By Keith Sharp
In reacting to the death of Glen Campbell who passed away from a degenerative brain disease Monday August 8th in Nashville Tennessee at the age of 81, I can’t help but think back to the spring of 1967 when being fresh off the boat from England and a new arrival to Sault Ste Marie Ontario, I was instantly fascinated by American television (most of the channels we got in the Soo were American). One of the first shows I was drawn to was The Smothers Brothers.
It was probably the episode when The Who performed and Keith Moon blew up his drum kit setting Pete Townshend’s hair on fire in the process. But for whatever reason, Sunday night during those winter and spring months meant watching The Smother’s Brothers Goodtime Hour. A re-occurring musical guest on those shows was Glen Campbell.
I have never really been in to traditional country music but Glen Campbell had a style that was totally infectious. I can’t say I was big on his first two Jimmy Webb tunes; “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Gentle On My Mind” both a bit lame to me, but when he sang “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” I was totally hooked.
It seemed the Arkansas native had built quite a reputation as a session player, filling in for Brian Wilson on two Beach Boys tours in 1964 and 1965 and even playing guitar on their legendary `Pet Sounds’ release. And it was hardly surprising that his musical talents, good looks and sparkling personality won him his own CBS show, first subbing as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers in 1968 before earning his own show which ran for three years 1969-1972. One of his frequent guests at this time was Anne Murray who earned major U.S exposure on his show.
Over his career, Campbell recorded 70 albums, sold 450 million records, won 10 ACMA awards and six Grammy Awards, Rhinestone Cowboy proved to be his biggest singles’ hit in 1976 and he even appeared as Le Bouef in the movie True Grit with John Wayne (winning Wayne an Academy Award).
Sadly, Campbell’s personal life was tarnished by scandal. He had eight children with four wives and in 1976 was the centre of a romance scandal with Tanya Tucker who was 22 years his junior. Although, he disappeared into the background for awhile, Campbell continued to tour, record albums and appear on the occasional television show.
In 2011, when he went public with the news that he was suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease, Campbell was determined to leave a musical legacy. He recorded `Ghost On The Canvas’ with Chris Isaac, Paul Westerberg and Jacob Dylan, committed to a final Goodbye concert tour through 2011/2012 with three of his children from his fourth wife, Kim performing with him and helping him out during his frequent memory lapses.
Like David Bowie and Chuck Berry before him, Campbell was determined to leave one final single, titled “I’m Not Gonna Miss You “in September 2014 which chronicled his brave battle against his brain disease and one final album `Adios’ which was released this June.
My biggest personal regret was never seeing Glen Campbell perform live. I had the chance when he played at the CNE in 2012, when I was working there on security detail with G4S but I had heard of his on-stage struggles and I didn’t want to watch a performer who I had long admired, battling his illness to perform. A few people I did talk to after the show, admitted there were a few lapses, but on the whole, he did quite well.
One of Campbell’s final acts was to hire T.K Kimbrell, president of TKO Artist Management to unearth unrecorded tracks and Kimbrell announced that “the more he got into looking for unrecorded material the more he found”. Leaving wife Kim to declare that her future goal “Is to make sure Glen’s musical legacy lives on forever and that it is passed down to generations to come.”