Glen Campbell, the upbeat guitarist from Delight, Arkansas, whose smooth vocals and down-home manner made him a mainstay of music and television for decades, has died, his family announced on Facebook on Tuesday. He was 81.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell … following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease,” a Facebook statement said.
Campbell is best remembered for a string of country-inflected hits that ran from the mid-’60s to the late ’80s: “Gentle on My Mind,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “Southern Nights” and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” among them.
They fit in neatly on both pop and country radio, with two of them — “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights” — hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
He was also famous for “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” a TV variety show that ran from 1969 to 1972.
Before he became a solo star, Campbell was one of the music business’ most in-demand session guitarists, known for his astonishing speed and his brilliant ear.
He was part of the famed “Wrecking Crew” of L.A. session musicians that included Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel and Carol Kaye. The crack band played on records by Phil Spector, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Monkees, the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra.
That’s Campbell’s fretwork on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and “Help Me Rhonda,” Sinatra’s “Something in the Night” and Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” among hundreds of recordings.
Such versatility was a necessity to get work and stay fresh, Campbell said in an interview. As a teenager, he was in a band with his uncle and the group had a regular radio gig.
“Music was my world before they started putting a label on it,” he told ClassicBands.com in 1999. “We had a five-day-a-week radio show, six, seven years. You use up a lot of material doing that. We did everything from country to pop, when rock came along.”
Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Brian Wilson, Lenny Kravitz and other musicians flooded Twitter with tributes to Campbell.
“Thank you Glen Campbell for sharing your talent with us for so many years May you rest in peace my friend You will never be forgotten,” said fellow country star Charlie Daniels.
“RIP my dear old friend Glen Campbell. Music has lost a giant of a man & a talent. I shall be forever grateful for everything he did for me,” said singer Anne Murray.
The singer’s daughter, Ashley Campbell, said she is “heartbroken. I owe him everything I am, and everything I ever will be. He will be remembered so well and with so much love.”
Seventh son of a seventh son
Glen Travis Campbell was born April 22, 1936, in Delight, Arkansas, a very small town in the southwestern part of the state. (More accurately, he was born in Billstown, an even smaller community outside of Delight.) His father was a sharecropper and Campbell was his seventh son — making Glen, according to many sources, the seventh son of a seventh son.
He learned to play music on a five-dollar Sears guitar he received from his father, taking lessons from his Uncle Boo. His family moved to Houston when he was an adolescent. From there, he journeyed to Albuquerque to join his uncle’s band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys. He later formed his own group, the Western Wranglers.
But the real activity was in Los Angeles, where Campbell moved in 1960. He drew the attention of record companies with his song “Turn Around, Look at Me” — later a hit for the Vogues — and quickly started playing recording sessions, where his bright guitar picking and lightning fingers stood out.