The current over enhanced and emotion deadened noise that passes for modern American popular music has separated us from the power that once was evoked from the marriage of lyric, voice, and musicianship that represented the golden age of music performance and recording. Self absorbed and over engineered performers play one generic tome after another, calling out mechanical and soulless structure that blend together like musical hoppel poppel ,that leaves as soon as it is digested and extends no decernible satisfaction. Attempt to recall, to sing, any of the ‘epics’ of the last twenty years and one is left with empty beat and emptier emotions that don’t linger beyond the vapid moment of vague familiarity and oppressive shallowness.
Then Glenn Campbell dies, and memories of musical greatness, like a sudden breach of a whale, or the ecstasy of one who has held their breath for too long under water and first gasps to fill one’s lungs with massive gulps of life giving oxygen, come to mind. Glenn Campbell was the holy trinity of performers. He could sing like an angel. Interpret lyrics to touch one’s very core, and play the absolute hell out of a guitar. No one who ever heard him failed to be just a little bit in awe of what the country boy from Arkansas was able to do with almost any strand of music. When Alzheimer’s Disease stole his prodigious talent in 2012, and inevitably silenced him on August 8th, 2017, a ripple across the Cosmic celestial spheres was felt.
Glen Campbell came out of the outer banks of the American Frontier, born just outside the aptly named Delight, Arkansas on April 22, 1936. His family was musical and Glenn took to the guitar like a fish to water, soon becoming a participant in some of the family’s musical projects, a polyglot of american backwoods — gospel, bluegrass, and “cowboy” swing. The teenage Campbell honed his craft in family efforts such as the Sandia Mountain Boys and the Western Wranglers, dipping into the vortex of post world war rural sound that was part Bob Wills and part Ralph Stanley that would eventually become a force in American music known as Country and Western, with seminal stars such as Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce, and Ray Price. C&W music no only told stories that brought sophisticated reflection to the rural life experience, but also the injection of seriously good musicians, like Chet Atkins and Buck Owens, innovators in both the acoustic and electronic voices of the new recording technologies of the post war world. A great instrumentalist by the time he was 25, Glenn went in the opposite direction of most country inflected performers, away from Nashville and out to California, where nearly every performer recording in Los Angeles looked to have his tight and elite musicianship backing every album, from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra.
The not so hidden secret among studio musicians was that not only could Campbell play, he could sing as good as any performer he backed. The general public did not discover this until Glenn Campbell discovered the songs of an obscure Oklahoman named Jimmy Webb, who could write as epically as Campbell could sing. From mid-1967 till mid-1968, Glenn Campbell and Jimmy Webb managed to displace the colossus of the music world, the Beatles, as the world’s greatest selling artist, with songs such as Galveston, Wichita Lineman, and By the Time I get to Phoenix.
In Jimmy Webb, Glenn Campbell had found his muse, and in Campbell, Jimmy Webb his siren. The songs matched a profound and dignified humanity to real, everyday people caught in life’s most reflective moments, and Campbell’s perfect 21/2 octave ,innocent and aching, clarion of a voice made the simple words immortal. Jimmy Webb, America’s greatest baby boomer songwriter and Campbell, America’s troubadour, had careers that lasted decades after, but were forever linked to their brief perfect union. The two artists had collaborated on music that transcended pop, country, and rock to become indisputably American Music. Fifty years later, it speaks to us in emotions and reflections as fresh as the day they were borne.
Glenn Campbell became a huge television star, hosting his own show, the Glenn Campbell Good Time Hour, promoting little known acts like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, would revolutionize the staid world of country music in the 1970s and 80s. He starred in movies such as True Grit and Any Which Way You Can, was a regular on Johnny Carson and achieved superstar status with songs such as Southern Nights and Rhinestone Cowboy.
The natural humbleness and boy next door on screen personality, however, could not withstand the typical stresses and attention of uberfame, and Campbell like many artists, lost himself in unstable relationships and substance abuse. The productivity and quality suffered as well in the 1980s and 1990s until he was eventually able to achieve sobriety and take stock of himself. A chastened performer in his final decades, he still at times overwhelmed audiences and fellow artists with his off the charts talent. The videos below are a wonderful memoriam to Glenn Campbell’s amazing talent, a man and his guitar wowing some of the biggest names in country with his beautiful honey tinged voice and guitar chops. The horrible prison that is Alzheimers took Glenn Campbell away when he still had so much to give. If you get a moment, turn todays’ pale imitations off, open your mind and absorb some true sensorial pleasure, on what legendary talent in the person of Glenn Campbell was all about.