Everything started with the guitar.
Although he won four Grammys in 1967 for his singing and then won the 1968 Grammy for Album of the year, and although more people remember him for either his television program or for pop hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” for Glen Campbell, everything started with the guitar. Born in April 1936 in Delight, Arkansas which, having a population of less than a hundred, certainly qualified as “small town America.” One of his uncles taught him how to play when he was a young lad and when Campbell turned sixteen, he hocked his guitar and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to live with Dick Bills, another uncle.
Two prominent employers of The Wrecking Crew were Phil Spector, who utilized the session players to produce his patented “Wall of Sound,” and Brian Wilson. Many of the Beach Boys recordings from the middle 1960s, classic gems like “California Girls,” “Good Vibrations,” as well as the entire Pet Sounds album (and the original recordings for Smile) were produced with the talents of The Wrecking Crew. In 1964,when Wilson decided to stop touring with the Beach Boys in order to focus on his songwriting and producing, it was Campbell who got the call to temporarily stand in for him, playing bass and singing falsetto harmonies during live Beach Boys concerts. Ultimately Bruce Johnson got picked as Wilson’s replacement for the group.
Campbell, like Brian Wilson, was signed to Capital Records. In addition to his session work with The Wrecking Crew, Campbell released several albums – instrumental ones as well as vocal ones – for Capital, to minimal success. In 1967, Campbell heard a song on Nashville artist John Hartford’s album Earthwords and Music, called “Gentle On My Mind” and decided to record his own arrangement. The single, and Campbell’s album with the same title – featuring songs by Donovan, Harry Nilsson, Roy Orbison, Rod McKuen and Jimmie Rogers among others brought Campbell out from session player to nationwide success. With his Wrecking Crew buddies providing support, he won two Grammys – Best Country and Western Recording and Best Country and Western Solo Vocal Performance, Male. The song itself also earned its songwriter, John Hartford, a Grammy for Best Folk Performance.
His seventh album, By The Time I Get to Phoenix, released the same year and featuring Jimmy Webb’s title track, also garnered two Grammys – Best Vocal Perfomance, Male and Best Contemporary Male Solo Vocal Performance. The following year it became the first country album to win the Grammy for Album of the Year.
In June 2011, Campbell announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. While rocker guitarists may make anthems that proudly proclaim lines like “Hope I die before I grow old” or “It’s better to burn out than it is to rust,” the fact is that they will all hopefully grow old for quite some time. And, again hopefully, they will all face the inherent challenges of life with humor, as Glen Campbell did. When his wife, Kim, noted in an interview with Stephen Betts that Campbell’s Alzheimer condition leads him to repeat himself, sometimes telling “the same joke several times in a row,” Campbell noted, “Well, yeah, it’s funny!” and laughs.
In August 2011, Campbell embarked on a final “Goodbye Tour”, with three of his children joining him in his backup band. From the reviews he got, it seems everyone noticed Campbell could still play the guitar as if he and the instrument were one. Maybe it is all about the guitar still.
His final show was on November 30, 2012, in Napa, California. After the tour, Campbell recorded the song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, which is featured in the 2014 documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. His final album, Adiós, was released in 2017.
He died in Nashville, Tennessee on August 8, 2017 at the age of 81.