Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Godspeed Glen Campbell

Singer and actor Glen Campbell died yesterday, August 8 2017, at the age 81. The cause was Alzheimer's disease.

Glen Campbell was born on April 22 1936 in Billstown, Arkansas. His parents were share croppers and he was the seventh of twelve children. He started playing guitar when he was four years old after his uncle gave him a five dollar Sears guitar as a present. He was only six years old when he started playing on local radio stations. He dropped out of school when he was only 14 to work in Houston with his brothers. He installed installation and later worked at a gas station. He started playing guitar at church picnics and various fairs before playing at local radio stations. He was 17 years old when he joined his uncle's band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He played on his uncle's radio show and also on the children's show K Circle B Time on the TV station KOB. It was in 1958 that he formed his own band, The Western Wranglers.

It was in 1960 that Glen Campbell moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a session musician. It was in October of that year that he joined the rock band The Champs. He remained part of the band's line-up for about a year. In 1961 he went to work for music publishing company American Music, where he wrote songs and recorded demos. It was these demos that would lead to Glen Campbell becoming part of the legendary group of session musicians that would later become known as the Wrecking Crew.

Glen Campbell would remain a part of the Wrecking Crew for the next several years. As part of the group he played guitar on literally hundreds of songs, including 'Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson, "Surf City" by Jan & Dean, "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys, "Dang Me" by Roger Miller, "You've Lost That Loving Feeeling" by The Righteous Brothers, "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra, and "Mary Mary" by The Monkees.

It was in 1961 that Glen Campbell was signed as a solo artist to Crest Records. His first single, "Turn Around, Look at Me", was released that same year. The following year he signed with Capitol Records. His first single for Capitol was "Too Late to Worry, Too Blue to Cry". Over the next few years he would meet with some success on the country music charts. His single "Kentucky Means Paradise" reached no. 20 on the chart in 1962, while "Burning Bridges" reached no. 18 in 1966. He had a minor crossover hit with his version of "Universal Soldier", which peaked at no. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965.

It was in 1967 that Mr. Campbell had his first major hit, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". It peaked at no. 2 on the country chart and no. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. In 1968 he had a bigger hit with "Wichita Lineman", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1969 he had another major hit with "Galveston", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 4 on the Billboardi Hot 100. From 1969 to 1972 Mr. Campbell would have several more hits, some of which not only did well on the country chart, but the Billboard Hot 100 as well.

Glen Campbell's career would go into a slight decline in 1972, but would be revitalised in 1975 with the song "Rhinestone Cowboy", which went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by several more crossover hits, one of which, "Southern Nights", also went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Afterwards Glen Campbell did well on the country charts, with a few singles occasionally crossing over to the Billboard Hot 100.

Following his Alzheimer's diagnosis, Glen Campbell went on a final farewell tour that ended in 2012. The tour was documented in the documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me. His last single, "Adios", was released just this year. Throughout his career he released around 60 albums.

Glen Campbell also had a career on film and in television. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a member of a band in Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965). He went onto appear in the films The Cool Ones (1967), True Grit (1969), Norwood (1970), Any Which Way You Can (1980), and Uphill All the Way (1986). He was the voice of Chanticleer in the animated film Rock-A-Doodle (1991). 

He made his television debut on the show Shindig in 1964. As a singer he made frequent appearances on various music, variety, and talk shows through the years, including Hollywood a Go Go, The Dick Cavett Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace, The Joey Bishop Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, The Dean Martin Show, and Hee Haw. From 1969 to 1972 he was the host of his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, on CBS. It is notable as one of the few rural shows to survive the Rural Purge of 1971. He also hosted a syndicated variety show, The Glen Campbell Music Show, which aired during the 1982-1983 season. Glen Campbell also acted on television. In 1967 he guest starred in an episode of The F.B.I. He appeared in the TV movie Strange Homecoming (1974) and the special Christmas in Disneyland (1976).  In 1997 he guest starred on an episode of Players.

Not being a country music fan, I can't say I have ever been a huge fan of Glen Campbell's songs (although I have always liked "Wichita Lineman"). That having been said, I do recognise that he was a major talent in music. He was among the most popular country singers of the last decades of the 20th Century, and he was a bit of a phenomenon in the late Sixties. Beyond being a legendary country singer, he was also an extremely talented guitarist. His skill is readily recognisable on the many songs he recorded as part of the Wrecking Crew. He had been playing guitar since childhood and it showed.

While his acting career was somewhat limited, I also have to say that Glen Campbell was a fairly good actor. His best known role is most likely that of Texas Ranger  La Boeuf in True Grit (1969). He did a fine job in the part, and he remains one of my favourite actors to play opposite John Wayne. As a musician Glen Campbell was the consummate performer, and that translated quite well to acting. Glen Campbell was one of the most popular entertainers in the late 20th Century, and given his talent that should come as no surprise.

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