Death of a songman

Richard Lutz offers background on the life of Glen Campbell who died this week, aged 81.

In the winter of ’64/65, rising stars of rock the Beach Boys toured the States. But their singer/composer Brian Wilson was not well, mentally or physically.

They badly needed a replacement. The substitute they picked was studio session man Glen Campbell. From December 1964 to March 1965, this Arkansas musician, this self taught country guitarist and yet to be famous singer, played bass and sang falsetto backup for America’s most popular band as they belted out Californian surf music.

The Beach Boys certainly rated Campbell, who died this week from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. They rated him so much he also was part of the group’s studio masterpiece, Pet Sounds.

But Campbell later hit his mark with plaintive renditions of others’ songs: classics such as By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Gentle on My Mind and, his best, Wichita Linesman.

I saw Campbell live six years ago. Alzheimer’s was hitting hard. He was struggling from the effects of the disease that killed him. Yet his buoyant nature kept him going with three of his grown children onstage to help him out – along with a pair of autocues.

Remarkably, though he might forget who he was performing with or what city he was singing in, he was bang-on when it came to the lyrics of his wistful songs or the classy guitar work that made him part of the legendary Wrecking Crew that backed stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Nat King Cole.

His country voice, along with Willy Nelson and Bob Wills, is singularly memorable.  He tried his hand at movies (True Grit) and numerous TV shows.

But it was Campbell’s vocal clarity that will always stand out – a voice that Dolly Parton called one of the best she’d ever heard come out of America.