As I think about Glen Campbell on the sad occasion of his death, I realize that he was a presence in my musical consciousness for almost my whole life. I remember a moment when I was around ten years old. It was summer and I was reading a comic book (I think it was Spiderman, I was a Marvel kid) in my bedroom when the radio played a song that drew my attention away from the adventures of Peter Parker. It was something about Wichita but the telegraph-like strings and piano part at the end of the verse had a eerie quality that somehow connected to me. On some level it made me realize that music could tap into emotions my ten year brain wasn’t aware of but were there all the same.
Campbell was there on the television as I was growing up. He would frequently appear on the t.v. variety shows of the era and he had numerous hits in the late sixties and early seventies. In retrospect, he was a pioneer in country/pop crossover music. I was unaware of it at the time but I already heard Glen Campbell the guitar player on any number of pop hits. Before being a star in his own right, Campbell was a top flight L.A. studio musician. As part of the “Wrecking Crew”, he played on records from The Monkees to Frank Sinatra. He was even a touring member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson, playing bass guitar and singing falsetto harmonies.
The moment when it really hit me what a great guitarist Glen Campbell was occurred sometime in the late seventies. I was home from college and my parents were watching The Carol Burnett Show with Glen Campbell as the guest when they go into a duet of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. By this time I had already played guitar for a while and was familiar with the song as a jazz standard so my ear’s perked up. Damn, that guy could play guitar. It then went into some corny seventies t.v. sthick but you could hear Glen play some incredible guitar throughout.
Glen Campbell & Carol Burnett
Below are three video clips of Glen Campbell performing some of his best songs. With songwriter Jimmy Webb, Campbell found someone who would provide the vehicle for the both of them to achieve some of the best pop songs of their day. “Wichita Lineman”, that song I heard when I was ten, still gives me goosebumps when I hear that telegraph strings/piano part. The other Jimmy Webb song here, “Galveston” is another song that captures the narrator’s loneliness in a way that only music can. Maybe that’s one of the greatest things about music (and great art in general), they way it can give the gift of empathy (wow, how did I get here). By the way, the guitar solos in all three clips are amazing.
Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman” (Austin City Limits 1985)
Glen Campbell – Galveston
Glen Campbell – “Gentle On My Mind”