Heavy on Our Minds
I could not pass by the sad news that many woke up to today.
Every time a musician dies it is a tragic event but there is something extra-sad and profound when it comes to the loss of Glen Campbell. I shall split this (short) feature into a biography-Wikipedia-heavy bit and some personal input – before offering a playlist of Campbell’s best-loved songs. Listening to the radio today; one gets a real sense of the impact and effect Glen Campbell has had on the world of music. Let’s interject the Wikipedia, distilled biography of Campbell, first:
“Glen Travis Campbell (April 22, 1936 – August 8, 2017) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, television host, and actor. He is best known for a series of hits in the 1960s and 1970s, and for hosting a music and comedy variety show called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS television, from January 1969 through June 1972.
During his 50 years in show business, Campbell released more than 70 albums. He sold 45 million records and accumulated 12 RIAA gold albums, four platinum albums, and one double-platinum album. He placed a total of 80 different songs on either the Billboard Country Chart, Billboard Hot 100, or Adult Contemporary Chart, of which 29 made the top 10 and of which nine reached number one on at least one of those charts. Campbell's hits include his recordings of John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind"; Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Wichita Lineman", and "Galveston"; Larry Weiss's "Rhinestone Cowboy"; and Allen Toussaint's "Southern Nights".
Campbell made history in 1967 by winning four Grammys in the country and pop categories. For "Gentle on My Mind", he received two awards incountry and western, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" did the same in pop. Three of his early hits later won Grammy Hall of Fame Awards (2000, 2004, 2008), while Campbell himself won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He owns trophies for Male Vocalist of the Year from both the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM), and took the CMA's top award as 1968 Entertainer of the Year. Campbell appeared as a supporting role in the film True Grit (1969), which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer. Campbell also sang the title song, which was nominated for an Academy Award”.
For a true reflection of Glen Campbell’s legacy; one must go back to the start and where it all began. Campbell moved to Los Angeles in 1960 – the hope was to ply his trade as a session musician. That seems extraordinary considering the legacy and impact he would make on music but, like many musicians, that was the way their career began. I hear tales when it comes to the work-rate and determination of Campbell. The number of sessions he would be involved with of a year would blow the mind – a voracious, passionate and curious musician keen to lay down his immense guitar-playing skills to some of the day’s best artists. Whilst working for a publishing company, American Music (1961), he started what was to become the world-famous Wrecking Crew collective – Campbell would work with everyone from Dean Martin, Nat King Cole; Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the Monkees.
Crest Records, seeing the talent and breadth of Campbell, signed him up: he would release Turn Around, Look at Me soon after – it was a minor success and didn’t make much of a chart impact. That said, many contemporaries realised how special and unique Campbell was. In a day where many Rock and mainstream artists were unable to play the guitar – let alone across so many genres – here was a singular talent who could put them all to shame. That skill and incredible talent meant, by 1962, Campbell was signed to Capitol Records. Television appearances followed and, before you know it, people were reacting and falling for the charming Campbell – who started to tour with Beach Boys when Brian Wilson was going through personal troubles. There was a lot of experimentation but, by 1965, things were really starting to come together.
It was the 1965 hit, Universal Soldier (a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s track), that gained him that shot of positive reaction – singling him out to many critics and big-wigs. Even if Campbell was quite outspoken regarding his views of drafting soldiers and pacifism – those who advocated burning draft cards, he felt, should be punished – it was a time that, to many, should have signalled success and future achievement. It was a rough period where follow-up singles were not performing as well as one had hoped. 1967 was a year where Campbell gained success with Gentle on My Mind (written by John Hartford) and By the Time I Get to Phoenix. It was 1968 that brought us Wichita Lineman and, winning four Grammy Awards – for the performances of Gentle on My Mind and By the Time I Get to Phoenix – it was the recognition and acclaim Campbell had been striving for.
That late-1960s period was a fruitful time. Most of his better-known songs were written by Jimmy Webb – he wrote Wichita Lineman and Galveston (among others). The success and impressive productivity continued into the 1970s. Having accrued a host of session-work names; his T.V. show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, put major names together. Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Bread were among the huge artists who Campbell introduced in the studio. That show ran until 1972 but the T.V./film exposure did not end there. A made-for-television movie, Strange Homecoming (1974) - and a series of hosting gigs - kept the American legend in the public consciousness. The mid-1970s was the second really productive and successful period when songs such as Rhinestone Cowboy and Southern Nights were released. The former became Campbell’s biggest-selling song and a track that many associate with Campbell and his legacy.
That is a biography and a brief snapshot of a legend whose incredible musical talents and voice captivated the world. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011 could have deterred the ailing Campbell but he was still prolific and active right up until his death. His final album, Adiós, was released in June - and gained a warm and positive critical reception. It is sad to hear of Campbell’s passing but one should be thankful a unique and astonishing musician made his impact on the world. One need only hear a vocal performance like Wichita Lineman to realise the effect and inspiration he has had on modern artists. Whether consciously or not; so many young musicians – not only Country stars – have taken from Campbell’s music.
Whether an epic and attiring vocal or that wide-ranging and astonishing guitar-playing. Many associate Campbell with Country but the journeyman musician grew from meagre beginnings to become one of the world’s biggest names – performing alongside immense artists and playing in so many different styles. He was a performer who could adapt his voice and play any genre and song. His biggest hits are those Country anthems but one need only look through Campbell’s immense array of studio/live albums to know it is impossible to pin him down. The fact he reached eighty-one is a great innings but one would have liked Campbell to remain with us a lot longer. I have been listening to a lot of interviews he conducted and every time, he came across as compelling, rooted and entertaining. The anecdotes, explanations and insights gave you a real taste of the man. Such a warm and kind soul and, whether you agree with some of his politics and views, what shone through was the phenomenal, enduring music – that which continue to inspire musicians for decades to come. It is a sad day for reflection but, also, for celebration: a brilliant artist who made such an impact through his long and legendary career. As we remember Glen Campbell – and his classic hits – we can be safe in the knowledge there will never be anyone…
IN THIS PHOTO: Campbell with his wife, Kim Woollen
LIKE him again.