August 8, 2017 – Glen 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.
In 2005, Campbell was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was announced in April 2008 that Campbell was returning to his signature label, Capitol, to release his new album, Meet Glen Campbell. The album was released on August 19. With this album, he branched off in a different musical direction, covering tracks from artists such as Travis, U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jackson Browne, and Foo Fighters. It was Campbell’s first release on Capitol in over 15 years. Musicians from Cheap Trick and Jellyfish contributed to the album, as well. The first single, a cover of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, was released to radio in July 2008.
In March 2010, a then-farewell album titled Ghost on the Canvas was announced which served as a companion to Meet Glen Campbell (2008). Ghost on the Canvas was released on August 30, 2011, with collaborations that include Paul Westerberg (writer of the title track), The Wallflowers singer Jakob Dylan, Chris Isaak, Rick Nielsen and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.
Following his early 2011 Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Campbell embarked on a final “Goodbye Tour”, with three of his children joining him in his backup band. His final show was on November 30, 2012, in Napa, California. After the end of the tour, Campbell entered the studio in his home town Nashville to record what would be his final album, Adiós, which would not be revealed until five years later. According to his wife, Kim Campbell, he wanted to preserve “what magic was left”, in what would be his final recordings. In January 2013, Campbell recorded his final song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, during what would be his last recording sessions. The song, which is featured in the 2014 documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, was released on September 30, 2014, with the documentary following on October 24. On January 15, 2015 Campbell and fellow songwriter Julian Raymond were nominated for Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards.
On August 30, 2016, during the 10th Annual ACM Honors, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton and others performed a medley of Glen Campbell’s songs in tribute to him. His wife Kim Campbell accepted the Career Achievement Award on his behalf.
In April 2017, Campbell’s final album, Adiós, was announced, featuring twelve songs from his final 2012–13 sessions. The album was released on June 9, 2017.
Campbell was married four times, and fathered five sons and three daughters, ranging in year of birth from 1956 to 1986. Campbell’s eldest daughter is Debby, from his marriage (1955–1959) to Diane Kirk. After divorcing Kirk, Campbell married Billie Jean Nunley, a beautician from Carlsbad, New Mexico, who gave birth to Kelli, Travis, and Kane. Billie Campbell filed for divorce in 1975, and their divorce was final in 1976. Shortly after that, he married singer Mac Davis’ second wife, Sarah Barg, in September 1976. They had one child named Dillon and divorced three weeks after Dillon’s birth, in 1980.
Immediately after his divorce from Barg, Campbell began a relationship with fellow country artist Tanya Tucker, who was 22 years his junior. The relationship was marked by frequent tabloid gossip and articles. The couple recorded a number of songs together, including the single “Dream Lover”.
Campbell married Kimberly “Kim” Woollen in 1982. The couple met on a blind date in 1981 when Woollen was a Radio City Music Hall “Rockette”. Together, they had three children: Cal, Shannon, and Ashley. All three joined Campbell on stage, starting in 2010, as part of his touring band.
Campbell, who was raised in the Church of Christ, joined a Baptist Church in Phoenix along with his wife Kim. In a 2008 interview, they said that they had been adherents of Messianic Judaism for two decades.
Campbell had problems with alcoholism and cocaine addiction for many years. He was arrested in 2003 and pleaded guilty to drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He spent 10 days in jail.
On The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour television show, Campbell avoided political topics. Around this time, he described himself in interviews as “a registered Democrat but I voted Republican a few times”, and he performed in support of both Republican and Democratic politicians. Campbell performed the National Anthem at the 1980 Republican National Convention and continued to make a number of campaign appearances for Republican candidates during the 1980s and 1990s.
In June 2011, Campbell announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease six months earlier. According to his family, symptoms of the disease had been occurring for years, becoming increasingly evident as time progressed.
Campbell went on a final “Goodbye Tour” with three of his children joining him in his backup band. His final show was on November 30, 2012, in Napa, California. He performed “Rhinestone Cowboy” as a goodbye at the 2012 Grammy Awards ceremony held on February 12, 2012, his final televised on-stage performance.
In April 2014, news reports indicated that Campbell had become a patient at an Alzheimer’s long-term care and treatment facility. On March 4, 2015, Associated Press reported that two of Campbell’s children, Debby and Travis, had sought legal action against Campbell’s wife Kim, with the assertion she “secluded” the singer and prevented them from “participating” in Campbell’s medical care. Tanya Tucker fought for his children to visit with him.
On March 8, 2016, Rolling Stone reported that Campbell was living in a Nashville memory care facility and that he was in the “final stages” of his disease. He was unable to communicate with people or understand what people said to him. However, his family stated he was receiving good care and was “happy” and “cheerful”.
On Campbell’s 80th birthday, Jimmy Webb, with whom Campbell had frequently collaborated, announced he would launch a special edition of his national touring show on May 3, 2016, called “Jimmy Webb: The Glen Campbell Years”, at Nashville’s City Winery.
Campbell died of Alzheimer’s disease in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 8, 2017, six years after his diagnosis.
Campbell recorded and released 58 studio albums and six live albums between 1962 and 2017. He also lent his vocals to four soundtracks for motion pictures: True Grit (1969), Norwood (1970), Rock-a-Doodle (1992), and the 2014 documentary film Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. He placed a total of 82 singles (one of which was a re-release) on either the Billboard Country Chart, the Billboard Hot 100, or the Adult Contemporary Chart, nine of which peaked at number one on at least one of those charts. He released 15 video albums and featured in 21 music videos. His first two music videos, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman”, were directed by Gene Weed in 1967 and 1968, respectively. Campbell released his final music video, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, in 2014 to coincide with the release of the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. His final studio album, Adiós, was released on June 9, 2017.
He passed from Alzheimer’s on August 8, 2017 at the age of 81.