PREVIEW: Rhinestone Cowboy rides on, Mary-Lynn Wardle, FFWD Weekly, July 23, 2009
Even after 70 albums, the novelty hasnt worn off for Glen Campbell
He’s released more than 70 albums, sold 45 million records and had 27 Top 10 songs, so it’s no wonder Country Music Hall of Famer Glen Campbell hears one of his songs on the radio almost daily. Considering the first hit song he played on was The Champs’ “Tequila” in 1958, well, you might think that the novelty of connecting with his music on the airwaves would have worn off by now. So what does Campbell do when he is driving along and one of his songs comes on?
“I turn it up,” the Arkansas native says from his home in Malibu. “I listen for what I was doing then and how it worked. I was so lucky to get to work with (Wrecking Crew session musician) Al Delory; he really taught me so much about making a song work.”
Campbell has built a career on finding great songs and making them work, from Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” to Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” in the ’60s and ’70s, to Paul Westerberg’s “Sadly Beautiful” and Lou Reed’s “Jesus” on 2008’s Meet Glen Campbell. During a 20-minute phone interview, the soft-spoken southern gentleman invites Kim, his wife of 27 years, into the conversation often, asking her for clarification of song titles and places they’ve travelled.
Campbell credits his time working in the Wrecking Crew, which was part of producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” and played on tracks for Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard and hundreds of others, for honing his ear to improve on a good song. For Meet Glen Campbell, co-producer Julian Raymond brought him about 100 songs to listen to. “I picked out the ones I liked and did an album of them,” Campbell says straightforwardly. “I go by the song. If it has a good lyric and good melody, I don’t care if it’s rock or country.”
“I don’t try to get any writing or publishing,” he continues. “I also don’t want to be told ‘do it this way’ or ‘do it that way.’ I tried that once and then if you get a hit with it, you have to listen to something you don’t really like that much. Later on in my career I put one of those on an album, and every time I heard it was like hitting a bump in the road. I never did that again.”
While he doesn’t write songs, he doesn’t mind improving on them. “I’m a pretty good song doctor,” he says. “If I don’t like a phrase here or there, I’ll just change it. I’ve never had any kickback on it, either. And tempos are very important. Some songs are very slow, between a ballad and uptempo, and those kinds of songs just lay there, so I speed them up.”
Campbell’s legend is of such magnitude that when word got out last year that he was recording an album and looking for songs, the wife of another legend approached him. “John Lennon’s wife [Yoko Ono] brought me ‘Grow Old with Me’ and said John had written it but never recorded it. She played it for me and I got tears in my eyes. Those are the kind of songs you want. She was so sweet to do that.”
When he isn’t touring, a typical day for him includes helping Kim around the house and hanging out with their 10-year-old German shepherd and new Schnauzer puppy before heading off to golf (his handicap is five.) When asked if he golfs more than a few times a week, Campbell replies, “Well, basically on any day that has a ‘y’ in it.” He says he has golfed pretty much every course in southern Alberta, too, during his frequent travels.
As tee time looms and the interview draws to a close, I comment how remarkable it is that the singer sounds the same on the phone and on Meet Glen Campbell as he did on his hits 40 years ago. In reply, Campbell breaks into a few softly sung lines of his 1967 hit, John Hartford’s “Gentle on my Mind.”
“It’s because that’s how I sing things. I’m careful. I don’t scream and I don’t strain, I just sing. When you are singing really good songs, it’s easy to keep your voice.”