By Steve Smith
Glen Campbell: “I’m still here but yet I’m gone.”
Originally posted to the We CAN website 7/3/15:
That’s the first line of the song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” co-written by Campbell and producer Julian Raymond, and it says a lot. The song was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Original Song category, and won a Grammy for Best Country Song earlier this year.
One of the final scenes of the documentary film “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” is the recording session for “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” As Campbell is shown recording his voice tracks, you realize this was his very last studio session, working with his old friends Hal Blain, Joe Osborne and Don Randi, members of the legendary “Wrecking Crew.”
For them, I have no doubt it was an emotional day. The memories came flooding back from the early 1960s, when they played together on all kinds of recordings for nearly everybody who was anybody in the business. For Glen, it was just another day. He probably understood little of what was going on.
In 1968 he burst onto the scene like a musical supernova. He seemed to come out of nowhere, making a big impression on a 9-year-old growing up in humdrum suburbia. He became my original guitar idol. Others would follow – Clapton, King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy and others – but he was the first.
By the end of 1968, he had charted up a few more powerhouse hits written by the great Jimmy Webb.
When “Wichita Lineman” reached #3 on the U.S. pop chart, and topped both the American country music and adult contemporary charts, he was established as a bona fide crossover music superstar. The so-called crossover artists who followed – Kenny, Dolly, Taylor – are all indebted to him.
The following year he starred in a big movie called “True Grit” alongside John Wayne. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
Seeing his last recording session brings me back to his first big song. Composed by the gifted “newgrass” pioneer John Hartford (1937-2001), “Gentle on My Mind” is the story of a broken vagabond and his special relationship with a woman who he knows will always provide warmth and refuge in a cold, complex and often hostile world.
Campbell had it all – the voice, the looks and yes, the incredible guitar chops. And now Alzheimer’s has taken it all away, making him the vagabond, vulnerable but sheltered in the warm embrace of family, friends and faith. Oh yes, and fans – thousands of them. Their support enabled his five-week “farewell tour” to stretch more than a year.
Back to the film, Campbell’s musical peers were well represented. Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, Brad Paisley, John Carter Cash, Sheryl Crow, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen and U2 guitarist The Edge all commented on his influence.
But to me, President Bill Clinton’s comment was the most powerful. He said, “We don’t spend nearly enough on Alzheimer’s research.” I could not have said it better myself.
I think all of us are made a little less “whole” because of what Alzheimer’s takes away from us, but I also know that we’re all lucky to have experienced the music and witnessed the talent of Glen Campbell.
If I may borrow a line from daughter Ashley’s song: Don’t worry, Glen. We’ll do the remembering.