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Glen Campbell

A studio stalwart who juggled high profile session work before his sporadic solo career finally bore fruit, American legend GLEN CAMPBELL straddled the often opposing spheres of pop, easy-listening and country music with an unrivalled finesse and homey Southern charm. Definitive interpretations from writers such as JIMMY WEBB (most notably with `Wichita Lineman’, `By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ and `Galveston’), turned CAMPBELL into a late 60s/early 70s superstar with the obligatory TV chat show to match.
As country superstars go, GLEN CAMPBELL didn’t have the animal magnetism of ELVIS, the musical gravitas of JOHNNY CASH, nor the growling lyricism of KRISTOFFERSON, but despite being Mr Nice Guy, he did, however, have huge hits in his expansive career. He was hand-picked by John Wayne for his role in True Grit, a gig which earned him a Golden Globe nomination as well as an Academy Award for his theme song.
Born April 22, 1936, Delight, Arkansas, the young Glen grew up in a musical family in the nearby Billstown community, already honing his guitar skills at the tender age of four, graduating to local country outfits by his early teens and serving an apprenticeship under his uncle, Dick Bills. Having also honed his vocal talent by singing in the local church, it was only a matter of time before the ambitious CAMPBELL fronted his own outfit, The Western Wranglers.
Like many of his Southern contemporaries, he subsequently moved up to the promised land of Los Angeles at the turn of the decade and carved out a career as a highly esteemed session musician, backing the likes of BOBBY DARIN, RICKY NELSON and JOHNNY CASH. CAMPBELL was nothing if not versatile; as well as releasing a 1961 debut single, `Turn Around, Look At Me’ on the tiny Crest label (followed into the Hot 100 a year later by his first for Capitol: `Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry’), and playing on records by ELVIS PRESLEY and DEAN MARTIN, the guitarist was drafted in to help create PHIL SPECTOR’s legendary “Wall Of Sound”.
The year was 1963 and alongside the cream of L.A.’s session players (LEON RUSSELL, Larry Knechtel, Hal Blaine, etc.), CAMPBELL gave his two-penn’orth worth to The RONETTES’ classic trio of cacophonous pop overload, “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “And Then He Kissed Me” and “Be My Baby”. Having already backed BRIAN WILSON’s surf-girl project The Honeys (alongside fellow “Wrecking Crew” sessioneers, Blaine and Steve Douglas), CAMPBELL became a temporary touring member of The BEACH BOYS in 1965, following Brian’s withdrawal from live work. The same year, he had the biggest solo hit of his career to date with a cover of BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE’s `Universal Soldier’.
Declining an offer to join The BEACH BOYS full-time, CAMPBELL increasingly concentrated on his solo career, while still funding himself with session work, notably The MAMAS & THE PAPAS’ debut set, “If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears” (1966), from which sprang flower-power anthems, `California Dreamin’’ and `Monday, Monday’. During 1967, Capitol’s investment (they’d furnished him with a new long-term contract) finally paid off as the `Burning Bridges’ single made the Country Top 20, closely followed by his corny, easy-rocking cover of JOHN HARTFORD’s `Gentle On My Mind’. The latter marked CAMPBELL’s breakthrough, out of the country chart ghetto and into the mainstream charts (as with Top 5 LP GENTLE ON MY MIND (1967) {*6}) where he was to be regular fixture for the remainder of the decade.
This was partly due to a pairing with up and coming songwriter JIMMY WEBB, whose peerless `By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ (from his Grammy-nominated Top 20 {*6} set of the same name) was given a definitive reading by the singer in 1967. The combination of CAMPBELL’s rich cod-sentimental vocals and WEBB’s lavish, swooning strings proved irresistible and the track narrowly missed the Top 20. This formula was repeated on the following year’s `Wichita Lineman’, a Top 3, and again in 1969 with (Top 5) `Galveston’, the latter upping the cheese factor to glorious levels. All classic stuff although the same couldn’t be said for dross like `Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife’, another big hitter in ‘68.
A collaboration set with BOBBIE GENTRY also drew in further listeners, while spawned 45s `Mornin’ Glory’ and `Let It Be Me’ returned value for money from their sponsors; Glen’s GALVESTON (1969) {*6} set nearly completed a hat-trick of solo chart-toppers after the success of WICHITA LINEMAN (1968) {*6} and the festive THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING (1968) {*4}.
CAMPBELL cemented his MOR superstar status with his own TV variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, kicking off in ‘69 and running through till ‘72. After initially appearing in music biz satire, The Cool Ones, an inevitable shot at real acting came with a starring role opposite John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s aforementioned western masterpiece, True Grit (1969); CAMPBELL providing the Top 40 title track theme tune. This was followed with a lead role as a Vietnam vet with wanderlust in NORWOOD (1970) {*4}, with the man himself credited for most of the soundtrack album.
Slight in comparison to his plethora of peers, and while it tapped into CAMPBELL’s country pop sensibility, the singer never really pushed it anywhere particularly interesting. To be fair, he was up against it from the start, having to contribute anything with an ounce of gravitas to the soundtrack of a rom-com that was never really going to be that rewarding a job. Of the 14 numbers here, 6 were written in collaboration with Texan MAC DAVIS (the writer of “In The Ghetto” for ELVIS), who had an ear for a pop crossover, something that `Norwood (Me And My Guitar)’ and `I’ll Paint You A Song’ illustrated in timely fashion. The problem was, however, nothing here fully grabbed the attention in a way a truly great CAMPBELL (or DAVIS) composition could. This album of sweet country pop – including hit `Everything A Man Could Ever Need’ – lacked a killer touch to lift it out of the realms of the mediocre.
Once his light-entertainment show was taken off air, CAMPBELL’s career began to slide (critically at least), taking a brief upturn in 1975 when he fuelled countless rodeo fantasies and topped the charts with the kitsch glory of `Rhinestone Cowboy’ (penned by Larry Weiss); the RHINESTONE COWBOY {*6} album was his first Top 20 success in years.
In typical style, he then proceeded to massacre ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Southern Night’ (from the album SOUTHERN NIGHTS {*5}), removing all trace of the original’s smoky subtlety with glad-handed clumsiness. It topped the charts (in 1977) nevertheless, representing CAMPBELL’s last stand as a major league star.
An ongoing battle with drugs and alcohol eventually saw him become a reborn Christian in the 80s and, while he still occasionally hit the country chart, he devoted a lot of his time to gospel music. Although his star had faded by the time he popped up in Clint Eastwood sequel, Any Which Way You Can (1980), CAMPBELL continued to make occasional screen appearances in dramas such as Family Prayers, and I Love Your Work – but that was much later.
Music-wise, the early 90s, meanwhile, saw CAMPBELL undertaking a heavy live schedule (with former NEIL YOUNG collaborator NICOLETTE LARSON amongst others), the ageing troubadour easing into semi-retirement as the decade wore on. Readers requiring further insight into the man’s varied career up to now should veer towards his 1994 autobiography, Rhinestone Cowboy. Subsequent Christmas CDs, a few live sets and a southern gospel record, LOVE IS THE ANSWER (2004) {*5} – featuring the TODD RUNDGREN title track – had little say in a modern market.
Unable to resist a pop comeback like so many ageing stars from bygone days, CAMPBELL found the time to return to the studio after years in the musical wilderness. Okay, he was never scheduled to have chart hits again, but Capitol Records ensured there was a bit of backing from producers Julian Raymond and Howard Willing to guarantee a younger audience for 2008’s MEET GLEN CAMPBELL {*7}. Registering good reviews for the covers set, there was the surprise element when his earnest choices railed against his C&W background; three of them from the likes of FOO FIGHTERS (`Times Like These’), GREEN DAY (`Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’) and The REPLACEMENTS (`Sadly, Beautiful’); the rest, incidentally, stemmed from TRAVIS (`Sing’), TOM PETTY (`Walls’ and `Angel Dream’), U2 (`All I Want Is You’), JACKSON BROWNE (`These Days’), The VELVET UNDERGROUND (`Jesus’) and JOHN LENNON (`Grow Old With Me’). It’s worth mentioning also that his star-studded backing players included guitarists Jason Falkner, Rick Nielsen, Todd Youth and Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.
Then, just as Glen was ready to embark on a “goodbye tour”, he announced that he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years earlier. Intended to be his swansong set, GHOST ON THE CANVAS (2011) {*7} was released to the public. Featuring songs written with Julian Raymond, or by Manning and PAUL WESTERBERG respectively, plus one each by either TEDDY THOMPSON (`In My Arms’), JAKOB DYLAN (`Nothing But The Whole Wide World’) and Robert Pollard (`Hold On Hope’), the transatlantic Top 30 record was regarded as one of his best ever and similar to the work of JOHNNY CASH when under Rick Rubin’s spell.
Not so modern or mystical and taking on his golden oldies once again, CAMPBELL paraded re-vamps of heyday hits from the past on the poignantly-titled SEE YOU THERE (2013) {*7} – his 62nd album. Sticking with producers Raymond and Willing, he scattered his own co-penned spirituals (`Waitin’ On The Comin’ Of My Lord’, `There’s No Me… Without You’ and `What I Wouldn’t Give’) along with his JIMMY WEBB faves, while there was room for a meaningful rendition of `True Grit’. A fitting end to a true star? Not quite, as the country icon reeled off yet another album release – the soundtrack portrait EP and LP to I’LL BE ME (2015) {*6}.
Glen would take his leave from his many fans and admirers on August 8, 2017, only a matter of a few months after his Top (UK Top 3!) set, ADIOS {*6}, a record featuring no less than four WEBB numbers.
© MC Strong 1999 GRD outtake/BG/MR-LCS // rev-up MCS Nov2013-Aug2017

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