After a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease, country legend Glen Campbell passed away yesterday, aged 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,” the singer’s family said in a statement.
His career in the music industry spanned six decades, both as an in-demand session musician and as an incredibly successful solo artist, selling over 45 million records. In 1968, the year he released one of his signature songs “Wichita Lineman”, he sold more records than the Beatles.
Born on 22nd April 1936 in Arkansas USA, Campbell was the seventh of twelve children, born into a family of sharecroppers. After purchasing a $7 guitar and teaching himself to play, he joined his uncle’s band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys, in 1954. In 1960, he moved to Los Angeles to become a session musician, eventually becoming part of the legendary “Wrecking Crew” – a group of studio musicians who found themselves in high demand, most notably playing on Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” hits as well as records by Sonny and Cher, The Mamas & the Papas, Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, the Monkees, Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra. “I’d have to pick cotton for a year to make what I’d make in a week in L.A.,” he said. In 1965, he toured as a member of the Beach Boys, temporarily replacing Brian Wilson. He also plays on their 1966 landmark album “Pet Sounds”.
Campbells first release as a solo artist was “Turn Around, Look at Me”, in 1961, but it wasn’t until 1967 that he achieved any real success with “Burning Bridges”. A string of pop-country hits followed, including “Gentle on My Mind”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman”. From 1969 until 1972 he hosted “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on US TV, where he introduced a stellar cast of artists, including Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, the Monkees and Linda Ronstadt. In 1969, he starred alongside John Wayne in the Academy Award winning film “True Grit”.
His run of hits continued into the seventies, including “Southern Nights”, “Sunflower”, “Country Boy” and arguably his best loved work – “Rhinestone Cowboy”.
After struggling with drink and drug addictions and a series of failed marriages, Campbell married Kimberly “Kim” Woollen in 1982, who helped him clean up his life. He famously fell off the wagon in 2003, when he was arrested for a hit-and-run driving incident which ended with him allegedly kneeing a police officer. Campbell pleaded guilty to extreme drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident, and spent 10 days in jail.
In 2011, aged 75, Campbell revealed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and announced his retirement. He played 151 shows on his farewell tour and his band included three of his children. “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” – a documentary filmed on this tour, won a Grammy award in 2014. The well-received film shows Campbell battling through his illness to perform and although he had to rely heavily on cues from his band and a teleprompter for the lyrics to his songs, his guitar prowess remained undiminished. One member of the audience – U2’s The Edge said, “The audience being there somehow triggers his ability to access that other part of his brain-It’s incredible.”
“Adios”, Campbells final studio album was released this year – a collection of mainly cover songs by writers including Fred Neil, Jimmy Webb and Willie Nelson (who also appears on the record). Long-time collaborator Carl Jackson had to help Campbell record his vocals for the recordings as by this stage, he could no longer remember lyrics, but Jackson said that he “didn’t lose his melodies, and that beautiful, perfect pitch and tone”. It was Campbells 16th US top 40 album.
Tributes to Campbell have been paid by artists from all branches of the music industry, including Sheryl Crow, Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, Lenny Kravitz and Brian Wilson.
Campbell remained stoic during his illness and refused to let it get in the way of his work. In an interview with CNN on his final tour he said, “I am content with it. Don’t cry over spilt milk. Get up and be a man and do what you have got to do.”
Campbell is survived by his wife Kim and eight children from four marriages.