Glen Campbell's Poignant Farewell

Thursday, 23 June 2011 04:40 AM Written by 

Glen Campbell's official revelation of his Alzheimer's diagnosis is tragic for a number of reasons.  2008 saw him roar back with a powerful mainstream album titled Meet Glen Campbell that placed him in a solidly contemporary framework for the first time in decades, covering material by Green Day, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, U2, the Replacements, etc.   I thought—and still think—it was a remarkable comeback.

A Campbell farewell tour had been announced several months ago along with announcement of his next album, Ghost on the Canvas, produced by Julian Raymond, who produced Meet. I found a farewell tour surprising, given his age and the album's success, seemingly a solid foundation for a third-act career renaissance. Until yesterday, there'd been no mention of Alzehimer's.  His courage in proceeding with the tour speaks volumes, though it's hardly surprising given his emergence from humble beginnings in Delight, Arkansas.

Here's an early 60's Campbell performance from his time as a regular on Star Route, a syndicated TV program that emphasized West Coast country artists.


Meet Glen Campbell's rock and pop content no doubt surprised some older fans, but it wasn't much of a stretch, given this January 20, 1965 rendition of Roy Orbison's "Dream Baby" from the ABC Shindig program.

In the 60's Campbell was part of the "Wrecking Crew," the famous LA studio band who played on records by The Beach Boys (including Pet Sounds), the Righteous Brothers and other Phil Spector acts, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra,  Nancy Sinatra, the Monkees and the Byrds.  

Note: a documentary on this extraordinary group of players (with Campbell included) is scheduled for Duquesne University next month. Expect added coverage in coming weeks.

Campbell's early country-pop hits "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman" were a bit too slick for me, but they revealed Hollywood could give Nashville a run for its money when it came to producing pop-flavored country hits.  During its 1969-1972 lifespan, his CBS variety show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ran the gamut: mainstream showbiz types (actors, singers, comedians). An unknown Steve Martin was one of its writers.  

"Gentle On My Mind" was the Goodtime Hour theme, a Campbell hit I always liked. Here, from this clip of the show, it's sung all the way through by Glen and the song's composer, the late (and incomparable) John Hartford, who a Goodtime Hour regular for a while before becoming a giant of bluegrass and old-timey music.

 

Of course his playing, despite the ravages of time and age, has never been less than inspired. This is Campbell and daughter Ashley's performance of "Dueling Banjos," retitled "Dueling Banjo and Guitar," last year in Nevada.

 

I really don't want this to sound like a eulogy, not when he's hitting the road and has a new album coming at summer's end.  Campbell's clearly at the sunset of his career. Yet given the somber circumstances, it's satisfying he's at least able to enjoy the kind of valedictory tour many aging veterans want, but few ever get.

This is his rendition of Green Day's "Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life),"  one of the highlights of the 2008 album. Is the song pop? Of course. Is his performance country? Damn straight.

 

 

 

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