5 Fascinating Facts About Country Legend Glen Campbell

What do Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Ricky Nelson, The Beach Boys, The Monkees, and John Wayne have in common? They all worked with Glen Campbell.

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The country music superstar was a phenomenal guitarist, a brilliant songwriter, a sensational singer, and a world-renowned television host. Let’s take a look at five fascinating facts about Glen Campbell.  

Campbell Played on Hundreds of Other Artists’ Albums

As a child in Billstown, Arkansas, Campbell’s father bought him a $5 guitar. The youngster played constantly and developed a knack for imitating the voices of famous singers. These two talents would pay off in big ways. Campbell moved to Los Angeles in 1961 and got a job with American Music Inc., playing and singing demos. He became a first-call studio guitar player used on the majority of the sessions Phil Spector and Jimmy Bowen produced.

Campbell’s ability to mimic other singers made him a valuable tool in the studio. He would sing harmony with Rick Nelson as he matched the teen idol’s delivery on songs like “A Wonder Like You” and “It’s Up to You.” Campbell co-wrote a song with Jerry Capehart (of “Summertime Blues” fame) called “Turn Around, Look at Me.” The song only reached No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was enough to get the attention of Capitol Records, who signed the young artist to a record deal. The label wasn’t sure what to do with Campbell. The first album was a collection of bluegrass songs released under “The Green River Boys & Glen Campbell.” In fact, his first five albums failed to reach the charts.

Campbell Filled in for Brian Wilson

On December 23, 1964, on a flight from Los Angeles to Houston, The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown. He played a show that evening but returned home the following day. Campbell was brought in to play bass and sing the falsetto parts. He continued in that role until May 1965, when Bruce Johnston was brought in to do the job. Campbell continued playing on Beach Boys sessions, and Brian Wilson produced and co-wrote a Campbell song called “Guess I’m Dumb.” It, too, failed to chart.

His Big Break Came to Campbell in a Car

One day, Campbell was driving to a recording session when he heard “Gentle on My Mind” on the car radio. The John Hartford song was exactly what he was looking for. He created a new song arrangement and recorded a demo at the Capitol Tower Studio. Arranger Al DeLory made some suggestions, and the song became a hit. The next discovery came while Campbell was listening to a Johnny Rivers album. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was an even bigger hit for Campbell. Now, the young singer had some momentum. His career as an artist was taking off.

A guest appearance on The Joey Bishop Show was seen by Tommy and Dick Smothers. They approached the singer about hosting their upcoming summer replacement show. The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, starring Glen Campbell, debuted on June 23, 1968. With the success of those five episodes, CBS offered the singer his own show. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ran for three seasons. Within a month of its debut, it reached No. 14 in the Neilsen TV ratings and quickly moved into the Top 10. He was the most-programmed artist on American radio and was offered five BBC television specials. 

Campbell Outsold The Beatles in 1968

Campbell was called into the studio to record a song for General Motors. He met a young songwriter named Jimmy Webb, who was writing a song he felt would be a good follow-up to “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” The tune, “Wichita Lineman,” was a smash. The Campbell/Webb team would continue to have a string of successes like “Galveston,” “Where’s the Playground Susie,” and “Honey Come Back.”

Said country star Vince Gill in a 2000 interview, “Every now and then, there seems to be those kind of marriages, of performers and songwriters like Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Simon and Garfunkel. Every once in a while in history, there is the perfect writer for the perfect singer, and [Campbell and Webb] was really magical.”

Capitol Records rereleased Campbell’s older albums. They used the fact that Campbell outsold The Beatles in a publicity campaign. The only problem is the figures are computed using Capitol sales. Yes, Campbell outsold The Beatles’ Capitol output, but The White Album and the single “Hey Jude” were released on Apple Records. Still, Campbell had a monster year.

John Wayne’s Daughter Was a Big Fan

In 1970, actor John Wayne and his daughter visited Campbell at a show. Wayne asked Campbell if he would like to be in his next film. True Grit was new territory for the singer. Campbell was not used to the routine of filmmaking and had to adjust to all of the waiting around on the set while things were being set up. When the CMA Awards announced their nominations, ABC was told the biggest artist in country music was unavailable for the show because of the movie. A letter was written to the movie studio pleading for the star to be released for two days so he could return to Nashville and appear on the show. He was allowed to make the trip. 

In 1972, CBS canceled Campbell’s television show, and the spots on the charts were lower and lower. There were several years of searching for a hit. The answer came with “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which was the biggest hit of his career. He followed that up with “Southern Nights.” Campbell won 10 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Campbell completed a farewell tour and performed as long as he possibly could. He died in 2017 at the age of 81.

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Photo by Tony Russell/Redferns

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