Glen Campbell BiographyGlen Campbell is the undisputed master of pop-country, one of the finest song interpreters of the past 60-odd years, not to mention a skilled guitarist and superb entertainer. Though he is a core country artist, Campbell's music is too expansive to be limited to one genre. A talented guitarist, smooth-edged vocalist and classy entertainer, he has run the gamut from bluegrass to contemporary country, with excursions into session work (Frank Sinatra, the Crickets and Merle Haggard) and stints with both the Champs and the Beach Boys. He has also hosted his own weekly television show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and co-starred alongside John Wayne in the movie True Grit, but it has been his versions of Jimmy Webb songs By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston that made Glen Campbell a household name around the world.
He would seamlessly mix country tunes, pop classics, folk songs, teen songs and Tin Pan Alley songs utilising similar arrangements for each and every one of them. Some might well term it homogenised music for the masses, but it worked. He was pop-country crossover before the term had been coined, and in his own inimitable fashion, he introduced millions around the world to country music. It might not have been the country music secretly guarded like the Holy Grail by the traditionalists, but to the world at large it was country, and for many, it was the door to the real country music by the likes of Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Tennessee Ernie and Gene Autry, all singers that he not only idolised, but talked about in glowing terms when the opportunity arose.
The seventh son of a seventh son, Glen Campbell was born in Delight, Arkansas, on April 22, 1936. A budding guitarist at the age of six, he joined his uncle Dick Bill's western swing band in his early teens, later forming his own outfit, the Western Wranglers, in New Mexico, where he met and married Billie Nunley. Armed with his 12-string, he moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and joined the Champs, a popular instrumental combo that enjoyed success with Tequila. He soon became an in-demand session player, working in the studio on Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin recordings. Signed to the small Crest label, he enjoyed pop chart success with Turn Around, Look At Me in 1961. That led to a contract with Capitol Records, and though he enjoyed some success with Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry in 1962, his repertoire was all over the musical map. He released BIG BLUEGRASS SPECIAL by the Green River Boys Featuring Glen Campbell, then came a pair of guitar albums with the Dillards and Tut Taylor, released as the Folkswingers, followed by two more instrumental albums under his own name. He worked with surf band the Hondells in 1964, then became involved with the Beach Boys, depping for Brian Wilson on the road between 1965-67 and also playing on several of their hits including Help Me Rhonda.
His own solo career gained momentum when he took John Hartford's folk-country Gentle On My Mind into the pop and country charts in 1967. It garnered him a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording. The floodgates were opened with Jimmy Webb's By The Time I Get To Phoenix, an orchestrated pop-country ballad. Though country purists refused to embrace Campbell's smooth style, he cleaned up with such hits as I Wanna Live, Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife, Wichita Lineman, Try A Little Kindness, Honey Come Back and dozens more. In reality, the string-heavy arrangements were not too dis-similar to 'country' recordings of the time by Eddy Arnold, Ray Price and those of a few years earlier by Jim Reeves.
Duets were popular with country singers in the 1960s and 1970s and Glen Campbell took his turn alongside the rest, teaming up with label-mates Bobbie Gentry in 1968 (Less Of Me, Let It Be Me, All I Have To Do Is Dream), and Anne Murray in 1970 (I Say A Little Prayer/By the Time I Get To Phoenix). The hits continued throughout the 1970s, though he faltered a little between 1971-74, making a big comeback with 1975's Rhinestone Cowboy. Back on a roll, Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In LA), Southern Nights, and Don't Pull Your Love/Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye kept the momentum going. After a 20-year association, Glen left Capitol Records in 1981 and signed with Atlantic Records. At the time, his personal life was in shambles. He was involved in a volatile relationship with singer Tanya Tucker and had changed from a clean-living God-fearing Christian into a booze-and-drugs living hellraiser. It was to be a short-lived affair, and after public expose across the tabloids, he split from Tucker and set about repairing his tarnished reputation and rebuilding his career. 1982's OLD HOME TOWN, a West Coast production by Jerry Fuller featured Campbell's then road band, Caldonia, while LETTER TO HOME two years later was an unflawed display of Campbell's skill at playing the same old cards of pop-country and brushing them up anew. It marked a return to the country charts with Faithless Love and It's Just A Matter Of Time. Further success came with Still Within The Sound Of My Voice, I Have You and She's Gone, Gone, Gone as he moved through the MCA and Universal labels before returning to Capitol in 1990. Though he was no longer a chart regular, he still picked up the awards and toured successfully. In 1986 he won a Dove Award for Best Album by a Secular Artist for NO MORE NIGHT, and in 1992 his single, Where Shadows Never Fall won out as Southern Gospel Recorded Song Of The Year. By this time he was involved in a stable fourth marriage and in 1994 wrote his autobiography, which proved to be a warts-and-all expose of his indiscretions.
Glen Campbell survived the harsh reality of a celebrity lifestyle and continued to make special appearances before sold-out crowds across America. His eldest daughter, Debby, joined his stage show in 1987 and has toured with him ever since. In 2005 Glen was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, though by that time he had decided to retire from recording and touring preferring to spend time with his children and grandchildren. He has been married to the former Kimberly Woollen for more than 20 years. He has raised three children with Kim: sons Cal and Shannon, and daughter Ashley. Glen has five other adult children from three prior marriages. He's a grandfather and great-grandfather, too. "There are a lot of things I wouldn't have done, but to change one thing would change everything I have now," he said at the time. "I like where I am. I'm content and happy with my children, grandchildren and wife. Life is very good."
It was his children that helped to change Campbell's mindset. His sons and daughters, who regularly performed with their father, persuaded him to record a new album of contemporary songs. 2008's MEET GLEN CAMPBELL featured mainly contemporary classics by the likes of Travis (Sing), the Replacements (Sadly Beautiful), U2 (All I Want Is You) and Foo Fighters (Time Like These). The album rejuvenated his career, but during his concerts he would often stumble over his introductions. Following the release of GHOST ON THE CANVAS in 2011 the singer announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He had been suffering from short-term memory loss for years. He embarked on a final Goodbye Tour, with three of his children joining him in his backup band including shows across the UK. His last show was on November 30, 2012 in Napa, California.
In his commercial heyday Glen Campbell looked more like the clean, wholesome kind of man you'd see conquering the desert with a Marlborough in his shirt pocket than a rough-hewn country singer. His enormous success as a pop-crossover artist paved the way for hit makers such as Crystal Gayle, Eddie Rabbitt, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton to break genre barriers. He will also be remembered as one of the best guitarists of his generation. His musicianship has inspired many of today's most renowned pickers, including Keith Urban and Steve Wariner, and lives on in the tracks of this Definitive Collection that covers his initial period with Capitol from 1961's Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry through to 1981's duet with Tanya Tucker of Why Don't We Just Sleep On It Tonight. It stands as a most impressive career retrospective, a celebration of a long, glorious life of music making, but more than that it's full songs that have inspired and shaped the lives of many. Throughout, Glen Campbell's endearing vocal performances are as warm and comfortable as wrapping yourself in a favourite blanket.
Glen has the final word: "I'm a musician! A guitar player and a singer. And I love playing. That's the fun of it!" Alan Cackett (editor of Maverick)