I was so saddened to hear of Glen Campbell‘s passing today at the age of 81. He is right up there in my list of favourite musicians whose voice and songs could hit me like an emotional kick in the guts – but in the best of ways. He was one of those artists who some see a coiffed country cliche, in fact the “Rhinestone Cowboy”, but if you listen to his music and understand the influence and contribution of his life’s work to many other artists and hits, you begin to understand his importance in popular and country music.
He was one of 12 children born to a sharecropping Arkansas family. As a boy he was obsessed with the guitar playing of Jazz great Django Reinhardt and he became a stunning guitarist in his own right. He lent his talent to many hits as part of the Los Angeles based Wrecking Crew, the unsung heroes of hits for big stars such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Monkees, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and many of Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ productions. In 1963 alone, he appeared on 586 cuts and countless more throughout the decade, including The Byrd’s Mr Tambourine Man, Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas, and the Righteous Brother’s You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.
He was a touring member of the Beach Boys when Brian Wilson stopped touring in 1964, and in the late sixties, began winning Grammys and hosted his own TV show. His big hits, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, Where’s the Playground Susie and By the Time I get to Phoenix were all taking off around this late sixties period.
I can never decide whether Wichita Lineman or By the Time I Get to Phoenix is my favourite, I can never get through either without a tear in my eye. It’s writer Jimmy Webb’s words sure, but it’s Glenn’s soaring plaintive voice and his wondrous guitar solos that also add so much to the sadness and longing in both songs.
Burning Bridges by Debbie Campbell is a biography by his daughter, who toured with him for years, and is an account of not only the good times, but also the drugs and drinking and family struggles that seem to so often come with a musician’s fame and life on the road.
The documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me”, released in 2014, is well worth hunting out, following him on what was to be his last tour, as his his battle with Alzheimer’s began to affect his ability to play and perform. (late edit: Prime TV have announced they will screen this at 8:30pm on Thursday, 10 August).
His last song, “I’m not Going to Miss You”, won a Grammy this year for best country song.
Glen Campbell is survived by eight children and was married four times.