Tuesday, 8 August 2017

He Gave More Than a Goodtime Hour

There he was on your TV set, with a big beaming face enthusiastically shouting “Hi! I’m Glen Campbell!” before launching into “Gentle on My Mind,” one of the songs that resulted in him winning four Grammys and Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1968.

Campbell’s music, in a way, wasn’t really country at all, not in the terms of twanging steel guitars, songs lamenting about hurtin’ and drinkin,’ and accents that were so backwoods, they could light a fire under the still out back. He belonged to that valuable category of country pop. An inoffensive, plaintive voice with a hint of farm belt coupled with a rhythm guitar made him perfect for country and middle-of-the-road stations.

By the time Campbell was handed his Grammys in May 1968, he had already by picked by Tommy Smothers to co-host the Smothers Brothers’ Sunday night summer replacement show with deadpan comedian Pat Paulsen. It seems like an odd combination, but viewers tuned in. Campbell was set up in his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which opened on January 29, 1969 with a happy identifying shout at the camera.

Here’s a syndicated feature story from December 2, 1969, with a good look at Campbell’s attitudes at the time.
Better Than Pickin' Cotton
Glen Campbell Unspoiled
By Skyrocketing Career


LOS ANGELES — Glen Campbell says:
—"People want a guy to come out and cut his guts out and say. This is it. This is me. I do bad? At least you're honest about it."
—"These Charley Showbiz people come out and sing, "La de da, this is my song, and I'm going to sing it to you.' That's all bull. All fake. And it comes through that way."
—"I looked at myself in True Grit' and I ain't worth a damn, from an actor's standpoint. Critics? I read some beauts, man. 'Glen has never acted in movies before, and his record is still clean.' He was right."
This is the off-the-cuff, down-home talk of the singer-guitarist-songwriter and TV star—perhaps the hottest property in song and show business today. Grammy awards and awards from the Academy of Country Western Music come to him in batches. His records regularly hit the top of the charts. He's applauded by college kids, teens and just folks alike.
And he's modest about it all.
"I GIVE THE CREDIT to the song. If it's a good song, it'll go. Like 'Gentle on My Mind.' It was a rhythm track and a voice and it didn't have any sweetening on it at all. No strings, no horns, nothing. It was a hit because it was a good song. Not because it was Glen Campbell. I mean, who the hell was Glen Campbell?"
It's good the question was in the past tense. Then nobody knew. But nearly overnight, true to show business legend, everybody knew. True to show-business fact, Glen had been in the background working up to stardom for a long time, from the time he was 4 and his old man gave him a mall-order guitar.
That was back in Delight, Ark. (pop. 450), ("Well, we didn't actually live in Delight. But up the road about 8 miles, on a farm.") As one of a family of 12 kids where everybody, including ma and pa, played some sort of instrument and sang.
"Let's face it, there ain't a helluva lot to do on the farm, except milk the cows and slop the hogs, and when you go in the house after dark, what do you do? We didn't play cards because Mom wouldn't allow them in the house. So we played guitars and sang."
GLEN GRINNED as he talked, leaning back on a couch in his CBS office, a suite that used to be occupied by the Smothers Brothers, who gave him a big lift up in television before they and the network split in a squabble over censorship.
"Those were some kind of days, back in Delight, I'll tell you. I picked cotton at $1.25 a hundred pounds, and boy, if I worked my tail off I picked 80 or 90 pounds a day."
Glen decided a better future might lie with his music. Something of a prodigy, he could play anything he wanted to by the time he was 7 or 8—rhythm, country music, jazz, old-time religion— and by 14 he left home to work with his uncle's band in Albuquerque. He's made his living as a professional entertainer ever since.
He mastered the five-string banjo, the 12-string guitar, six-string guitar, electric guitar, mandolin and bass fiddle. In 1961, his last year on the road, he traveled 105,000 miles in a station wagon for 11 months, and then decided to try his luck in Hollywood.
His skill put him in demand as a studio musician.
"I PLAYED for all kinds. Easy ones like Dean Martin, who says, 'Anything you want is OK with me.' And tough ones like Bobby Darin, who tells every musician how to play each note. But the money was good. You could get $105 for a three-hour session. If you could pick up three or four of those a day, you made good dough. Sometimes I'd work from 9 a.m. until 4 a.m. with damn few breaks in between."
Glen was working for Capitol Records, and kept it up for five years, then he went to his bosses and asked for a chance to do his own thing. They agreed. He came in with "Gentle On My Mind," and shortly after, "By The Time I Get to Phoenix," and then, "Hey Little One," three massive hits.
Characteristically, Glen pays tribute to Capitol.
"They're a great outfit. They back you 100 per cent. I'm still with them."
Tom and Dick Smothers, whom Glen played behind on several records, picked him to head up their "Summer Brothers Smothers Show," and he was a solid success. Then CBS gave them his own regular season show, another hit.
Glen bought out the Smothers Brothers share of his show so he could have control over just what he was going to do and say.
"There was no bitterness, no unhappiness, you understand. But last year they had me doing some things that I just didn't think fit. And if I don't feel comfortable doing something, it comes out looking phoney. That is bad news."
GLEN ALSO DIFFERS with Tommy's one-man, or two-man war to run a completely free-of-censorship network show in which he can say anything he wants.
"I think Tommy's real talented. But he has this hangup. I told him I have a point of view, too, but I'm not going to use my show as a vehicle to try to express it. There's 200,000,000 other people out there with a point of view and they don't have a television show to express it on. Why should I be different? Besides, ain't nothing we're going to say that's going to change a damn thing anyway. Except it's going to raise a lot of stink. It ain't common sense."
Glen plays country music because he likes music that tells a story.
"I like music that has a beginning, a middle and an end. I look for a human interest story, maybe a story of a boy and girl in love. And I don't look for depressing endings."
But Glen doesn't like to be typed as a country and western singer because he does all kinds—pop, jazz, rock 'n' roll and some classical along with it. ("I'll jump in with the Juilliard String Quartet with my five-string banjo. I love all kinds of music").
One music critic described Campbell as "all smiles and welcome, a style that is as open and natural as church on Sundays, and a fearsome agility in his top notes which are as acrobatic and far-reaching as a razorback's hog calling . . . his big, silky baritone is a polished instrument, with equal vocal measures of Las Vegas and Nashville."
HIS ACTING may be something of a different story, but Glen thinks it's improving.
"I act" Glen admits, "like I shank a four-Iron. But in this new picture, 'Norwood,' I think there are a few places I look like an actor. I'm really working on it."
In "Norwood," Glen works at a service station In Ralph, Tex., and a guy suckers him into driving a car to New York for him.
"Halfway there I find the car's hot. And the chick who's riding with me is a hooker, and I don't know it. Dumb. Naive. Boy, that's me. I fit right in."
Well, "dumb" and "naive" Glen will be putting away cash like he's bailn' hay this year from television, records and movies—and he thanks Daddy for a lot of his good fortune.
He proudly describes him in a way that could be applied to himself.
"My dad, Wes, he's the kind who always won first prize for singing and playing at the county fair. He's a helluva showman. He really is. We had him on the show and we got more letters than any one we ever had. He's a card. But very honest. Very open. And people can see that."
Despite the sunny, down-home optimism, Campbell’s life unravelled and not just because comedy-variety TV shows became passé. There are a bunch of divorces. A lot of drinking. And then came Alzheimer’s, which he publicly fought to set an example for others.

The first impression is always a lasting one. Glen Campbell is still thought of today as an unassuming young man from a small farm town who crooned pleasantly with a simple string guitar. A guy who deserved success. It’s why he’s being mourned today.

1 comment:

  1. RIP Glenn, to quote what just might be iMHO my favorite of his..(and his Grammy winner of 1968), he'll always be Gentle on my Mind.