Glen Campbell was perhaps best known for his 1975 hit, “Rhinestone Cowboy”. Originally penned by Larry Weiss, Campbell took the song to the very top of both the Billboard Country and Hot 100 Charts. That feat alone makes him a notable star in Country and Pop Music.
But despite “Rhinestone Cowboy” and a slew of other hits Campbell was behind as a singer (including “Southern Nights”,” Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “It’s only Make Believe”, “Country Boy”, “Honey Come Back”, “Try A Little Kindness”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Dream Baby”, “True Grit”, “I Wanna Live”, “The Last Time I Saw Her” and on and on…), Campbell’s career and contributions to music weave a story much richer than the one Billboard alone tells.
Glen Travis Campbell was born in Arkansas in 1936, the 7th of 12 children. At 14, he was already playing gigs with his uncle, and honing what would become legendary guitar chops. By 1962, he found himself in Los Angeles having secured a spot in the famed Wrecking Crew. There he played alongside session giants like Carole Kaye, Hal Blaine, Leon Russell and many more. Campbell and the Wrecking Crew would be featured on “Surfer Girl” (The Beach Boys), “Surf City” (Jan and Dean), “Everybody Loves Somebody” (Dean Martin), “Mr. Tambourine Man” (The Byrds), “California Dreamin” (The Mamas and The Poppas). When Brian Wilson quit going on the road with the Beach Boys, it was Campbell who took his place, playing bass and singing harmonies. He then went into the studio where he played on Wilson’s pop masterpiece, Pet Sounds.
Campbell crossed over into film and television as well, launching from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, to hosting his own show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and even co-starring with John Wayne in 1969’s True Grit.
Though his career was prolific, his personal life was not without its challenges. Campbell battled with alcohol and cocaine addiction in the early 80’s, went through four marriages, and faced criticism over his relationship with country singer Tanya Tucker, who was 22 years his junior. In 2003, Campbell plead guilty to drunk-driving charges and leaving the scene of an accident, and spent 10 days in jail.
In 2011, a 75 year old Campbell disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. That led to the announcement of his retirement from music and public life, but not before one final tour. Campbell played 151 shows, with three of his children featured in his backing band. He played his final show on November 30th, 2012. Campbell then entered the studio to record what would be his final album, Adios. This requiem of sorts contained mostly covers by the likes of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, long time collaborator Jimmy Webb, and others.
He finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s on August 8th 2017.
For all his accomplishments and accolades, Glen Campbell will be remembered here as a singular axe-man. His playing was inspired and inspiring. You can watch one of my favourite of his performances of the Jimmy Webb penned “Galveston” below: