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Glen Campbell

As big as they come for a generation

FOR THOSE of a certain age, Glen Campbell was as big as they get. Rolling Stone magazine said he sold more records in 1968 than the Beatles. No, really. The Beatles, 1968.

To see the kinds of people he worked with, look at a Billboard Hot 100 list from the 1960s. Or an early 1970s Casey Kasem countdown. Did he really play on Pet Sounds and tour with the Beach Boys? He played various instruments for Elvis, Frank, Merle and Dean. And for those who need last names, for the likes of Bobby Darin and Ricky Nelson.

Was he a bigger music star or television star? That might depend on your age. For those who saw him as a contemporary of Elvis, they might remember the nights “Galveston” or “Wichita Lineman” played in the background at the spring dances. For those a little younger, they might better remember the seemingly endless television specials he hosted in the 1970s. With all his friends and connections in the business, he could get pertnear anybody on his television show(s). Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond. And, yes, the Beatles.

He was a little bit country, and a little bit rock ’n’ roll. OK, a lot country. But his work charted on the pop charts, too, mostly especially “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights.” To even hear them now is to be taken back to a more innocent time, when the kids stayed out until the street lights came on, and they didn’t even have to stay within the sound of mama’s voice.

We haven’t even mentioned True Grit yet.

Glen Travis Campbell was born in Billstown, Arkansas, in 1936. (That’s between McCaskill and Pike City. Or between Okolona and Nashville. People around Prescott could show you the way.) The papers say he was the seventh son in a family of 12 kids. And he didn’t want to sharecrop, so he left school and Arkansas at the age of 14 and moved west to play music. Here’s a line from Rolling Stone that’ll shed some light on his early success:

“In 1963 alone he appeared on 586 cuts, and countless more throughout the decade, including the Byrds’ ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ Elvis Presley’s ‘Viva Las Vegas,’ Merle Haggard’s ‘Mama Tried’ and the Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.’”

That was just while he was working for other people. Then his solo career took off. Then cooled. Then took off again. Then cooled again. Call it the ups and many downs of being a musician. Sometimes everything’s a hit, sometimes nothing you can put together is good enough for the public. Glen Campbell had his personal ups and downs, too, and like with most celebrities, it was in all the papers.

But few things became him like his last years, during which he went public with his struggle against that horrible disease Alzheimer’s but continued to tour as long as he could. All the while allowing a film crew to document his struggles.

Glen Campbell, of Billstown, Ark., died this week at the age of 81. Leaving behind thousands of records, dozens of hit songs, and years of television shows. Not to mention many fond memories for a generation that still wishes it could stay out until the street lights come on.

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