by Julian Spivey
I’ve got The Best of Glen Campbell spinning on the record player playing softly while trying to think of the right words to say to tell another music legend goodbye – something that’s always hard to do, no matter how many times I’ve had to do it over the last few years.
And, the first thing that occurs to me is: Has there ever been such a smooth vocalist in country music history? This has to be the reason why Glen Campbell was such a crossover hit in the ‘60s with songs like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” the latter two becoming top five hits on the pop chart in addition to topping the country chart. In the ‘70s, Campbell would do something that’s incredibly rare for a country musician and top both the country and Billboard Hot 100 pop charts with “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1975) and “Southern Nights” (1977).
A partnership and friendship struck up between Campbell and songwriter Jimmy Webb in the ’60s resulted in the trilogy of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (1967), “Wichita Lineman” (1968) and “Galveston” (1969), all becoming among the greatest ballads ever released in the genre of country music. I defy anyone to find a better singer-writer duo than Campbell and Webb. These songs have basically become part of the Great American Songbook.
Webb said of Campbell after his passing on Tuesday, August 8: “Just thinking back I believe suddenly that the “raison d’etre” for every Glen Campbell show was to bring every suffering soul within the sound of his voice up a peg or two. Leave ’em laughin.’ Leave them feeling just a little tad better about themselves; even though he might have to make them cry a couple of times to get ’em there. What a majestically graceful and kind, top rate performer was Glen on his worst night!”
It's almost unbelievable to think that potentially the smoothest vocalist in the extraordinary history of country music was known more for his guitar work – he’s considered along with artists like Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson and Jerry Reed as one of the best. He became a much sought-after session guitar player for such legends as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard, Nat King Cole and the Beach Boys working with the legendary Wrecking Crew. One of these albums Campbell played guitar on was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966), which multiple publications have called the greatest album of all-time.
I had the great pleasure of seeing Campbell perform in person in December of 2010 at the Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark. where I attended college. Campbell being a native of Delight, Ark. used the performance as somewhat of a family reunion having multiple siblings and children perform on stage with him. He was in great spirits and it made for a fantastic show and a lifetime memory. I got to see the legend himself perform “Galveston,” my personal favorite” and “Wichita Lineman.” There were instances throughout the show were Campbell had trouble remembering some of his lyrics and I now realize this was because of Alzheimer’s disease taking over. Campbell would announce about six months after I saw him that he had been diagnosed right around the time I saw him perform. I believe that concert at Reynolds may have been the last time he ever performed in his home state. You can read my review of that great show: HERE
Campbell was always a music legend, but his struggle with Alzheimer’s being filmed in documentary form and shown to the whole world really made him heroic in that it gave those of us who have never experienced a love one with such a horrifying disease understand the pain of it. “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” was truly a moving film and garnered Campbell an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for the tragic “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which he co-wrote. The song would also win Campbell his 10th career Grammy Award when it took home Best Country Song in 2014.
We have known for years that Campbell’s days on Earth were coming toward an end and it’s one of those moments where you obviously feel sad, almost selfishly so, but you realize his suffering is over and he’s better off. He left us with so many truly incredible songs and performances that we’re never going to forget. To borrow a line from one of his greatest songs his music is something we need more than want and we’ll want it for all time.