Glen Camp­bell

April 22, 1936 – Au­gust 8, 2017

Classic Rock - - The Dirt -

In 1964, Capi­tol Records re­leased The As­tound­ing 12-String Gui­tar Of Glen Camp­bell, an al­bum of slick in­stru­men­tal folk fea­tur­ing cov­ers of Bob Dy­lan’s Blowin’ In The Wind and Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. In the sleeve notes, disc jockey Hugh Cherry – the man who later in­tro­duced Johnny Cash on stage at his leg­endary Fol­som Prison shows – makes a pre­dic­tion: “Glen Camp­bell has re­cently gained great fame as an in­stru­men­tal­ist,” he says, “but it is the opin­ion of this writer that Glen will ul­ti­mately gain equal fame and ac­cep­tance as a vo­cal­ist of rare in­ter­pre­tive abil­ity. He can pro­vide a lyric with hu­mour or pathos, warmth and sin­cer­ity.”

Cherry was half-right. While Camp­bell was in­deed an enor­mously suc­cess­ful gui­tarist – he was a lead­ing mem­ber of famed Los An­ge­les ses­sion mu­si­cians the Wrecking Crew, whose Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer also ap­peared on the al­bum – his later suc­cess as a singer dwarfed his achieve­ments as a mu­si­cian.

But Cherry was spot-on in one re­spect, as­tutely de­scrib­ing Camp­bell’s “rare in­ter­pre­tive abil­ity”. For Camp­bell could take a song – any song – and ef­fort­lessly in­fuse it with the kind of yearn­ing that made peo­ple em­pathise with the song­writer rather than the singer. It was a strange gift, as if Camp­bell were able to chan­nel some­one else’s sad­ness di­rectly to the lis­tener, with­out ever adding any of his own emo­tional bag­gage along the way. And when cou­pled with the right song­writer, as he was when part­nered with Jimmy Webb on clas­sics such as Wi­chita Line­man, Galve­ston or By The Time I Get To Phoenix, they cre­ated per­fec­tion.

Camp­bell and Webb. Two south­ern­ers at­tempt­ing to make it big in Los An­ge­les, one the son of a share­crop­per, the other the son of a Bap­tist preacher. Their ca­reers would be in­ter­twined from the mo­ment in 1961 when, at­tracted by the singer’s wist­ful voice, Webb bought his first sin­gle, Glen Camp­bell’s cover of Jerry Cape­hart’s Turn Around, Look At Me. The pair wouldn’t meet for an­other six years, but from that mo­ment on they cre­ated oc­ca­sional magic. Camp­bell’s best songs were also Webb’s. When Camp­bell flew to Lon­don in 1977 to per­form with the Lon­don Phil­har­monic Orches­tra, Webb was the con­duc­tor. A decade later they hooked up for Light Years, an al­bum fea­tur­ing eight Webb tracks. And ear­lier this year, when Camp­bell’s fi­nal stu­dio al­bum, Adios, was re­leased, there were four Webb songs on it. It was a touch­ing re­la­tion­ship. Dur­ing solo gigs, both men would talk about the other with enor­mous af­fec­tion.

“When it came to friend­ship, Glen was the real deal,” Webb wrote fol­low­ing Camp­bell’s death. “He spoke my name from ten thou­sand stages. He was my big brother, my pro­tec­tor, my co-cul­prit, my John cry­ing in the wilder­ness. No­body liked a Jimmy Webb song as much as Glen! And yet he was gen­er­ous with other writ­ers: Larry Weiss, Allen Tous­saint, John Hart­ford. You have to look hard for a bad song on a Glen Camp­bell al­bum. He was giv­ing peo­ple their money’s worth be­fore it be­came fash­ion­able.”

For more than 50 years and across more than 50 al­bums, Camp­bell re­peated the for­mula, tak­ing other peo­ple’s songs and pro­vid­ing an emo­tional con­duit be­tween writer and re­ceiver. Like Elvis Pres­ley – an­other man whose strengths lay as an in­ter­preter rather than as an orig­i­na­tor – he was never re­ally an ‘al­bum artist’, even if his col­lec­tions were un­err­ingly co­he­sive. It was al­ways about the song, right up un­til the end, when he made four al­bums that were put to­gether al­most as state-ofthe-union ad­dresses. They were al­bums cu­rated with sym­pa­thy and taste, from 2008’s Meet

Glen Camp­bell, which in­cluded cov­ers of songs from Green Day, Paul Wester­berg, the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, Travis, Tom Petty and Jack­son Browne, to the trio of al­bums he made af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s dis­ease in 2011. The first, Ghost On The Can­vas, might just be the best al­bum ever made by a 75-year-old, and fea­tured con­tri­bu­tions Billy Cor­gan, Rick Niel­son, Dick Dale and Brian Set­zer, plus an­other two songs by Wester­berg. It sounded cur­rent.

Camp­bell was more than just a mu­si­cian. He was a film star, ap­pear­ing op­po­site an Os­car­win­ning John Wayne in True Grit. He hosted The Glen Camp­bell Good­time Hour, which ran for four sea­sons on CBS, beam­ing the singer into Amer­i­can liv­ing rooms ev­ery Sun­day evening. In 1969 he in­tro­duced the Amer­i­can TV pre­miere of The Bea­tles’ fi­nal live per­for­mance, shot on the rooftop of the Ap­ple Corps build­ing in Lon­don. Hell, at the time, Camp­bell was out­selling The Bea­tles in the US.

But he was first and fore­most a mu­si­cian. Heav­ily inf lu­enced by the jazz great Django Rein­hart, he left home to 17 to join his un­cle’s band in New Mex­ico, from where he could send money home to his fam­ily in Arkansas. By 1960 he was in Los An­ge­les, join­ing The Champs, who’d had a global hit with Tequila two years ear­lier. The fol­low­ing year he got to­gether with Phil Everly and Ca­role King for a one-off sin­gle as the Kee­stone Fam­ily Singers, and with the Wrecking Crew he played on hits by The Hol­lies, Dick Dale, The Mon­kees, Elvis, Bobby Darin, Rick Nel­son, The Byrds, Merle Hag­gard, Lee Ha­zle­wood, Nancy Si­na­tra, the Right­eous Broth­ers, Ike & Tina Turner and dozens of oth­ers. When Brian Wil­son de­cided he didn’t want to play live with the Beach Boys, Camp­bell switched to bass and went on tour. And when Wil­son needed a gui­tarist dur­ing the Pet Sounds ses­sions, Camp­bell got the call again.

Glen Camp­bell was a ge­nius gui­tarist. In

1999 he ap­peared on The Nashville Net­work’s Coun­try Leg­end’s Home­com­ing, ap­pear­ing on a stage sur­rounded by Nashville roy­alty: Wil­lie Nel­son, Way­lon Jen­nings, Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, Crys­tal Gayle and more. Handed an acous­tic gui­tar, the pres­sure on, he plays a fleet-fin­gered ver­sion of his first big hit, Gen­tle On My Mind. Mouths drop. Fel­low gui­tarists study his fin­gers and grin with de­light. There’s an im­promptu round of ap­plause at the cli­max. And The Rhine­stone Cow­boy proves, once again, that no one was ever bet­ter at mak­ing dif­fi­cult look easy. FL

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