Man of His Times
Glen Campbell used many talents to rise to stardom in the late ’60s.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Famous for pop-country crossover hits like “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Glen Campbell’s contribution to popular culture is in fact much deeper.
Before fully embarking on his solo career, Campbell was an in-demand session musician who played on recordings by Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole and Merle Haggard. His guitar work adorns classics in every popular musical genre, including The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,” Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” and the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.”
Campbell toured as an unofficial member of the Beach Boys in the mid-‘60s, and played guitar on their landmark 1966 album Pet Sounds. Eventually, he was offered a spot as a permanent Beach Boy, but declined the offer to pursue his solo career.
Foreshadowing the work of some of today’s multi-skilled entertainers, Campbell also became famous in his heyday for more than just music. In 1969, he starred beside John Wayne in the Western True Grit. Recalling that gig in a telephone interview last week from his home in Malibu, Campbell jokes that his presence in the film helped people finally realize how good an actor Wayne was. “I gave Duke that push he needed to win his only Oscar,” Campbell says.
In addition, the country musician made a splash on the small screen with his television variety show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. The program, which ran from 1969 to 1972 on CBS, featured a wide variety of musical guests, from country mainstay Johnny Cash to soul singer Ray Charles. Campbell has said that he booked a variety of performers because “they were talented,” not because the acts fell into a specific genre. (This October, Time Life will release a DVD of the best performances on the show titled Glen Campbell Good Times Again.)
Of course, most people associate Campbell with his solo work. After a couple of hits in the late ’60s, including the Grammy-winning “Gentle On My Mind,” Campbell became famous by recording a handful of tunes penned by songwriter Jimmy Webb—“Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and “Galveston.”
Campbell says he realized that there was one thing that made Webb’s compositions stand out after hearing the songwriter’s “MacArthur Park,” the complex epic that became an unlikely hit in 1968. “The chord progressions married the melody of the song,” Campbell says.
After the immense popularity of his versions of the Webb songs, Campbell’s popularity declined in the early ’70s. He struck gold again with the release of the glitzy country hit “Rhinestone Cowboy” in 1975. The song reached the top of the pop and country charts.
Campbell later experienced more lean times after leaving Capitol Records in 1981. He blames this partly on the fact that the label would not let him release the Webb number “Highwayman” as a single. Four years later, The Highwaymen—a country super group featuring Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson—released the song, and it topped the country charts.
Campbell says that at the time Capitol execs were trying to push him to play power pop music in the vein of the early ‘80s band The Knack instead of the vintage country sound of “Highwayman.”
“They said, ‘That’s not the direction we think you should go,’” he says of the disagreement. “ ‘We think you should do more of a “My Sharona” type of thing.’ ”
These days, Campbell is proud of the fact that he didn’t cave in to pressure from the record labels and record sub-par tunes. “Thank God, I got good songs,” he says. “Thank God, ‘Fraulein’ [a 1957 chart-topper by Bobby Helms] wasn’t a hit for me.”
Campbell sees an upcoming collaborative album with Webb in the same light. He believes that the work will be out within the next year. It will be his first release since a 2002 concert CD with the South Dakota Symphony, and Campbell says it will adhere to one theme. “The concept is good songs,” he says.
Before diving deeper into creating the work, Campbell will journey up to Monterey to play some golf and perform at the Golden State Theatre this Tuesday night. When asked whether he will play classics like “Wichita Lineman” at the show, Campbell gives an answer that seems to say yes. “You gotta dance with what brought you to the dance,” he says.
plays 8pm Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $45-$95. 372-3800.