August 9, 2017, - 10:30 am

Glen Campbell, “Rhinestone Cowboy” & One of Last Country Greats, RIP – Why He Was Great For America

By Debbie Schlussel

I’m not the biggest country music fan, but I was always a fan of Glen Campbell, who died yesterday at age 81. He was multi-talented and one of the last true country greats. His songs poignantly told the tale of the middle American blue collar working man.



In 2015, I reviewed the documentary, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” the touching portrait of this once-great country star who descended into the depths of Alzheimer’s Disease, while he tried to do one last concert tour across America to say good-bye to his fans.

It was sad for me because one of my favorite ’70s songs was “Southern Nights,” Campbell’s upbeat 1977 hit. Although he didn’t write the song (Alvin Toussaint wrote it as a reminiscence of visiting his relatives in rural Louisiana), it reminded Campbell of his Arkansas upbringing as the son of a sharecropper, and his performance of the song put it atop the charts and rang a bell with a lot of Americans (like me) who weren’t from the South. He always sang of the American experience, and that song could have been “Michigan Nights” for me (although that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). The same goes for the beautiful “Wichita Lineman,” also written by someone else, but made a hit by Glen Campbell’s smooth, emotional performance that spoke of the working class American values of yesteryear–a guy driving on the main road, working hard, and wishing he could take a short vacation. Campbell sang about Wichita, Galveston, Phoenix, main roads and dirty sidewalks, and everyday American life, trials, hustles, and dreams. (FYI, “Rhinestone Cowboy” was written by Larry Weiss, who–I guarantee you–was not a rhinestone cowboy, though despite conventional stereotypes, American history is filled with Jewish cowboys.)

Campbell wasn’t just a country music crooner. He was a prodigy and musician from an early age, learning to play several instruments. He could do jazz, he could do country, he could do rock (played in a rock band when he first got to Hollywood). He was also one of the original country stars who managed to cross over and top the pop charts. In 1968, Campbell outsold The Beatles. Campbell played in studio sessions for hit song recordings by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, briefly joined the Beach Boys (and turned them down when they offered him a permanent spot), and wrote and composed some of his own hits. His skilled guitar riffs can be heard on at least one Beach Boys hit. Campbell could also act, and, among other roles, he co-starred in the original 1969 movie, “True Grit,” with John Wayne. And he hosted his own TV talk show for a time. He had a great singing voice, which was at the same time strong and soothing, and all-American good looks. Despite his humble beginnings, he played for Presidents and a Queen (Elizabeth). And he sold between 40 and 70 million albums, depending upon which press report is correct.

Like many country stars, Campbell lived a rough life and didn’t always exude the values about which he sang (though I feel like it gave him texture and authenticity when he sang). He married four times and was an alcoholic and cocaine addict. But in the early ’80s, married to his fourth and last wife, Kim, he became a born-again Christian and put his troubled past behind (but for a drunk driving incident in 2003).

There really aren’t country music stars like Glen Campbell anymore. Today’s “country” is largely bubblegum pop music with a twang (and often the twang is phony, too), and it’s mostly filled–with few exceptions–by Taylor Swift wannabes. Campbell had personality, spunk, and he was a showman. Plus he had the talent to back it all up. Though much of his career happened before I was born and when I was very little, his songs, especially “Southern Nights,” remind me of being a kid in the ’70s, because I remember hearing that song on the radio all the time when it was a hit.

Campbell had eight children and lived to see not just great-grandchildren but great-great-grandchildren.

Sadly, the Rhinestone Cowboy Wichita Lineman son of an Arkansan farmer is now with the angels.

Glen Campbell, Rest In Peace.

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29 Responses

EXCELLENT article, Debbie, and well researched. I have been a fan of the man from Delight, Arkansas since Wichita Lineman.

And his music, like his talents, weren’t strictly country, either, more a mix of country and pop. Campbell also threw some funk in to my favorite all-time song of his, Southern Nights. If you listen closely to the bass line and backup vocals, we’re talking an infusion and collaboration of both soul and funk.

Thank you, Debbie, we have something else in common.

Alfredo from Puerto Rico on August 9, 2017 at 11:12 am

Nicely done, Debbie. A spot-on and honest summary of Glen’s life. Such a talented guy, he could do it all: sing, play guitar (extremely well), act, do comedy, and most of all, just entertain. And he did it without constantly braying about his politics—whatever they were. There are some people in country today that follow in his footsteps, but not many unfortunately. He certainly is the end of an era though.

Most people just don’t know about the years spent as part of The Wrecking Crew and all of the countless numbers of hits that he played on. You mentioned The Beach Boys but that was just the tip of the iceberg. If you haven’t seen The Wrecking Crew movie by Danny Tedesco I would HIGHLY recommend that you do. That tells Glen’s story and that of those other unsung talents who played all the music to to many of the hits of the 60’s.

RR: Haven’t seen The Wrecking Crew (I missed the critics’ screening when they had one). Will check it out based on your recommendation. THANKS! DS

Rick R. on August 9, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I missed the documentary on The Wrecking Crew, which is surprising because I’ve long admired so many of the excellent musicians of that impressive group. I was lucky enough to find the DVD of it online at the free library, and I’m having it shipped to my branch. (The free library has become indispensable for seeing such movies since local video stores everywhere seem to be going out of business.)

    When Glen Campbell was with the WC, he played on some of the Beach Boys’ greatest hits, including “Good Vibrations” and “I Get Around,” just to name a few. He played bass on “I Get Around,” so he wasn’t only limited to the guitar.

    By the way, for some interesting music trivia, “Good Vibrations” was the first pop song of note to use a theremin to produce the song’s unique “spacey,” “spooky” sounds. “Good Vibrations” is one of those classic pop songs from the 1960s that I never get tired of. The theremin was invented by Leon Theremin (whose real name was Lev Termen). This unique instrument was first used in Bernard Hermann’s score for The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), the classic sci-fi movie. (Hermann himself was one of the greatest composers of movie music that ever lived and his shrieking violins featured in his score to Hitchcock’s Psycho still can give me goosebumps when I hear it.)

    Go to YouTube to hear the BB classic “Good Vibrations.” But here’s the Bernard Hermann sci-fi score that inspired Brian Wilson to feature the Theremin prominently in his song:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_3yDl1G3Vk

    Ralph Adamo on August 10, 2017 at 6:02 pm

I remember Glen’s TV Show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, growing up in the Detroit Metro Area. My parent’s watched it religiously. My favorite Campbell song, Wichita Lineman, was and still is a great song. Glen was a true American Icon and the Country has lost another piece of her that she can never have back.

MuzzCrusher on August 9, 2017 at 12:16 pm

While today songs like ‘Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife’ and ‘Try A Little Kindness’ would be classified as VERY stale white bread, they still sound good to me. A time when America, for a little while, still hadn’t gone totally to hell in a handbasket.

Alfredo from Puerto Rico on August 9, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Another one gone now from my generation growing up in the 1950’s. I agree with everything you said about him Debbie. Thanks for the tribute.

Joel Crain on August 9, 2017 at 12:27 pm

That was a wonderful tribute. Campbell was someone who overcame his personal demons to perform, and did so very well. Blue collar workers were not the butt of jokes for him, but were extolled by him.

Worry on August 9, 2017 at 1:12 pm

My favorites are “Gentle On My Mind” and “Galveston”.
Campbell was truly one of the greats.

lexi on August 9, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Debbie –

Which Beach Boys song(s) are you referring to?

Toby Flenderson on August 9, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Campbell was one of the many session men on the “Pet Sounds” album (1966). Very likely, that means he played guitar on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and/or “Sloop John B.”

    Primetime on August 9, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Memories of Glen Campbell:

* His show-business breakthrough — as a regular on the Smothers Brothers’ 1960s execrable, pioneering leftoid TV variety show.

* His highly publicized affair with Tanya Tucker, who was maybe 1/2 or 1/3 of his age at the time.

* Cringing throughout the movie “True Grit” at the unbelievably inept performance by Campbell, which still ranks as one of the poorest acting attempts I’ve ever seen. Such a distraction from the heroic workmanship invested by the cancer-stricken John Wayne.

I didn’t know Campbell ever shaped up; I figured his misadventures just failed to gain as much attention because his career had tanked.

Good to know that maybe he adopted sobriety and family values before passing into the darkness.

Jerry on August 9, 2017 at 3:19 pm

My parents spotted him skiing in Aspen and sent me over to get his autograph at the age of seven. All I had was a deck of cards, and he signed the seven of hearts.

Ingot on August 9, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Debbie:

This article warmed my heart. Thank you very much for posting this. I felt like another piece of my childhood left me when he passed away.

Dam

Yukon Dan on August 9, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Sad about his health in the last years. But he made his peace with Christ Jesus. He was a part of the “dark underbelly ” of the country & rock music scene. Many of a young woman dealt with him and other scumbags . But as in Campbell’s case, he came out of it. A good smooth voice.

William on August 9, 2017 at 5:12 pm

DS, that was a superb and heart-felt tribute to Glen Campbell, who was, indeed, one of the greatest pop musicians of all time. (He was much more than a country musician and his work has traversed many genres.)

I too, like Debbie, am not a country music fan. But I’m not of the same view as Buddy Rich was, who once was asked by a doctor if he was allergic to anything before he was to undergo a heart operation, and he responded, “Yes, country music.” I’ve even seen interviews of Buddy where he spoke strongly against country music and even savaged Glen Campbell. (In Buddy’s case, I think he felt some envy and consternation that so many of the great jazz musicians of America have been virtually forgotten, while far lesser country musicians have been revered by the public. But why Buddy would lump Glen in with lesser country musicians is a mystery. Nonetheless, Buddy Rich is still the greatest drummer that ever lived.)

But apart from Buddy, virtually every top musician I’ve read about in many different genres has always spoken with great admiration for Glen, as a person as well as a musician. To give you an idea about that, Edward Van Halen, certainly one of the greatest and most original rock guitarists of all time, had tried to persuade Glen to give him some guitar lessons. Glen was that good and that special.

Glen’s music will live on.

Ralph Adamo on August 9, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    “…Edward Van Halen, certainly one of the greatest and most original rock guitarists of all time, had tried to persuade Glen to give him some guitar lessons. Glen was that good and that special.”

    https://youtu.be/ETkzK9pXMio

    lee of the lower case "l" on August 11, 2017 at 12:30 am

Thanks, Mr. Adamo. I think that puts a nice punctuation on it, the Glen Campbell story.

Alfredo from Puerto Rico on August 9, 2017 at 11:45 pm

Hi dear Debbie! Glen was a wonderful singer and a great American! Thanks for sharing! RIP Glen! we love your music! with respect Tirdad!

TIRDAD GHARIB on August 10, 2017 at 2:09 am

Bubble gum for the mind! Debbie, your reference to Bubble gum music reminds me of Bubble gum literature. A teacher once told me that fiction was bubble gum for the mind.. not worthy of deep contemplation but for some mindless enjoyment.

karen on August 10, 2017 at 9:24 am

One of the ‘flip sides’ of his singles was a great, fun Country/Blue Grass version of “The William Tell Overture”

Alex Charles on August 10, 2017 at 11:39 am

A few corrections and pointers:
Allen Toussaint was the writer of “Southern Nights” (that was the one of which Glen’s take on the “William Tell Overture” was the flip). Mr. Toussaint was a big cheese in New Orleans R&B circles as a producer and writer. (Among his productions was LaBelle’s 1975 chart-topper, “Lady Marmalade,” and one of his most famous compositions was “Java” which was most famously recorded by trumpeter Al Hirt.)
– The writer of some of Mr. Campbell’s most famous hits – “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “Where’s The Playground Susie” – was Jimmy Webb. In fact, both were synonymous with one another.

But it wasn’t just his death that has marked the end of an era. Two weeks ago (on July 26), June Foray – legendary voice artist, famous as Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale in “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” Cindy Lou Who in the 1966 TV cartoon version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and countless other cartoon characters (and, earlier in her career, much radio) – died at age 99. Among those around during the Golden Age of Cartoons, her death truly did mark the end of an era, as she was by all evidence the last surviving such cartoon voice. Her reputation was such that Warner Bros. cartoon director Chuck Jones actually said that their resident (and only credited) voice artist, Mel Blanc, was “the male June Foray.”

Concerned Patriot on August 10, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    CP,
    I’m glad you mentioned Jimmy Webb, a terrific songwriter and close collaborator with Glen Campbell. Jimmy wrote his own statement honoring his close friend:

    DEAR FRIENDS,
    Well, that moment has come that we have known was an inevitable certainty and yet stings like a sudden catastrophe. Let the world note 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. He was bountiful. His was a world of gifts freely exchanged: from Roger Miller stories, to songs from the best writers, to an old Merle Haggard record. My friend, my brother in music, Glen Campbell has passed.

    He gave me a great wide lens through which to look at music. The cult of The Players? He was at the very center. He loved the Beach Boys and in subtle ways helped mold their sound. He loved Don and Phil, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, Flatt and Scruggs. This was the one great lesson that I learned from him as a kid: Musically speaking– nothing is out of bounds. Of course, he lavished affection and gifts on his kids, family and friends. His love was a deep mercurial thing and once committed he was a tenacious friend as so many in Nashville and Phoenix, L.A. and New York, compadres all over the world would testify. One of his favorite songs was “Try A Little Kindness” in which he sings “shine your light on everyone you see.” My God. Did he do that or what? Just thinking back I believe suddenly 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. Leave ’em laughin.’ Leave them feeling just a tad better about themselves; What a majestically graceful and kind, top rate performer was Glen on his worst night!

    When it came to friendship Glen was the real deal. He spoke my name from ten thousand stages. 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! And yet he was generous with other writers: Larry Weiss, Allen Toussaint, John Hartford. You have to look hard for a bad song on a Glen Campbell album. He was giving people their money’s worth before it became fashionable.

    I am full of grief. I am writing because I think you deserve some sort of message from me but I am too upset to write very well or at any great length. It’s like waking up in the morning in some Kafkaesque novella and finding that half of you is missing. Laura and I would call upon you to rest your sympathy with Kim Campbell and her children Cal, Shannon and Ashley; his older children Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, and Dillon; grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren. Perhaps you could throw in a prayer for the Webb kids, Chris, Justin, Jamie, Corey, Charles and Camila who looked upon him as a kind of wondrous uncle who was a celebrated star and funnier than old dad.

    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.

    JIMMY

    Ralph Adamo on August 11, 2017 at 4:25 pm

I just read your article,Ms. Schlussel and it’s a pretty good one. I was never a big fan of country and neither was my mom,but it sounds like Glenn Campbell was a Renaissance man in the best sense of the word. He did rock,country,comedy,etc and did it all seemingly pretty well.
He’s one of those guys that’s still needed in this world and hope that there’ll be more of coming. So long,Mr. Campbell. You did well but you’ll always be remembered fondly.

Ghostwriter on August 10, 2017 at 8:58 pm

Hey CP, . . .

Wossamotta U.?

Alfredo from Puerto Rico on August 10, 2017 at 8:58 pm

Mr. Campbell’s “extolling” of blue-collar workers and their values contrasted wildly with the late Merle Haggard, of whom Debbie (as she’d written in his obituary) was no fan – and ‘Hag’ clearly looked down on the working man if his politics were of any indication. Mr. Campbell, as ‘Worry’ and ‘Rick R.’ have noted, was much smarted in that whole regard. Coincidentally, for many years both Mr. Campbell and Mr. Haggard recorded for Capitol.

Concerned Patriot on August 11, 2017 at 6:54 am

Excellent post about the great Glen Campbell Debbie. I remember growing up in WV we didn’t have any R&B stations. All we had was country and rock. I liked hearing “Rhinestone Cowboy” while getting ready for school. Sad that he died from the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease as a dear friend of mine who taught me in Sunday School died a few years ago of it. Glen was that rare talent who could transverse between genres and make it look so easy. Happy trails Glen and once again Debbie excellent post about a good man and a great entertainer.

Ken B on August 11, 2017 at 9:08 am

Somebody wrote about Campbell (paraphrasing fro memory)
“If he had never sung a single song he would be remembered as one of the greatest musicians ever. If he had never played a single chord, but had only sang, he would be remembered as one of the greatest singers ever. But he did both.”

Steve G on August 11, 2017 at 11:46 am

One of Mr. Campbell’s forays into comedy I remember was from an early 1977 appearance on “The Carol Burnett Show,” with a parody of the pose of Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson from the promos for the 1976 version of “A Star Is Born.” In Ms. Burnett’s version, she and a bearded Glen were literally stuck together and could not extricate themselves.

Concerned Patriot on August 11, 2017 at 5:10 pm

To this day, Wichita Lineman still moves me in more ways than you can imagine.

Several years ago, Campbell was asked to sing the National Anthem before a sporting event. He muffed the words; actually forgot them. I cringed in embarrassment for him. Nobody knew that he had Alzheimers. I’m not sure anyone knew what Alzheimers was.

To the Wichita Lineman! May your vacation be small by the coming of Moshiach.

Sincerely,

There is NO Santa Claus (aka TINSC)

There is NO Santa Claus on September 11, 2017 at 11:37 pm

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