Glen Campbell (1936-2017), a great guitarist, member of The Wrecking Crew, and an almost Beach Boy says goodbye

Glen Campbell, who died yesterday at 81, must have had more arms than one of those Hindu deities.

Consider this: In 1963, as a member of The Wrecking Crew—the assemblage of seasoned session musicians who toiled for years in Los Angeles studios—Campbell played guitar on 586 different song releases. That’s just in one year. And the total doesn’t include the sessions that didn’t get burned onto vinyl and sent out into the world. Among the songs Campbell doctored in his Wrecking Crew tenure (1961-1968) are now iconic hits like “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds (and you thought McGuinn, Crosby and Clark played all those guitars?), “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys, and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” and “Surf City” by Jan and Dean. (Of course, he also played on Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen” but he can be forgiven one misstep).

Glen Campbell

Campbell later took what he learned from fellow Crew-mates like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Leon Russell to carve out his own recording career. Despite having 80 of his singles make the various Billboard charts over his 50-year career—his singles outsold the Beatles’ in 1968!—Campbell mostly relied on other songwriters to provide the vehicles that he drove so smoothly and which were fueled by his strengths. Those strengths were his tasteful but never flashy guitar and a sweet but surprisingly plaintive tenor voice. Indeed, as an adolescent in suburban Atlanta, I remember the mother of a friend in my neighborhood weeping nearly uncontrollably one time when she was driving us to a burger joint and Campbell’s “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” came on the car radio.

The songwriters he favored were all top-notch, though, including Jimmy Webb (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” “Wichita Lineman”), John Hartford (“Gentle on My Mind”) and Allen Toussaint (“Southern Nights”). And Campbell’s playing, on his own hits and on the hits he helped shape with the Wrecking Crew, recalls the often used phrase to describe a good umpire: The less you notice him, the better he is.

Glen Campbell - Gentle on My Mind

Speaking of having a heavy workload, Campbell was married four times and had a total of eight children, born over four decades. He also had time to conduct a tempestuous relationship with Tanya Tucker, 22 years his junior, and that torrid coupling became regular fodder for the grocery store tabloids as well as a few breathy duets (including the single “Dream Lover”). After the couple broke up, Tucker told People magazine, “Glen Campbell is the horniest man I ever met. Men are supposed to slow down after 40, but it’s just the opposite with Glen. I mean, I thought I could handle a lot.”

Parke Puterbaugh, longtime pop music chronicler and former Rolling Stone editor, said, “I liked much of Glen Campbell’s work, except for some of the more mawkish country-pop product. Further endearing him to me was the fact he served as a touring Beach Boy, replacing Brian Wilson [on bass and high harmonies] on the road for four months until Bruce Johnston became Brian’s permanent replacement.”

A tireless record collector, Puterbaugh tracked down a copy of the solo single Brian Wilson wrote and produced for Campbell, “Guess I’m Dumb.”

Here’s the actual Capitol Records’ 45, produced by Brian Wilson:

Here’s a video of Campbell performing the song on a variety TV show:

“It has the Pet Sounds style all over it,” said Puterbaugh. “And man, Glen Campbell could play guitar. While at Rolling Stone, I went to one of his record release parties. The album was called It’s the World Gone Crazy…Campbell performed and I was seriously impressed. The guy had chops and a fair amount of soul.”

Glen Campbell album - The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell

To get a sense of Campbell’s unvarnished guitar talent, Puterbaugh recommends tracking down a copy of an album of instrumental work he released in 1964, The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell.

Here’s the cut “Lonesome Twelve” from that album:

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