Becoming a bonafide living legend isn’t as easy as Glen Campbell makes it look. First, you have to have a solid foundation of talent on which to build — like being one of the hottest guitar players in the world. Then you have to record songs that will stand the test of time — standards such as “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.” And of course, to be a “living” legend, you need to survive the harsh reality of a celebrity lifestyle. Check, check, and check.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a witty, bantering stage style that draws fans like college students to Daytona Beach, or a hit television show viewed by 50 million people every week for three years.
When you put it all together, the result is a career that spans 50 plus years, with fans that cross generational and international lines. In other words - Glen Campbell.
Glen’s appearances are still a hot draw on television. In 2000, PBS aired a Glen Campbell Special taped in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and he’s been profiled recently on A&E’s Biography, VH-1 Behind The Scenes, and CMT’s Inside Fame, as well as Cribs.
Although Glen was already hitting the top of both the country and pop charts by 1969, the “Goodtime Hour” gave his career “legs.” The popular CBS musical variety series was simulcast on the BBC from England to Singapore to Australia and paved the way for five BBC specials. The exposure gave Glen a global presence he enjoys to this day, 40 plus years later. He has toured the UK 20 times, Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
“It’s awesome when you think about the power of TV and movies,” Glen comments. “If I hadn’t had hit records, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity for TV and movies, but the “Goodtime Hour” made my career explode all over the world.”
Besides having one of the most successful variety shows in television history, Glen will be remembered as one of the best guitarists of his generation. His musicianship has inspired many of today’s most renowned pickers, including Alan Jackson, Steve Wariner, and Keith Urban and lives on in the tracks of the most legendary collections of the 20th century. His enormous success as a crossover artist also paved the way for hitmakers, such as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton to break genre barriers. In addition, Glen was one of the first country artists to forge a path into Hollywood’s studio back lots. His portrayal of John Wayne’s young sidekick in the classic “True Grit” will be viewed by generations to come.
Glen’s tremendous impact on the artistic scene was an unlikely outcome for a sharecropper’s son, one of twelve children raised in rural Billstown, Arkansas. But Glen’s father recognized his talent early and bought his youngster a five-dollar Sears & Roebuck guitar. The child prodigy had conquered the instrument by the time he was ten. At 16, Glen left school to pursue music full time. He started in a three-piece combo with his uncle, Dick Bills, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but was soon touring the Southwest fronting his own band.
In 1961, the 24-year-old musician hit the Los Angeles studio scene like a blast of fresh air. Glen quickly became a sought-after studio picker, his talents enriching records by such artists as Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Merle Haggard, Elvis Presley, Jan & Dean, and the Righteous Brothers. In addition, Phil Spector and Jimmy Bowen used him for most of their projects, and the Beach Boys invited him to join their group in the mid-sixties. He toured with the legendary band for 18 months from 1964 and 1965, until his own solo career took off.
Glen had released a single, “Turn Around Look at Me,” on a regional label in 1961 that cracked the charts and got the attention of Capitol Records. His first album for Capitol, Big Bluegrass Special, was recorded under the name The Green River Boys Featuring Glen Campbell. The debut collection yielded one Top 20 hit, “Kentucky Means Paradise,” and Glen continued to record for the label. Then, in 1967, “Gentle on My Mind” broke the world open like an oyster for Glen Campbell.
The single initially only made it to Number 30 on Billboard. More than a year later - after Glen had become a crossover sensation with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “I Wanna Live” and “The Dreams of The Everyday Housewife” - “Gentle On My Mind” made an incredible second chart climb. His success continued with the late 1968 release of “Wichita Lineman,” which hit Number One country and Number Three on the pop charts. “Galveston” revisited that crossover success in early 1969.
In 1968, Tommy Smothers caught Glen’s guest-star appearance on “The Joey Bishop Show”. Tommy and Dickie Smothers were so impressed by his presence and talent that they asked Glen to host their summer replacement series, “The Summer Brothers Smothers Show”. Glen’s musical proficiency and natural wit sent the ratings through the roof. CBS executives were so delighted by Glen’s unexpected popularity that they offered the fledgling star his own series. “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” took to the airwaves in January 1969, and immediately soared to number one. The variety show’s talented host became a household name across America and around the world.
The success of the “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” was due to Glen’s triple-decker talent as a musician, singer, and humorist, and the guests he brought on his show. Glen gave viewers what they wanted: the best talent in a variety of entertainment and musical genres - Buck Owens, Lucille Ball, Eric Clapton, Cream, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, Anne Murray, Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Cher, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more. In the process, Glen gave a tremendous boost to the careers of many fledgling artists.
“We had a lot of country, but we did every kind of music,” Glen explains. “The Monkees were on, and so was Johnny Cash.”
In 1969, Glen had a hit with “True Grit,” recorded for the soundtrack of the movie in which he starred with John Wayne. His star continued to shine through the next decade as well. Two of his singles landed at Number One on both country and pop charts: “Rhinestone Cowboy” in 1975 and “Southern Nights” in 1977. In fact, Glen’s chart history is one of the most formidable in country music. In 1987, “Still Within The Sound of My Voice” became one of the year’s most played records. That same year, one of the young stars who cite Glen’s influence as the main reason they chose a musical path - Steve Wariner - joined his hero on the hit duet, “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle.”
Glen’s accolades as a musician and singer are as impressive as his talent. He made history by winning a Grammy in both country and pop categories in 1967: “Gentle on My Mind” snatched the country honors, and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” won in pop. He owns trophies for Male Vocalist of the Year from both the CMA and the ACM, and took the CMA’s top honor as Entertainer of the Year. In 2005 Glen was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame by the Country Music Association of America. In 1999 he won the coveted AMC Pioneer Award for “outstanding and unprecedented achievements in the field of country music.”
During his 50 plus years in show business, Glen has released more than 70 albums. He has sold 45 million records and racked up twelve RIAA Gold albums, four Platinum albums and one Double-Platinum album. Of his 75 trips up the charts, 27 landed in the Top Ten.
In the 1990s, Glen released a series of gospel albums, which opened up new vistas for the star and garnered a prestigious Dove Award. His tell-all autobiography, Rhinestone Cowboy, shot to the best-seller list when it was released in 1994. He released The Glen Campbell Collection (1962-1989) in 1997 and a new Christmas album in 1999. In August 2008, Glen returned to his longtime label Capitol Records, recording ten new tracks for Meet Glen Campbell. This album welcomes the discovery and the re-discovery of the legend, his music, and his artistry.
Glen Campbell will release his final studio album, Ghost on the Canvas (2011), later this year. According to Billboard, the new disc will feature collaborations with former Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard and onetime Replacements mouthpiece Paul Westerberg, who wrote the title track. Crooner Chris Isaak and Jakob Dylan have also signed on for Campbell’s upcoming studio swansong.
“It’s not your mother’s Glen Campbell,” producer Julian Raymond told Billboard. “He’s playing guitar better than ever, singing and writing better than ever. It’s really going to be a great final statement from him.” Ghost on the Canvas is the follow-up to Campbell’s 2008 covers disc, Meet Glen Campbell, which featured his taken on tunes by Green Day, the Replacements, U2, the Foo Fighters and the Velvet Underground.
Raymond, who produced that disc, says the covers project was “the best way to get him a new audience, and it did.” Now, Campbell - who is also famous for his 1968 rendering of Jimmy Webb’s classic ‘Wichita Lineman’ - has also gotten studio assistance from members of the Dandy Warhols, former Prince sidewoman Wendy Melvoin and studio drummer Josh Freese. According to Raymond, there was “an unbelievable amount of people” interested in helping Campbell.
Living in Malibu with his wife Kim, Glen is reaping the rewards of 50-plus years of hard work. He is in the enviable - and well earned position - of being able to pick and choose his tour dates and appearances, and he gets to spend quality time with his family. Even on the road, Glen has family at hand. His eldest daughter from his first marriage, Debby, joined his stage show in 1987 and has toured with him ever since. In 2010, his sons Cal and Shannon and youngest daughter Ashley, joined the Glen Campbell Show. This has truly made Glen’s performances a family affair.
Of course, there is one other activity that Glen attends to with the concentration of a pro athlete. Whether he is at home in Malibu or performing on the road, Glen is constantly perfecting his golf game!