Glen Campbell, 1936 – 2017

Glen Campbell, 1936 – 2017

Country Music Hall of Fame member Glen Campbell died Tuesday, Aug. 8 at the age of 81.

“Our music community is greatly saddened by the loss of an icon,” said CMA CEO Sarah Trahern. “He was a ground-breaking artist of our genre, and a pioneer of Country Music on television. Many of my generation grew up with his music. His impact on the industry will remain gentle on our minds.”

When Glen Travis Campbell was growing up in Delight, Ark., he found music and held onto it like a lifeline. His father was a sharecropper. And young Glen was one of 12 children in the household, all of whom picked cotton to help keep the family afloat.

But beginning when he was just 4 years old, he began finding time for another activity that helped guide him through his challenging childhood. That was when his father bought him a Sears and Roebuck guitar, on which he practiced whenever time allowed. It wasn’t Country Music that nurtured him at the time, though; his instrumental beacons were Barney Kessel, Django Reinhardt and other jazz virtuosi. At the same time, his vocal style began taking shape through singing at church.

At 14, Campbell began performing throughout much of the Southwest. Two years later, he’d dropped out of school to pursue his passion full-time as a member of his uncle’s band, the Sandia Mountain Boys, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. By the time he’d put together his own band, the Western Wranglers, at age 18, he’d begun applying what he’d learned to playing in more of a Western swing style. The high technical demands of the genre empowered him sufficiently as a musician that he decided at age 22 to seek his fortunes as a session guitarist in Los Angeles.

Here, far from the Southwestern Country Music circuit, Campbell’s career caught fire. In the early 1960s, he performed on scores of studio dates behind artists of international renown and wide variety. You can hear him on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” and five cuts from The Beach Boys masterwork Pet Sounds. When Brian Wilson began his hiatus from the group in 1965, Campbell joined the Beach Boys as his replacement on the road for 18 months.

Campbell became a Capitol Records artist after settling back down in L.A. In 1967, he entered the Country Music charts for the first time with “Burning Bridges,” which peaked at No. 18. A string of mega-hit singles followed as well as four Grammy Awards in 1968, including Best Country & Western Recording for “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” peaking at No. 2 in the Country charts, for Best Vocal Performance, Male in 1968. There were two CMA Awards with Campbell’s name on them that same year, for Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year.

And he was just warming up. Two huge hits, “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman,” followed in 1968. His guest-hosting appearance on “The Joey Bishop Show” nudged the Smothers Brothers to recruit him as co-host of “The Summer Smothers Brothers Show.” Then CBS launched “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” in January 1969, a weekly variety program that transformed Campbell into a worldwide superstar. In the spirit of the eclectic approach that defined his own sound, Campbell used his show as a platform to feature and introduce artists of all stripes, from Merle Haggard to Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash to Ella Fitzgerald, Buck Owens to The Monkees and many others.

Campbell’s unique touch – accessible yet emotionally compelling – was evident on each of these hits, on his TV show and throughout his entire catalog. His method was simple, he confirmed in a 2008 interview with CMA Close Up: “I mainly go for the feel of a record. I can change the chord progressions around to where I like them, and then I get the song in the right tempo, to where it sings easy and isn’t rushed. But it all comes down to good songs, good chord progressions and good melodies.”

Nineteen sixty-nine also marked Campbell’s debut as a film actor. Not only did he share the screen with John Wayne in “True Grit,” he received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Texas Ranger La Boeuf and recorded the Western epic’s soundtrack as well.

Campbell’s career reached its apogee in the late ’60s, but he remained a vital presence in music for years to come. His 1975 single “Rhinestone Cowboy” powered to the top of the pop and Country charts, as did “Southern Nights” in 1977. Even in his denouement years, while battling and eventually overcoming problems with drug and alcohol addiction, he was heard frequently on Country radio. His final Top 10 hits, “I Have You” and “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone,” charted in 1988 and 1989, respectively.

Beginning in the 1990s, Campbell scaled back his recording and live shows. Yet he remained active on many fronts. He opened his Glen Campbell Goodtime Theater in Branson, Missouri, and released an autobiography, Rhinestone Cowboy, in 1994. In 2005, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And in 2012, the Recording Academy honored him with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

All-in-all, he has tallied 21 Top 40 hits, six Top 20 albums, 27 Top 10 singles, nine No. 1 Country albums, five Grammy Awards, three Grammy Hall of Fame honors and three Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. He is also a 15-time CMA Award nominee and two-time winner.

In June 2011, Campbell announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – and then went on to finish Ghost in the Canvas and embark on a farewell tour. In 2013, he released See You There, and the following year, was the subject of the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. Campbell’s final album Adios was released June 2017.