Remembering Glen Campbell
In my twenty-six year career in the business, one artist that I never had the pleasure of meeting was Glen Campbell. He achieved his last major hit on the Country airplay chart in the fall months of 1989, two years before I began my career in radio. So, there wasn’t a lot of promotional rounds for Campbell to make as a Country artist. Then, by the time that I began to write for a living in 2011, his health had taken a turn with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, so the chances of a meeting or an interview were pretty slim.
That being said, I got to experience the music of Glen Campbell in a backwards kind of manner. As I was born in 1974, one of my first musical memories was as a three or four year old, riding in the backseat of my parents’ car on a trip to Florida. One song that you couldn’t run away from by Campbell was the 1977 blockbuster hit “Southern Nights.” It was everywhere, topping both the Country and the Pop charts. It had a melody and a groove that was unlike anything my young ears had ever heard. Those guitar riffs, which Campbell learned from Jerry Reed, definitely take me back to childhood whenever I hear them, even today.
Then, as a youngster who became enamored with radio in the early to mid 1980s, I recall Bob Kingsley on American Country Countdown playing the singer’s new releases when they made the Top 40. The two most notable hits from that era were “A Lady Like You” and “Faithless Love,” which were also two of my favorites from that era. Then, in the late 1980s, he recorded a pair of albums for MCA Nashville, teaming with Jimmy Bowen for the excellent top ten hit “Still Within The Sound Of My Voice.” It was only as I became older that I truly appreciated the scope of Glen Campbell’s talents.
When I was seventeen, I recall using my weekly allowance to purchase one of his Greatest Hits cassettes which featured many of the hits that helped him establish a legend on Capitol Records – “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Honey, Come Back,” among them. You only had to hear them one time to know what a special era of time that was in his career. Then, someone gave me a VHS collection of some of the best episodes of his Glen Campbell’s Goodtime Hour, which ran on CBS from 1969 through 1972. When you watch these episodes, or any clips from that era, you begin to understand the magnitude of just what a trend-setting talent Glen Campbell truly was. Simply put – he was a bad ass. He could sing and play like anyone’s business, and he was Mr. American Idol, long before the hit TV series. Glen Campbell was the man that every young woman wanted during that time period, and the man that every parent wanted for their daughter. He made it look so easy, and always made it sound so good.
As a player, the man had few peers. He played on sessions by such artists as The Beach Boys (even touring with the band for a period) and Frank Sinatra. Among his musical contributions you may recall hearing was many of the licks on Merle Haggard’s early works, and remember that distorted guitar at the end of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” from Kenny Rogers and the First Edition? That was none other than Glen Campbell.
Of course, there was much more to Glen Campbell than his singing and guitar work. With his matinee idol looks, he became a natural for Hollywood, starring in the film Norwood, as well as a well-received role opposite John Wayne in the 1969 box office triumph True Grit. He was an “A-List” star long before there was such a term. His CBS series helped him to establish a celebrity unlike few others of the era. At one point, Glen Campbell was outselling The Beatles – quite the distinction for a young man from Delight, Arkansas.
Glen Campbell was also a man who recognized his shortcomings. He fought his battles, sometimes in the public eye. But, with the help of his wife Kim, the singer conquered his demons and lived the final few years before his diagnosis with peaceful tranquility.
Of course, any discussion of Glen Campbell’s life would not be complete without the last chapter – one marked with a valiant battle against the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. One could have simply faded into obscurity, and lived out his final days in private, but Glen Campbell perhaps made his biggest statement in life during the fourth quarter. His willingness to become a public face for such a devastating disease brought attention to the same brutal fight that millions of Americans (and their families) have endured, and continue to go through to this day. The Campbell family was very up-front and open about the struggles they faced, with Kim and daughter Ashley becoming point persons for the singer in his final days. And, they did it with a grace, which is to be applauded. Though any loss of life is a tragedy of itself, there has to be some semblance of relief that their suffering, and his suffering, is over.
Glen Campbell, though I never met you, thank you for your inspiration. You came from the middle of nowhere to establish a career that had few peers, and in facing your final battle with the finesse of a fighter, you showed us all how to live. Rest in peace, sir. Rest in peace.