poured his instrumental prowess into his own records, cutting several guitar-dominated albums, including two with dobro specialist Tut Taylor and the Dillards in an ensemble billed as the Folkswingers.

Campbell’s breakthrough came with John Hartford’s modern hobo song Gentle on My Mind in 1967. Despite only reaching number #30 on the country charts, the tune struck a chord.

The Beginning of The Jimmy Webb Years

Campbell scored his first country Top Five in 1967 with the Jimmy Webb-penned tune, By the Time I Get to Phoenix. In 1968 he also collaborated with Webb and gained his first Top Five pop hit with the ethereal Wichita Lineman. Between 1967 and 1980 Campbell effortlessly straddled country and pop, racking up thirty Top Twenty country hits and nineteen Top Forty pop records, including the crossover smashes Galveston, Country Boy, Southern Nights, and his signature song,  Rhinestone Cowboy.

A Talent like Few Others

Now, there are numerous discographies of Glen’s so I won’t go down his list of albums and songs because that would require a big fat book, not a mere blog. So here are a few of the highlights. Campbell was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2011 Campbell announced a farewell tour following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. His final performance was in November 2012, in Napa, California. A 2014 documentary, I’ll Be Me, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song; a soundtrack from the film, produced by Julian Raymond, won a Grammy. The film was widely praised for how frankly it dealt with the disease and how it affected Campbell, his family, and friends. In April 2017, Campbell released an album, Adios, recorded during his final sessions in 2012 and 2013. Campbell died on August 8, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee. Them’s the cold, cruel facts about a man who didn’t whine or curse his fate. Like the great golfer Bobby Jones decades earlier, he played the hand life dealt him.

Brian’s Stand In

He was truly an indispensable character on the LA scene and was so gifted that when Brian Wilson took a sabbatical from the Beach Boys in 1964, he became a touring member of the group and played bass, adding his vocal skills to the mix to the extent that many didn’t even realize Wilson was AWOL! He also played lead guitar on the Pet Sounds sessions. Think about that.  He played lead guitar on one of the greatest albums of all-time. Yep, but not a mention. 

Don’t Forget This Gem

The Live at The Royal Festival Hall double is well worth tracking down as it contains a peachy Beach Boys medley, an entire side of Webb (with Jimmy conducting The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), and an all-star band on hand to create one of the most classic yet overlooked live artifacts of the era.

No Glen Campbell
No Blake Shelton
No Vince Gill, another worldly multi-talent singer and instrumentalist
No Jimmy Webb, songwriter from the Heavens
No Country & Pop crossover marriage 
No fab Sammy Davis tribute for Glen and Jimmy’s Wichita Lineman
No autobiographical Pop & Country Mega Hit Rhinestone Cowboy
No By the Time I Get to Phoenix which Frank Sinatra called the “greatest torch song ever written”
No 18 minute 40 second version of the song by the sublime Issac Hayes on his epoch shattering LP Hot Buttered Soul

​His Was a Wide-Open World

We’ll close our take on Glen with this remembrance from his longtime friend and musical partner,  Jimmy Webb.

” Let the world note that a great American influence on pop music, the American Beatle, the secret link between so many artists and records that we can only marvel, has passed and cannot be replaced. He was bountiful.  His was a world of gifts freely exchanged: from Roger Miller stories, to songs from the best writers, to an old Merle Haggard record. My friend, my brother in music, Glen Campbell has passed. 

He gave me a great wide lens through which to look at music. The cult of The Players? He was at the very center. He loved the Beach Boys and in subtle ways helped mold their sound. He loved Don and Phil, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, Flatt and Scruggs. This was the one great lesson that I learned from him as a kid: Musically speaking– nothing is out of bounds.”
-Jimmy Webb

​Do yourself a huge favor, check out the documentary I’ll Be Me. It’s about the incredible Glen Campbell, however, it’s also one of the best pieces ever on Alzheimers.