Today is the birthday of country guitar great Glen Campbell, who was born in 1936 in Delight, Arkansas.
Though he’s known best as a solo artist, Campbell started out as a session musician with the Wrecking Crew, the group of anonymous studio musicians who performed on Sixties recordings by artists that included Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, the Monkees, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. His many studio credits from this period include Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and “Unchained Melody,” and numerous tracks by the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and the Mamas and the Papas.
One of his greatest unbilled claims to fame is as guitarist on the Beach Boys’ groundbreaking 1966 album, Pet Sounds. Prior to the recording, he had toured with the group from December 1964 to March 1965, filling in for Brian Wilson, who preferred the studio to the road.
In 1962, Campbell signed with Capitol Records and released several recordings with the Green River Boys, none of which sold well. He finally scored with his 1965 cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier,” but when he was unable to follow it up with another hit, Capitol considered dropping him. Instead, the label teamed him with producer and Wrecking Crew veteran Al De Lory, and together they found material and arrangements suited to Campbell’s voice and style. Some of Campbell’s biggest hits during this period were written by Jimmy Webb, including “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Where’s the Playground, Susie,” “Galveston” and the song with which Campbell is best associated, “Wichita Lineman.”
His success continued with his own TV show in 1968, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, as well as movies, including the 1969 John Wayne western True Grit. Campbell’s popularity stretched well into the Seventies with the hit songs “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights” and “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.).”
Though his talents as a guitarist often took a back seat to his vocal prowess, Campbell was a formidable player, capable of some ferocious country-style shredding when the opportunity arose, as it did on his numerous appearances on the TV show Hee Haw over the decades. Notably, Campbell was an early adopter of the Ovation acoustic-electric guitar. The instrument, with its distinctive bowl-shaped composite back, was a familiar sight on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and helped to bring Ovation into the spotlight.
Campbell continued to perform and record over the years, though less frequently. In June 2011, he announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and went on the road for a final Goodbye Tour with three of his children in his backup band. His final performance was on November 30, 2012, in Napa, California. In 2014, he released his last single, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” an ode to his life, love and family and a statement about finding grace in his affliction.
Watch Glen and Roy Clark tear it up on “Ghost Riders in the Sky” from an Eighties performance on Hee Haw.
Here’s Glen shredding on “The William Tell Overture” in 1974 in New York City’s Central Park. The song became a staple of his performances and an opportunity for him to show his guitar chops.