My friend and I were pitching hay on a blistering summer day in 1975. It was hot, sweaty work, but Norman and I preferred to make it fun. We joked, teased, and even sang as we hoisted the heavy bales my dad preferred over the lighter-weight ones most farmers liked.
During one short water break, without even looking at each other and at the exact same instant, we both started to sing, “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy…”
I reached to turn on the radio in the pickup, only to hear, “…riding out on a horse in a star spangled rodeo,” come from the speakers, in perfect time with the song my friend and I had started.
It really did happen, and just that way.
I was reminded of that amazing coincidence from my youth a few days back when I heard that Glen Campbell had passed away.
Glen Travis Campbell was born in Billstown, Arkansas on April 22, 1936 with music in his blood. His uncle Boo taught him to play guitar and, in his 18th year, Campbell moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to join Boo’s band.
And that was just the beginning.
In a career that spanned 50 years, Glen Campbell recorded and released 58 studio albums and six live albums. He had 82 singles on the charts, including nine number one hits. He starred or appeared in movies and on television, including hosting his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, from 1969 through 1972. He won ten Grammy Awards and ten Academy of Country Music awards among many other honors. He performed in country, rock, folk, pop, and gospel genres. Besides singing, the skilled musician played guitar, banjo, bass, and believe it or not, bagpipes.
Mentioning that Glen Campbell played the guitar is like saying Michael Phelps can swim. Campbell had incredible talent, as acknowledged by singer-songwriter Jason Isbell who, upon hearing of his passing, tweeted, “Sure played one h— of a guitar.”
Many fans are unaware that Campbell played backup on records with such stars as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, both Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Phil Spector, and the Monkees. Anyone who questions his talent should make a point of listening to him play “Dueling Banjos” or “Classical Gas” or especially “The William Tell Overture” or “(Back Home Again in) Indiana”.
But Glen Campbell is best known and loved for his singing, for in his songs he spoke to our hearts in a way that others can only try. He sang of loneliness in “The Wichita Lineman” as a man who longed for his family and his love while being bound by dedication to his job and responsibilities. The heartbreak and loneliness of love lost was clear in, “By the Time I get to Phoenix”. He was a soldier longing for home and love in “Galveston” and was homesick in “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)”. He was a wandering hobo when he spoke of the comforting memory of true love in “Gentle on My Mind”. In perhaps his most famous song, the aforementioned, “Rhinestone Cowboy”, he explained the bittersweet life of fame…loved by people who don’t know him and living without those who do know and love him, and who he loves the most.
My personal favorite songs by him were those that spoke of a love of life. I could feel the sheer joy of greeting a sunny day as he falls in love with the metaphorical “Sunflower” and of just being alive in “Southern Nights”. In those songs he shared with me the pleasure I get from the many wonderful things that life holds.
Glen Campbell shared his battle with Alzheimer’s disease to us in 2011 and began his long, slow journey into darkness. He said goodbye to this existence on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.
I think I speak for all of his fans when I say Glen Campbell will always be gentle on our minds.
Farewell my friend. You will be missed.