Back in August, the world of music lost a giant when Glen Campbell passed away. Here, in a two-part feature, Steve Burns, aka Dr Vinyl, pays tribute to a great performer.
Paying tribute to Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell was born in Arkansas in 1936, the seventh son of 12 children. The family lived on a farm, had no electricity and barely managed to get by from the crops they grew.
At the age of four his uncle bought him a guitar and showed him the basics of playing. By the age of six he was playing on local radio stations, and although he had no proper training, he listened to records and the radio, and his ability grew.
At 14 he left school to work with his brothers installing insulation, later working in a petrol station. By this time his family had moved to Houston, and Glen felt he could do better.
He was playing music at country fairs and church events, and even some slots on radio stations.
Aged 17 Campbell moved to Albuquerque to join his uncle’s band, Dick Bills and The Sandia Mountain Boys, and more radio appearances and some TV work followed.
Four years later he had formed his own band, The Western Wranglers, who were popular enough to be working six or seven nights a week. By 1960 Campbell’s ambition saw him move to Los Angeles and become a session musician and the following year he had a job with American Music, writing songs and recording demos. His ability shone on the demos and he was soon in demand joining a group of studio musicians later known as The Wrecking Crew.
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb said of Campbell: “He played with all kinds of genres, with different instrumentation and different styles. If it was a just and righteous world, Glen would be credited as one of the great, seminal influences of all time. He was a secret weapon in the armoury of 1960s record producers.”
Prophetic words indeed. Campbell appeared on songs recorded by Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, The Monkees, Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard, Jan and Dean, Phil Spector and Elvis Presley.
He became friends with Presley in 1964 when he was playing on the soundtrack of Viva Las Vegas, and said: “Elvis and I were brought up the same humble way – picking cotton and looking at the north end of a south bound mule.”
May 1961 saw Campbell sign for Crest Records, a subsidiary of American Music, and his first release called ‘Turn Around, Look at Me’ got to 62 in the Billboard Hot 100.
A year later saw Campbell sign for Capitol Records. Several unsuccessful singles and albums followed, but he was still in demand.
By 1963 Campbell’s singing and playing could be heard on 586 tracks, this was probably due to the fact that besides guitar he could play banjo, mandolin and bass. Amazingly, he never learned to read music, although that never hindered him.
In 1964 Campbell was making regular TV appearances on several shows, and by December (until March 1965) he had suddenly become a touring member of The Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson, playing bass and singing falsetto harmonies.
In 1965 he had his biggest American hit to date, his version of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Universal Soldier peaked at 45 on the Hot 100.
The following year it was back to The Beach Boys, with Campbell playing guitar on the classic album Pet Sounds. And, just to show his versatility, in April 1966 he was playing bass on Ricky Nelson’s Far East tour.
Capitol were thinking about dropping him from the label as things were not going well, but as it turned out this was the start of a massive upturn in fortune.
Read the second part of Dr Vinyl’s Glen Campbell tribute in next month’s issue. Contact Steve Burns on 01603 432709 or 07917 351163 for disco enquiries.
A picture from the archives of Glen Campbell at the Ipswich Regent, in May, 1986.