Glen Campbell has died. He was 81. It’s sad news – of course – he’s a towering giant, one of the greatest guitarists, a sweet, sweet voice, and a hell of a repertoire – as session player and solo star. But Glen Campbell is at peace now, at rest, finally. He had battled that terrible disease, Alzheimer’s, since a 2011 diagnosis.
I love so much of the music he made.
But I didn’t grow up with Campbell’s music – I had to find my way to it. I read about Big Bluegrass Special, his 1962 debut with the Green River Boys. That was added to the collection. And what they said was true. This guy could play! Included on the soundtrack of the Australian film, Love Serenade, was one of his most famous songs – Witchita Lineman. A piece of magic. Pure and simple. Suddenly I really liked Glen Campbell.
I found out about his connection to The Wrecking Crew, his role as super-sub, a touring Beach Boy…
And I collected up some compilations and albums and I got to see him play in the mid-00s. And it was a show full of ups and downs, it dragged a little, he relied on his daughter to carry large parts of it, but the highs were high. Hearing those majestic songs…oh man!
Witchita had been written to order, a follow-up place-name hit that Campbell needed after By The Time I Get To Phoenix. He rang that song’s author, Jimmy Webb, and placed his order. “Another one with a place-name in it…” or something like that. Webb’s songs never sounded better than when Campbell was singing them – in some strange way, but something Webb has acknowledged, Glen Campbell was an influence on the writing, he helped to make Webb’s career just as Jimmy Webb had helped him.
Campbell could write – a little, at least, and he sure could play, but he was best – really – as a song interpreter. A powerful and brilliant performer, and a man with a kindness of soul that knew how to get to the essence of the song; how to sell what needed to be sold.
You probably never thought you needed to hear another version of Mull of Kintyre – but watch as Glen Campbell not only nails it, makes it better than you ever thought it was – he plays the fucking bagpipes too!
Such was the depth of his talent.
He got to have a swansong too – released earlier this year, his final album; a beautiful statement. It was recorded a few years ago and saved. The family knew his time was nearly up. He signed off from touring, handed over a final record and now the closing chapter of a brilliant musical career.
You’ll read better, deeper tributes to Glen Campbell. Of course. This is just a wee note of thanks for so much of the music that I love – those songs like Southern Nights, Galveston, Hey Little One (in which he manages something else no one ever achieves; he manages, just a bit to sound like The Big O), Wichita – again – of course! – Folk Singer and so many more. Yeah, I’ll even chuck in the big one, the obvious one, Rhinestone Cowboy. It was probably the first Glen Campbell song I ever heard actually. I like the way he owned that – why wouldn’t you, given its success. It was a sad and silly highlight of the concert I saw. But it would have been gutting to not hear it.
Imagine never having the music of Glen Campbell in our lives. Good thing we don’t have to do that. He’s earned his rest. And he was brilliant. An amazing, freakish talent. The songs he had a hand in – You’re Young And You’ll Forget, Reason To Believe, Try A Little Kindness, Gentle On My Mind (I could list them all day) – will stand. We have those to hold onto. You know that, as a musician, that’s all Glen Campbell could have wanted.
R.I.P. Glen Campbell