August 8, 2017 – Glen Travis Campbell was born on April 22, 1936 in Billstown, a tiny community near Delight in Pike County, Arkansas. He was the seventh son of 12 children. His father was a sharecropper of Scottish ancestry.
He received his first guitar when he was four years old. Learning the instrument from various relatives, especially Uncle Boo,, he played consistently throughout his childhood, eventually gravitating toward jazz players like Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. While he was learning guitar, he also sang in a local church, where he developed his vocal skills. By the time he was 14, he had begun performing with a number of country bands in the Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico area, including his uncle’s group, the Dick Bills Band. When he was 18, he formed his own country band, the Western Wranglers, and began touring the South with the group. Four years later in 1960, Campbell moved to Los Angeles, California, where he became a session musician.
In 1954, at age 18 Campbell moved to Albuquerque to join his uncle’s band known as Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys. He also appeared there on his uncle’s radio show and on K Circle B Time, the local children’s program on KOB television. In 1958, Campbell formed his own band, the Western Wranglers.
In October 1960 he joined The Champs. By January 1961, Campbell had found a daytime job at publishing company American Music, writing songs and recording demos. Because of these demos Campbell soon was in demand as a session musician and became part of a group of studio musicians later known as The Wrecking Crew. Campbell played on recordings by Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, Merle Haggard, Jan and Dean, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Phil Spector.
In May 1961, he left The Champs and was subsequently signed by Crest Records, a subsidiary of American Music. His first solo release, “Turn Around, Look at Me”, was a moderate success, peaking at number 62 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. Campbell also formed The Gee Cees with former bandmembers from The Champs, performing at The Crossbow Inn in Van Nuys. The Gee Cees, too, released a single on Crest, the instrumental “Buzz Saw”, which did not chart.
While he was tentatively pursuing a solo career, Campbell continued to play professionally, most notably for Elvis Presley and Dean Martin. Also in 1962, he played guitar and sang on “Kentucky Means Paradise,” a single by the one-off group the Green River Boys, who released an album, Big Bluegrass Special. “Kentucky Means Paradise” became a hit on the country charts, climbing to number 20. Instead of pursuing a full-fledged country career after the single’s release, Campbell returned to studio work, and over the next two years he played on sessions by Frank Sinatra (“Strangers in the Night”), Merle Haggard (“The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde”), the Monkees (“I’m a Believer”), the Association, and the Mamas & the Papas, among many others.
Following Brian Wilson’s breakdown and retirement from the road, Campbell became a touring member of the Beach Boys from December 1964 to early March 1965. At the end of his tenure as the group’s temporary bassist, the Beach Boys offered him a permanent spot in the band, but he turned them down when they wouldn’t allow him to have an equal cut of the group’s royalties.He later played guitar on the band’s Pet Sounds (1966) album, among other recordings. On tour, he played bass guitar and sang falsetto harmonies when a few months after rejecting their offer, the Beach Boys’ record label, Capitol, offered Campbell a full-fledged contract. His first release under his new long-term Capitol contract was a version of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s controversial ”The Universal Soldier,” which peaked at number 45. Asked about the pacifist message of the song, he elected to assert that “people who are advocating burning draft cards should be hung.”
For much of 1966, he continued to pursue studio work and joined Ricky Nelson on a tour through the Far East, again playing bass.
He released “Burning Bridges” toward the end of the year, and it climbed to number 18 on the country charts early in 1967.
From 1964 on, Campbell had also begun to appear on television as a regular on Star Route, a syndicated series hosted by Rod Cameron, ABC’s Shindig!, and Hollywood Jamboree.
During 1967, Capitol pushed Campbell as a country recording artist, and their breakthrough arrived in the late summer when his folky country-pop rendition of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” became a Top 40 hit on both the country and pop charts. By the end of the year, he had released a cover of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which reached number two on the country charts, and number 26 on the pop charts. Early in 1968, “Gentle on My Mind” won the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording of 1967. Campbell’s success continued in 1968, as “I Wanna Live” became his first number one hit and “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” reached number three. The following year, CBS television hired him to host the variety show The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour, which became quite popular and helped establish him as not only a country star, but a pop music superstar.
Throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, Campbell continued to rack up hit singles, including the number one hits “Wichita Lineman” (1968) and “Galveston” (1969), plus the Top Ten singles “Try a Little Kindness” (1969), “Honey Come Back” (1970), “Everything a Man Could Ever Need” (1970), and “It’s Only Make Believe” (1970). In 1968, he began recording duets with Bobbie Gentry, and they had hit singles with their versions of two Everly Brothers songs: “Let It Be Me,” which reached 14 in 1969, and “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” which peaked at number six in 1970. Also in 1969, he began a film career, appearing in the John Wayne movie True Grit that year and Norwood the following year.
By 1972, Campbell’s record sales started slipping. After “Manhattan Kansas” reached number six that year, he had trouble having Top 40 hits for the next two years. Furthermore, his television show was canceled. As his career slowed, he began sinking into drug and alcohol addiction, which continued even through his mid-’70s revival. In 1975, he returned to the Top Ten with “Rhinestone Cowboy,” a huge hit that reached number one on both the country and pop charts. Over the next two years, he had a number of Top Ten country hits, including “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)” and “Don’t Pull Your Love”/”Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” which also reached the pop charts. In 1977, he had his final number one hit with “Southern Nights,” which topped both the country and pop charts.
Following the success of “Southern Nights” and its follow-up, “Sunflower,” Campbell stopped reaching the country Top Ten with regularity, yet he had a string of lesser hits and was an immensely popular performer in concert and television. His Tanya Tucker episode brought him again to the forefront of attention. During the mid-’80s, he experienced a brief commercial revival, as the singles “Faithless Love,” “A Lady Like You,” and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” all reached the country Top Ten. By that time, he had begun to clean up his act. Over the course of the mid-’80s, he kicked his addictions to drugs and alcohol and became a born-again Christian. Appropriately, he began recording inspirational albums, yet he didn’t abandon country music. As late as 1989, Campbell’s smooth, synth-laden contemporary country-pop was reaching the country Top Ten; his last two Top Ten country hits were “I Have You” (1988) and “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone” (1989).
Campbell began recording less frequently in the early ’90s, especially since he could no longer reach the charts and the radio, since they were dominated by new country artists. Over the course of the decade, he gradually moved into semi-retirement, concentrating on golf and performing at his Goodtime Theater in Branson, Missouri. In 1994, he published his autobiography, Rhinestone Cowboy. Campbell released a comeback album of sorts, the ironically titled Meet Glen Campbell, produced by Julian Raymond and Howard Willing, on Capitol Records in 2008.
In June of 2011, Campbell, by now 75 years old, announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In spite of the ailment, he finished an album, Ghost on the Canvas, which was released in August that same year, and began a tour that was to be his farewell to the music business. A collection of outtakes from his last recording sessions, 2013’s See You There, featured Campbell performing new, more intimate versions of some of his best-known songs. A film crew, led by filmmaker James Keach, followed Campbell on his final concert tour, and the resulting documentary about Campbell’s life and music, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, began playing film festivals in the fall of 2014. The film’s soundtrack album was released February 2015, and included the poignant single “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” While the single was billed as Campbell’s musical farewell, his longtime friend and accompanist Carl Jackson guided Glen though the sessions for a final album, 2017’s Adiós, which included four songs from Jimmy Webb.
Glen Campbell was a remarkably versatile musician who made music history in 1967 by winning four Grammys total in the country and pop categories. During his 50 years in show business, Campbell released more than 70 albums. He sold 45 million records and accumulated 12 RIAA Gold albums, four Platinum albums and one Double-platinum album. He placed a total of 80 different songs on either the Billboard Country Chart, Billboard Hot 100, or the Adult Contemporary Chart, of which 29 made the top 10 and of which nine reached number one on at least one of those charts.
He passed from Alzheimer’s on August 8, 2017 at the age of 81.