Singer-instrumentalist Glen Campbell became country music's most popular performer in the years when rock and pop styles threatened to steal Nashville's audience permanently. From 1967 until 1972, the well-groomed Campbell turned out a series of win-some country hits such as "Gentle on My Mind," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and "Wichita Lineman," and starred in his own network television show. Throughout his careerut especially in the late 1960sampbell has projected a clean-cut, All-American persona that has stood in sharp contrast to the prevalent "outlaw" image in country and rock. Some critics feel that this middle-of-the-road style has provided Campbell with a steady audience, those listeners dissatisfied with protest songs and wild instrumentation. TV Guide contributor Cleveland Amory summed up Campbell's appeal in 1969 when he called the performer "a big, blond, .. . farmboy-charmboy type," a handsome but honorable idol for women. Campbell himself has never fought that characterization. He told Time magazine that his approach has always been "simplicity." He added: "If I can just make a forty-year-old housewife put down her dish towel and say 'Oh!'hy then, man, I've got it made."
The seventh son of a seventh son, Glen Travis Campbell was born near the tiny town of Delight, Arkansas, in 1936. His large family (eventually twelve children in all) suffered severe poverty but managed nevertheless to enjoy singing and playing music together. Young Glen picked cotton in the fields beside his brothers and father "for $1.25 a hundred pounds," he told Newsweek. He received his first guitar, from the Sears catalogue mail order, when he was only four. Surrounded by musical uncles and siblings, he soon learned to play well enough to land occasional professional work. By six he was appearing on local radio stations, and when he entered his teens and his family relocated to Houston, he expanded to nightclub engagements. Campbell left high school in the tenth grade, telling Newsweek: "I woke up in school one day and saw that they weren't teaching me how to play and sing, so I quit." At twenty he joined his uncle Dick Bill's band, the Sandia Mountain Boys, then working in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "It was a good training ground," Campbell told the New York Post, "because we played everything from 'Liza' to 'Sundown' to Tumblin' Tumbleweed' and gospel songs." The Sandia Mountain Boys were a modest local success, performing five days per week on the radio and once weekly on television, in addition to their live shows.
Campbell left his uncle's band in 1958, largely because he felt he was singled out for undue persecution. Forming his own group, Glen Campbell and the Western Wranglers, he continued to perform mainly in the Albuquerque area until 1960. Then, with his second wife, he struck out for Hollywood, hoping to become a star. His first years in Hollywood were frustrating ones, during which he found few paying gigs. Eventually, however, he earned a reputation as a talented studio musician and began doing background guitar for a wide variety of recordings. At one time or another, Campbell played behind Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Mamas and the Papas, and Dean Martin, to name only a few. In 1965 he had done so much studio work with the Beach Boys that he actually went on tour with them, substituting for the ailing Brian Wilson. Campbell has estimated that he was earning about $100,000 per year for background work in the mid-1960s, but he still wanted stardom on his own terms. In 1961 he had two minor solo hits, "Turn Aroundook at Me" and "Too Late To Worryoo Blue To Cry," and Capitol Records signed him to a long-term contract. When Capitol failed to market his recordings aggressively, he decided to quit studio musicianship and "work on Glen Campbell."
A country ballad by John Hartford called "Gentle on My Mind" launched Campbell as a solo performer in 1967. The Capitol single hit number one on the country charts and made the Billboard Top Forty as well. Campbell quickly followed that recording with Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," another ballad of love and loss. Both "Gentle on My Mind" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" earned Campbell Grammy Awards, and in 1967 he was chosen Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association. Television soon brought Campbell to a wider audience. After co-hosting "The Summer Smothers Brothers Show" successfully in 1968, he was offered his own prime-time network variety show, "The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour." Expressly non-political in a volatile era, Campbell's show quickly entered the Nielsen Top Ten; it offered country music, mild comedy, and mainstream guest stars, with Campbell an affable, satin-and-rhinestone-clad master of ceremonies. The show was cancelled in 1971, and Campbell turned to touring, earning in excess of $30,000 per appearance in America and abroad. His hits of the 1970s include "I Knew Jesus before He Was a Superstar," "Galveston," and "Rhinestone Cowboy."
In recent years Campbell's private life has undergone more scrutiny than his professional work. His tumultuous relationship with country star Tanya Tucker provided grist for the gossip mills in the early 1980s, with tales of extravagant spending and public brawls. Then, in 1983, he unexpectedly wed dancer Kim Woollen, his fourth wife. They have three children, and Campbell has five other children by his previous marriages. Campbell continues to record and tour, his most recent major success being the album Southern Nights. When asked the secret of his success after so many years of struggle, Campbell told the Country Music Encyclopedia: "One year I played in 586 sessions, and of all those records there were only three hits. I sat down and analyzed what the trouble was with the others. There was a lot of good music there, but out of all those singles I worked on that year only three of them had lyrics that meant something!" Campbell concluded: "The main thing that makes for a hit song is that it tells a story; you get caught up in the lyrics." An accomplished instrumentalist, Campbell needed only the right ingredienthe ballado propel him to stardom. His "story formula" that rescued him from the anonymity of studio work has assured him a permanent place in country music's top ranks.
"Turn Aroundook at Me," Crest, 1961.
"Too Late to Worryoo Blue to Cry," Capitol, 1961.
"Burning Bridges," Capitol.
"I Gotta Have My Baby Back," Capitol.
The Astounding Twelve-String Guitar of Glen Campbell, Capitol.
Gentle on My Mind, Capitol.
By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Capitol, 1968.
Wichita Lineman, Capitol, 1968.
Galveston, Capitol, 1968.
Oh Happy Day, Capitol, 1968.
(With Bobbie Gentry) Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell, Capitol, 1970.
Dream Baby, Capitol, 1971.
Rhinestone Cowboy, Capitol, 1975.
Southern Nights, Capitol, 1977.
Glen Travis Campbell, Capitol.
I Knew Jesus, Capitol.
I Remember Hank Williams, Capitol.
I'll Paint You a Song, Capitol.
The Last Time I Saw Her, Capitol.
Glen Campbell Live, Capitol.
Only the Lonely, Capitol.
Try a Little Kindness, Capitol.
(With Anne Murray) Anne MurrayGlen Campbell, Capitol.
(With Tennessee Ernie Ford) Ernie Sings and Glen Picks, Capitol.
More Words, Capitol.
Turn Around, Look at Me, Ember.
This is Glen Campbell, Ember.
That Christmas Feeling, Capitol.
Two Sides of Glen Campbell, Starline.
20 Golden Greats, Capitol.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, Harmony, 1977.
Shestack, Melvin, The Country Music Encyclopedia, T. Crowell, 1974.
Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music, St. Martin's, 1969.
Newsweek, April 15, 1968.
New York Times, August 4, 1968.
People, May 4, 1968; January 31, 1983.
Post (New York), January 25, 1969.
Sunday News Magazine (New York), April 6, 1969.
Time, January 31, 1969.
Anne Janette Johnson
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