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.

Let's Talk - - CONTENT -

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.

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