Glen Campbell interview: The Rhinestone Cowboy’s last ride

In the liner notes accompanying “Ghost On The Canvas,” Glen Campbell’s final album, he wrote: “Ghost On The Canvas is the last studio record of new songs that I plan to make.”

Was retirement a hard decision? “No,” he said. His reply was short and clear.

Songs like “Southern Nights,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” helped to make him a musical icon. But they weren’t the whole story. Did you know that Campbell started his career as a session musician? You can hear his guitar work in some of the world’s favorite songs, like: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Strangers In the Night,” “Viva Las Vegas” and “I’m a Believer.”

Campbell announced his retirement because of Alzheimer’s, a disease he now lives with. He may forget lyrics or get confused on stage. But his family surrounds him, and they’ve got his back. His children, Cal, Shannon and Ashley, are in his band.

Memories of the early days are vivid and they are stories he still loves to tell. At some points in the following interview, he is flippant about his retirement and sometimes he seems conflicted. All of his answers came across as sincere.

Together, they paint a picture of someone who takes pride in not only in his professional accomplishments, but also in his family. He is someone who loves what he does, but he’s decided his involvement with music – as he knows it – now needs to stop.

Clarity may become a hotter commodity for Campbell in days to come and while the time given to any of us on earth is short, no one could say that Campbell hasn’t made the most of his time, and the opportunities that came knocking.

Do you intend for this last tour to be the last time you’re in the public eye or might you do different kinds of projects?

I can anticipate playing some concerts here and there, but nothing on this scale. We’ve toured extensively in the UK and around the United States. I will be doing a tour of New Zealand, Australia in August. Some additional tour dates in the US await me on our return.

In general, how’s your mood on tour?

I’m having a wonderful time on the tour. I get to play my music with three of my kids. I’m very excited to have Ashley, Cal and Shannon in my band. Ashley plays keyboards and banjo, Cal plays drums and Shannon plays guitar. I’m particularly proud of Ashley. She recently got to play banjo in a Rascal Flatts video. It’s just a thrill to look up and see them there with me. Also, I have my wife, Kim, on tour. She has been very helpful.

Has it felt like a sad goodbye, or are you just looking forward to retirement?

Parts of the tour are sad, but I’m so busy doing shows that I don’t have much time to focus on it. Plus, I’ll still be doing some concerts and I’m looking forward to playing a lot more golf.

Has it been hard for you to speak publically about Alzheimer’s?

It’s not hard for me to speak about Alzheimer’s. Also, I don’t feel that different. Plus, there are a lot of things I want to forget about anyway.

Part of the reason you are telling your fans about your health is because you want the condition known in case you have trouble on stage. Have you had much trouble?

My wife, my manager and the record company wanted me to make it public that I have Alzheimer’s. I do lose my place during the show and mess up on lyrics, sometimes. We want the people at the show to know why some mistakes occur.

Besides your own hits, people may not realize how many hit songs you played on as a session musician. Care to share a favorite story from these days?

Recording with Frank Sinatra was a real thrill. Coming from a small town in Arkansas, I was in awe of the opportunity. And it turned out great. We recorded “Strangers in the Night.” I ended up having a very distinctive guitar lick on the song. Anyone who knows the song, remembers it.

I did a lot of recording for Phil Spector. I was on “He’s a Rebel” by Darlene Love, “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Unchained Melody” with The Righteous Brothers, among others.

I was on several cuts on the “Pet Sounds” album by The Beach Boys. Other artists I worked with include Elvis, Jan and Dean, The Monkees, Ricky Nelson, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Nancy Sinatra and Wayne Newton among many, many others.

You also toured as a member of The Beach Boys. What was that like?

In 1964, I got a call on a Thursday to come to Dallas on Saturday to play bass guitar and sing high harmony during a concert as a member of The Beach Boys. The legendary group’s vital voice and bassist, Brian Wilson, had been ill. I was needed to pinch hit for him.

I was asked because I had played on many of The Beach Boys’ hits, which were later performed live in concert by the group’s actual members. In the studio, I had played on hits like “Help Me Rhonda,” “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Good Vibrations.”

My first show as a Beach Boy was the first time I had to play bass while singing high harmony. I must have made about a hundred mistakes during that show. But no one noticed.

The British invasion of rock bands, led by The Beatles and with The Rolling Stones in tow, had not yet happened. The Beach Boys were the foremost rock ‘n roll band in America, and I was flattered, thrilled, humbled and terrified at being asked to become a Beach Boy, particularly because I had so little advance notice. I toured with them for about a year.

What’s your first memory of music?

The first music I remember was in the Church of Christ, where they didn’t allow musical instruments. The congregation sang alone. My dad and mom took all of us to church and we sat together in one row. I first learned to sing harmony inside that country sanctuary.

I had heard about a black church a few miles away in which the members sang fast music with heavy rhythms. I would hike over there, stand outside the window, rise on my bare tiptoes, and peek inside at the black folks rolling on the floor and running in the aisles. They were thoroughly caught up in the spirit and the music. It was my first experience of seeing how moving music could be to people. I had never seen so much unleashed passion and I hungered to be around the rhythm and music that I felt as much as heard coming from that impoverished clapboard church.

I also listened to music on a battery operated console radio. Dad heard that he could get an extra two weeks out of the battery by putting it on the stove after it ran down. Once, he left it on the stove too long and the battery exploded. Battery acid sprayed all over the kitchen and eventually ate holes in the cardboard and paper walls.

I had been walking only a couple of years when I began to try to strum one of our family’s mandolins. My fingers wouldn’t reach the chords, so dad sent away to Sears Roebuck for a three-quarter-size guitar. Our mailbox was at Billstown Crossroads, two miles from our house, and I walked up there every day at the age of 4 to see if the guitar had arrived. When it finally did, you couldn’t get it out of my hands.

Out of all of the things you’ve done over your career, do you have a favorite memory or story – one that always makes you smile?

Some of my favorite memories are the times that my mother and dad sang with me in Las Vegas, the Houston Astrodome and the “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” along with all my brothers and sisters and anyone else who was remotely a Campbell. They loved to come see me perform, and I loved to call them onto the stage.


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in interview, music, The Joy of Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Glen Campbell interview: The Rhinestone Cowboy’s last ride

  1. lilliputreview says:

    Beautiful job, Gene. Don

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