Glen Campbell (1936-2017): An Appreciation

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I am putting on my black Texas cowboy boots when I think about taking an album along for Glen Campbell to sign. I don’t know why: It is something I had never done before. I dug into my stacks and pulled out one of his old Capitol LPs, I Remember Hank Williams. No hits on this one; they had pretty well dried up by this time. But I always thought it was a heartfelt collection, with Campbell singing Hank’s tunes. It was a stormy night, so I double bagged the album cover to protect it.

My good friend and major Glen Campbell fan Pete came by, and off we went. We got to the hall and were standing in the vast casino area of pinging gaming machines when Pete pointed and said, “Hey; there he is.” And sure enough, Glen Campbell was standing by an elevator, talking to a couple of fans and getting ready to go up to his room at the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We ran over to him. Pete said “hello,” while I struggled to get my album cover out of the double plastic. Later, his two security guards laughed as they told me they came very close to decking me because they didn’t know what I was trying to get out of the package. But I didn’t get decked, and I did ask Glen Campbell to sign my album.

As I showed Mr. Campbell the cover, the smile on his face fell and he softly said, “Uncle Boo.” This particular record jacket is covered with old photographs of Glen in his youth. A large shot on the cover shows a grade school-aged Glen and his older uncle playing guitars together on stage. He was very happy to sign the album, and we talked for a couple of minutes about Hank Williams. His manager said that Campbell had to go get ready for the show, but that he would be available later for a meet and greet.

After he left, Pete and I agreed that the album he signed for me was not one he saw every night. “Not as often as the duets album with Bobby Gentry.” “No; or one of the greatest hits collections.” During the concert that followed on May 31, 2001, Glen Campbell played “You are My Sunshine” and “I Saw the Light.” I couldn’t help but wonder if my album cover had influenced his song selection for the show. “Hell, yes,” said Pete. “He was moved by the album cover you brought. He played that old stuff because he was thinking about his Uncle Boo in that picture.” I wondered. Campbell had done an afternoon show, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had covered. So, the next day I e-mailed the reviewer, asking him if Campbell had played either song at the earlier show. He hadn’t. Interesting.

The casino concert was very good; Campbell played some great guitar. We were able to speak with him again afterwards. I said to him, “You really liked your Stratocaster tonight,” since he had played it almost exclusively for the entire set, even though an entire rack of various guitars was on stage with him. “Were you playing a Strat when you did your early session work?” I asked. “Oh no,” he said. “That session stuff was all rhythm, and I played acoustic on most all of it.” He mentioned the type of guitar: a Martin D-5, as I recall.

He said that the acoustic guitar kept breaking, and he would need to fix it before most of his studio work. But he admitted that he kept it in the trunk of his car, without a case. Other people were waiting to talk with him, so we retreated. A good time — almost getting decked by security and chatting up the star, who seemed pleased with the album we brought and was happy to talk.

A few years later in the summer of 2007, I saw that Glen Campbell was going to be at the Washington County Fair in West Bend, Wisconsin, but I didn’t see the need to go. Once was great. I have this notion of not messing with ideal situations. Campbell’s show at the Potwatami stage was so good that I didn’t see the need to try to improve on that memory. Perhaps I’m odd that way. For example, I have seen Willie Nelson only once, but it was in such a perfect night that I have passed on seeing him when he has played near me in Wisconsin. I saw Willie in a large Texas bar, playing a very long set. Can’t beat that, I always thought.

But my wife pushed for going to hear Campbell at the nearby county fair. And since she had missed the other show and really wanted to go, I said OK and called Pete. He was up for it. Ellie led us to the front for good seats, and we planted our lawn chairs in about the second row. Right in front of some large P.A. columns. John Anderson was opening the show. Anderson plays traditional country music; he is a performer whose records I got to know when living in Texas. I wasn’t listening to a lot of country radio when Anderson made his initial mark, but do recall his brief resurgence with tunes such as “Straight Tequlia Night.” Good song.

Anderson opened the show and was WAY too loud. Icepicks stabbing your ears type of sound. Too much treble, and simply too loud. We sat through it, although several folks left. But many were really loving it. One group had made a large sign encouraging John to play his early hit “Chicken Shack,” which he later performed as part of a medley. Anderson, too, seemed into it and gave a very energetic performance. Still … painfully loud. I assured my wife that Glen Campbell would have better sound, and just couldn’t be this loud. I was hoping for this, anyway, and fortunately I was correct.

Campbell’s set at the fair was even better than at the casino. He opened with “Try a Little Kindness” and started hitting it from there. Glen had a beautiful white 12-string guitar on a rack by him, and I was just getting ready to yell that he should play it when he grabbed it and burned through “Classical Gas.” Remarkable technique, and on a 12-string! Early in the show, Campbell told the audience that he never tired of the following tune, and played an exceptional version of “Galveston.” The ending solo just kept going, with Glen Campbell taking several choruses of guitar leads: Smokin’ and Clapton-esque.

He closed with a medley of songs by the Beach Boys, on whose early records he had played, and with whom he briefly toured when Brian Wilson had tired of the road. It was a fine show. Great band and, yes, the sound was excellent.

This appreciation of the late Glen Campbell was excerpted from Tom Wilmeth’s new book ‘Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening.’ It’s available now from Muleshoe Press via Amazon.

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth, an English faculty member at Concordia University-Wisconsin since 1991, has given presentations and published widely on the topics of literature and music. Author of 'Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,' he earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M in College Station. Contact Something Else! at
Tom Wilmeth
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