Ten years ago, I interviewed Glen Campbell before a concert at Silver Springs. After years of hard living and musical adventure, the farm boy from Delight, Arkansas had accepted his niche.
“I’m just an old jazzer,” Campbell told me with a laugh. “I got to keep playing.”
Campbell, who died this week at 81, was much more than that. He revolutionized country music, became a movie and television star, battled drugs and put up a heroic fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
He leaves behind a musical legacy. During the late 1960s, Campbell brought an innovative edge and popularity to Country music.
Songs such as “Gentle On My Mind,” “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” crossed all genres of music and made Country relevant as never before.
“I didn’t know those records would sell that much, but I did know they were songs I wanted to sing,” Campbell told me. “Those songs had melody, chord progression and lyrics – wow! It’s like one, two, three – you put all those elements together, and it’s great.“
Here is a video of “Gentle On My Mind”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A7iuQF_tAc
Long before he became a major singing star, Campbell was a force in music. He was one of the best session guitarists in the business. Campbell played on records with such performers as Elvis, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees, Ray Charles, Rick Nelson and the Beach Boys.
He even toured with the Beach Boys for a short while during the mid ‘60s.
The band wanted him to be a regular member but Campbell had bigger goals. He became a television star during the late ‘60s, with a CBS -TV variety show. His trademark introduction went like this: “Hi, I’m Glen Campbell.”
Here he is singing “Galveston”:
Then came movies.
Campbell’s first film was “True Grit” with John Wayne. The two became friends while filming the western. It became a smash and Wayne won an Oscar for his role.
“I had an old car and l used to drive to the set with the Duke (Wayne),” Campbell told me. “He was a great guy and we had a lot of fun.”
The tumultuous years of the mid and late ‘70s took a toll on Campbell. He admitted abusing drugs and cocaine. He had a tempestuous relationship with young country singer Tanya Tucker. There were other embarrassing incidents over the years. But Campbell found happiness and contentment with his fourth wife, Kim. She stayed with him through a long and exasperating battle with Alzheimer’s.
The couple bravely filmed a documentary a few years ago that was both enlightening and tragic. It educated millions about the disease.
I remember watching Campbell in concert on the Silver Springs stage 10 years ago. He was 71 and maybe just starting to suffer from Alzheimer’s. At one point he became confused, and started playing the same song twice.
He started to sing “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” for the second time, when the band stopped playing because Campbell had previously performed the song.
“Wait a minute,” Campbell said from the stage, “What’s going on here? I’ve got a list over here, anybody as forgetful as I am needs a list.” He then reached down for a set list. “Whoops,” Campbell said, “I was in the wrong city.”
It didn’t matter. Instead of “Phoenix,” Campbell sang another Jimmy Webb number he turned into an American classic: “Wichita Lineman.”
The real highlight came when Campbell sang his signature song, “Gentle On My Mind,” written by John Hartford.
There’s something mystical about that song. It’s almost like a journey through life, pondering what was, and what might have been. One stanza goes like this:
It’s just knowing that the world/Will not be cursing or forgiving/When I walk along some railroad track and find/That you’re movin’ on the back roads/By the rivers of my memory/And for hours you’re just gentle on my mind.
Glen Campbell is gone now. But his music endures and so does his memory.
Tony Violanti writes about entertainment for Villages-News.com