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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Glen Campbell--An appreciation

Glen Campbell performs his hit "Try a Little Kindness"

The death Tuesday of Glen Campbell, after a long and courageous battle with Alzheimer's disease during which he starred with three of his children in a final "Goodbye Tour," prompted a flood of accolades for the beloved County Music Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.

"Had Glen Campbell 'only' played guitar and never voiced a note, he would have spent a lifetime as one of America’s most consequential recording musicians," said Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young in a statement.

"Had he never played guitar and 'only' sung, his voice would rank with American music’s most riveting, expressive, and enduring," Young continued. "He left indelible marks as a musician, a singer, and an entertainer, and he bravely shared his incalculable talent with adoring audiences even as he fought a cruel and dread disease. To all of us who heard and loved his soulful music, he was a delight."

Also in a statement, Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow saluted the six-time Grammy winner as "an American treasure," and in addition to his own big pop and country hits, cited his prodigious guitar session work with the fabled Los Angeles "Wrecking Crew" of musicians who played on 1960s sessions for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Phil Spector.

"In a career spanning more than six decades, Glen contributed to countless hits as part of the renowned group of session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew," said Portnow. "As an artist, his remarkable voice, top-level guitar work, and dazzling showmanship shot him to superstardom in the 1960s, and he became one of the most successful pop/country crossover artists of all time."

The Wrecking Crew played on numerous Beach Boys sessions, and Brian Wilson was one of many artists who eulogized Campbell via Twitter: "I'm very broken up to hear about my friend Glen Campbell. An incredible musician and an even better person. I'm at a loss."

Los Angeles historian Alison Martino recalled, on Facebook, how Arkansas native Campbell played on records made in the '60s by her father Al Martino. She posted a picture of the two on the set of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in 1969—after which, Campbell came over to the Martinos for a home-cooked Italian dinner.

"I remember dad telling the story of how he taught Glen how to twirl his spaghetti with his fork and spoon for the first time," recalled Martino. "That was a big deal for an Arkansas boy. I'll also always cherish the memory of producing a short documentary on Glen's life for TV Land in 2006. He invited my crew and me out to his house in Malibu and we recorded the interview for five hours. When I returned to the studio the sound man never hit the record button! One of the worst moments was having to call Glen and tell him that we had to redo the interview. He was so gracious and so understanding he had me back the next day and I spent even more time with him. One of the most surreal moments was with me asking him to reenact his intro on the Glen Campbell show. He got right up out of his chair and and said, "Hi everybody, I'm Glen Campbell!'"

The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which ran on CBS from January, 1969, through June, 1972, came about after Campbell's successful hosting of a 1968 summer replacement series for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Ken Kragen managed the Smothers Brothers, and later artists including Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie.

"I had the job of coming up with who should host the summer show," he says. "I got a hundred submissions on those huge, heavy videotapes of those days, and I got through 50 at CBS Studios--and there was Glen Campbell as a guest on The Joey Bishop Show, I think it was, and I ran upstairs and got Tommy and brought him back down and said, 'Tommy, I found the guy!' and Tommy flipped and put Glen on!"

Campbell, continues Kragen, had "an all-American quality: He was great-looking with charismatic charm, who'd been primarily a studio musician. Over the years I'd run into him and he was always lovely and sweet and a really terrific guy."

As for Campbell's prowess as a player, guitarist Boo Reiners of New York's acclaimed progressive country/bluegrass band Demolition String Band notes that Campbell's "vast set of natural skill and artistic muscle allowed him to transcend all genres, whether in the spotlight or supporting others as the consummate sideman."

"Regardless of such phenomenal success in the spotlight, he always stayed hungry, all the way to the end," adds Reiners. "Even casual listeners or viewers recognized his startling chops, but the way he communicated and delivered a song went straight to the heart. He put his soul into his work, and you felt that; he didn't 'perform' a song but gifted it to us, and we carry it with us like it was our very own."

In 2005, Demolition String Band presented a Glen Campbell tribute at New York's Rodeo Bar.

"It was an opportunity to gather our fellow artists in a spirit of community and celebrate great music that inspired us and the many local fans who keep live music alive night after night," says Reiners. "But this tribute was somehow extra special. I'm not sure I could put a finger on it, except to say that everyone felt the musical weight of the material and the subject, and put their heart and soul into it. There was a lot of joy in the room that night."

Music historian John Alexander assesses Campbell's impact on country music: "It cannot be overstated. He was the real deal--an extraordinarily talented musician from Arkansas who helped take country music uptown. What most people don't realize is that The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour preceded The Johnny Cash Show by six months. The Goodtime Hour debuted in January 1969 while Cash's classic series started in June. Both shows helped introduce country music to a whole new audience."

In a statement, Shenandoah's Marty Raybon echoed Alexander.

"Glen Campbell, along with Johnny Cash, brought country music into the homes across America during the late '60s that will never be matched," said Raybon. "He was a versatile entertainer, session player and loving father. He will be missed by all that knew him and were touched by his amazing talent."

Fellow country star Pam Tillis, also in a statement, noted how her father Mel Tillis benefited from his exposure on Campbell's show.

"In some ways my family’s life changed once Dad became a semi-regular on the Glen Campbell show and we were always so grateful for that," said Tillis. "I just loved him always, he crossed genres effortlessly and even though he was astonishingly good looking and talented he came off so real and natural—a genius entertainer for sure."

And noteworthy Campbell fans everywhere singled out Campbell's relationship with songwriter Jimmy Webb, who penned such Campbell signature hits as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and"Galveston."

"Galveston" was one of the first singles I ever bought," says Alexander. "Jimmy Webb's lyrics and Glen's performance rank it among the finest collaborations in country music history."

Webb was understandlby grief-stricken.

"I am writing because I think you deserve some sort of message from me," he wrote on Facebook, likening his plight to "waking up in the morning in some Kafkaesque novella and finding that half of you is missing."

"Let the world note," Webb declared, "that a great American influence on pop music, the American Beatle, the secret link between so many artists and records that we can only marvel, has passed and cannot be replaced--my friend and brother in music, Glen Campbell."

Webb shared "the one great lesson that I learned from him as a kid: Musically speaking nothing is out of bounds." He also credited Campbell for giving him "a great wide lens through which to look at music."

Singling out Campbell's 1969 hit "Try a Little Kindness," Webb said that Campbell lived up to its lyric "shine your light on everyone you see" and 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."

And Webb testified to Campbell's friendship.

"He spoke my name from 10,000 stages," Webb said. "He was my big brother, my protector, my co-culprit, my John crying in the wilderness. Nobody liked a Jimmy Webb song as much as Glen!"

Webb concluded: "This I can promise: While I can play a piano he will never be forgotten. And after that someone else will revel in his vast library of recordings and pass them on to how many future generations? Possibly to all of them."



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