Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Glen Campbell

AM aspires to offer up what's important in popular music since the late 1950s. While eclectic in nature and as interested in the music of today as that of rock's seminal years, our focus is often on rock's history 50 years ago, with 1967 a true high water mark. Since its inception, we've lost a number of incredible and iconic artists, from David Bowie to Tom Petty, and while we get caught in the mire of everyone's loss, usually we let it sit and fester until, a few months later we can celebrate the lives of those we often idolized. I remember how difficult I found it to watch 2014's I'll Be Me, which showcased the career of Glen Campbell as they followed his struggle with Alzheimer's, unable to remember his wife's name or his children's, but still, remarkably, able to play his guitar. Hearing of his death this past August hit me as both sad and as a relief. Only now can I think back to the joyous memories I have of Glen Campbell growing up, maybe my first guilty pleasure, from a 45 called "Guess I'm Dumb" to the LPs with "By the Time I get to Phoenix," Galveston," "Where's the Playground, Suzy?" and "Dreams of an Everyday Housewife." More specifically I remember Campbell as being a part of my family's Christmases every year since the late 1960s.

In 1960, Glen Campbell moved from his home in Arkansas to Los Angeles, California. He hoped to establish himself as a solo performer but found himself instead a sought-after studio musician and guitarist. He worked for a year with the instrumental rock group the Champs (of "Tequila" fame) before recording his first solo record in 1961. "Turn Around, Look at Me" was a minor hit for Crest Records and led to a Capitol contract in 1962. Campbell’s first single for Capitol, "Too Late to Worry—Too Blue to Cry," was more successful; nonetheless, his solo career floundered for years, based partially on his guitar prowess, particularly as a member of The Wrecking Crew, the finest musicians L.A. had to offer. The group included drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Leon Russell. With or without the Wrecking Crew, Campbell played guitar for Phil Spector, as well as on recordings by leading performers including Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, the Mamas and the Papas, Ricky Nelson, and Bobby Darrin. His guitar playing is featured on Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night," the Monkees' "I'm a Believer," and many other hits. Campbell took a position with the Beach Boys from 1964 through 1965, playing guitar and singing harmonies as a temporary replacement for Brian Wilson, but more importantly played guitar on the 2nd greatest LP of all time, Pet Sounds.

His 1967 recording of "Gentle on My Mind" entered the Billboard Top 40 and earned Campbell two 1968 Grammy Awards for both Best Country Vocalist and Best Contemporary Vocalist. His popularity soared after that and he produced a string of hit songs over the next ten years. He won three more Grammys for his 1968 hit "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and remained a hit-maker throughout the 60s and 70s with iconic tunes like "Wichita Lineman." 

With John Wayne in True Grit
His entertainment success was not confined to music. In 1968 The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour replaced The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, opening the door to television and film stardom. Although he had but a handful of film roles, some were memorable. His appearance in the 1969 John Wayne film, True Grit, garnered Campbell a Golden Globe nomination for Best Newcomer. In 1970, Campbell played the title role in the feature film Norwood. Both films were based on novels by Arkansas author Charles Portis.

With Dean Martin

So far in 2017 we lost a bevy of incredibly talented musicians; among them Walter Becker of Steely Dan, Gregg Allman, Larry Coryell, Al Jarreau, Chris Cornell and Chuck Berry, but the musician that in your lifetime and mine we've have heard play on more tracks than any other, was Glen Campbell. His name should remain synonymous with the best musicians of the rock era.