Born the seventh son in a family of 12 children in the small town of Delight, Arkansas, Glen Campbell got his love of music from his family. They made their living as sharecroppers, but they also instilled an interest in music in Campbell when he was a young boy. By the time he was 16, Campbell had pawned his guitar and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to join his uncle's band. This launched a career that saw Campbell become a successful country and pop recording star, host his own variety television show (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which ran 1969-1972), and earn a Golden Globe nomination. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
In 1960, he moved from Albuquerque to Los Angeles, where he quickly became known as one of the best session musicians in the industry, playing guitar and bass on tracks by Frank Sinatra, The Monkees, Jan and Dean, and many others.
Steve Martin was a writer on Campbell's variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. "We all just immediately admired his talent, Martin said in the documentary Glen Campbell... I'll Be Me. "He was completely game, completely fun, and had kind of a down-home sense of humor. It was an incredible treat for us young writers to be introduced to talent at that level at such a young age."
Campbell was a Beach Boy - sort of. He jumped at the chance to join the group temporarily for about seven months in 1964-1965 after Brian Wilson became ill. The money was a lot more than he was making in the studios, but Campbell said the live performances were frighteningly difficult. Part of the problem is that he was playing out of position, since he was really a guitarist, not a bass player. Also, a key to the Beach Boys sound is the high harmonies Wilson sang - trying to sing those while carrying the low end with the bass was an extraordinary challenge. Campbell said that the experience raised his vocal range about a tone and a half.
Campbell made a splash into the acting world when he was selected to play the role of Texas Ranger La Boeuf in the 1969 film True Grit, starring the legendary John Wayne. Despite lukewarm reviews for Campbell's acting, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. He lost to Jon Voight, who was in Midnight Cowboy and went on to a more acclaimed acting career. Campbell had a better luck on the small screen as the host of the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which aired from 1969 until 1972. The producer was the controversial Tommy Smothers, whose own show was regularly censored until it was thrown off the air. However, Smothers respected Campbell's wishes and avoided touching on controversial topics on Campbell's show.
Campbell's first attempt at a solo career was only modestly successful. After working as a songwriter and demo singer for American Music, the company issued Campbell's first single in 1961, a track called "Turn Around, Look At Me." This earned him a deal with Capitol, which released his first album in 1962, Big Bluegrass Special, which was credited to The Green River Boys Featuring Glen Campbell. A Merle Travis cover of "Kentucky Means Paradise" from the album made #20 on the Country chart, but interest in Campbell as a solo artist faded and he returned to session work.
Campbell was married four times and fathered eight children. With his fourth wife, Kim Woollen, he had three children, all of whom played in his band on his final tour. His daughter Ashley would duel with her dad on banjo as part of the show.
In 1967, Campbell had his first hit record with "Gentle On My Mind
." He followed it up later that year with "By the Time I Get to Phoenix
." Jimmy Webb wrote another Campbell standard, "Wichita Lineman," after being inspired by seeing a lone telephone pole worker out on the Kansas-Oklahoma border.
Campbell recorded his signature song, "Rhinestone Cowboy
," in 1975. David Allan Coe said in an interview with Review
magazine in 2009 that the songwriter, Larry Weiss, originally sent the song to him but he turned it down. Coe was already calling himself the Rhinestone Cowboy and thought it would be egotistical to record it. Weiss recorded it himself and released in on the Black and Blue Suite
album. Campbell later heard it on the radio and his own cover of the song became a #1 hit on both the Pop and Country charts. After turning out other radio-friendly hits in the 1970s, such as "Southern Nights" and "Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)," Campbell's popularity waned as the 20th century came to a close. His 2011 album, Ghost on the Canvas
, was critically acclaimed and Campbell reported that it was his "farewell album."
In June 2011, Campbell announced in an interview with People magazine that he had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease after years of suffering from short-term memory loss. Rather than simply disappear from the spotlight, Campbell opted to go on a farewell tour, but he and his wife, Kim, wanted his condition known in case he flubbed a line or appeared confused on-stage. His wife said in a 2011 interview on ABC's Nightline that performing actually helped his memory, so he will keep performing as long as he can. Kim said, "Music is good medicine." In February 2012, Campbell was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Awards, where he performed a rousing rendition of "Rhinestone Cowboy."
It was producer and longtime Campbell collaborator Carl Jackson who introduced the singer to his fourth wife, Kim Woollen. Kim recalled their first date to The Boot
"I was a Rockette dancing at Radio City Music Hall. My best friend from college was dating Glen's banjo player, and Glen's band came to New York to do a show, and they were going to spend a few days in the city. I was talking to them and asked them what they would be doing, and they said they were going to see James Taylor. I really wanted to go, so I begged Carl and my friend to fix me up with someone in the band, and they both looked at each other and winked. And so they fixed me up on a blind date. I didn't know until right before that I would be dating Glen Campbell. He was a lot older than me, and I didn't really know who he was."