April 28, 1998
by Gary James
How else would you describe Glen Campbell other than an entertainment giant? What a career this man has had!! He's recorded over 40 albums, had four gold singles, twelve gold albums, seven platinum albums. As a session musician he's played on records by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Merle Haggar, and Elvis Presley. He even toured as a member of The Beach Boys.
He made history by winning a Grammy in both country and pop in 1967. "Gentle On My Mind" took top country honors and "By the Time I Get To Phoenix" won in Pop. He's been named Male Vocalist of The Year by both the CMA and the ACM and the CMA's Entertainer of The Year. Each year since 1970, Campbell has been a headline attraction in the world's largest show rooms in Las Vegas and he continues to tour internationally. In 1991 alone, he appeared before more than one million people in seven countries on three continents. These days you can catch Glen Campbell at The Glen Campbell Good time Theater in Branson, Missouri.
It's an honor to present an interview with a true musical talent - Mr. Glen Campbell.
Q: I consulted your autobiography "Rhinestone Cowboy" for many of the
questions I'm about to ask you.
A: O.K. Great!
Q: You said you wrote "Rhinestone Cowboy" because "If my words here prevent
one person from making the mistakes I made, going the way I went, then this trip back in time will
have been worth it." To the best of your knowledge has that happened?
A: Oh yes. People will come through the line here (at Branson) because I sign autographs during intermission and I sign a lot of books. They say "Glen, your book has really helped me in my life. Your book has changed my life." I get all kinds of things from it. "You inspired me to quit drinking. You inspired me in a lot of facets in my life." It's just amazing the feedback I get from it.
Q: "Nothing but nothing was going to come between me and my ultimate goal, not
even basic needs." Was your ultimate goal to become a recording, touring artist?
A: Well, I don't really know. My ultimate goal is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and then see God. That's my ultimate goal.
Q: But, I'm talking about when you were starting out.
A: Well, I wanted to become the best jazz guitarist in the world, too. I don't think I really emphasized that in the book that much. I guess that was the ultimate goal to record and tour and I got to do that from almost every aspect. Like when I was touring with The Champs from 1960-1961. I was a Beach Boy in 1965. So I got to do that. Boy, did God fulfill that beyond my wildest imagination. (Laughs).
Q: You've had quite a life.
Q: In order to do what you did, did you have blind ambition, a driving force?
A: I think I practiced my trade enough, which is being a musician and being a singer, to have people recognize that and to call me. I was ready when I was called to do something. I could do it musically. I didn't limit my talent by pursuing one particular type of music. I didn't limit it by pursuing jazz or pursuing country, or pursuing pop. Music was my world before they started putting a label on it. If somebody heard a difference in the music they heard in another country, they'd label it. That Detroit Sound? You record it in L.A. and it sounds the same way to me. (Laughs). So, people label music. That came from working in my uncle's band in Albuquerque. We had a 5 day a week radio show for about 6-7 years. You use up a lot of material doing that. We did everything from country to pop, when rock came along.
Q: You had quite a musical education going for yourself.
A: Exactly. We had to do the old hits and the hits of the day.
Q: You were actually a star session player long before you came into your own.
Was being a star session player not enough for you?
A: Oh yeah it was. The session stuff just evolved. I'm glad it did because I know the guy when we were doing the studio work and there's not that much studio work, now, as there was then. There's a few of the guys that still do the movie soundtracks and the t.v. soundtracks. But, all the old musicians I worked with are basically doing the same thing. But, I'm glad things evolved like they did in my life. I think it was the Guidance of God. He definitely had his hand on me, guiding me. To end up where I am now, and that is doing a show in Branson, and I can do basically anything I want, although the problem is I don't really know what I want, if you know what I mean. (Laughs).
Q: You have enough people coming to see you that's for sure.
A: Oh, yeah. It's marvelous.
Q: It's like your career has been re-born again.
A: I think there are more people seeing shows here than they are in Nashville. They've got 35 theaters here. They're probably got 60,000 seats.
Q: How may seats in your theater?
Q: You do what, 2 shows a day?
A: We do 10 shows a week. We do matinees on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. We're off on Monday.
Q: What's the difference between having your own theater and being on the road?
A: I like to go out and play gigs. I do that in fact. I go to private parties. But, the sound on the road isn't there. The lighting isn't there like you have here. I'm doing a full-fledged production show. Eight dancers. Seven musicians on the stage. Two keyboards, synthesizers. Fiddle, banjo. Guys that double on it. We play a little of everything. But, it mainly showcases what Glen Campbell does.
Q: You did not name in your book, the person who cheated you out of royalties at
American Music. Why are you hiding his identity?
A: He came out of the woodwork and said I changed a chord in it. I didn't want to name names. He knows who he is.
Q: Yeah, but I don't know who he is.
A: (Laughs). Well, he took the award for writing half of "Summertime Blues" with Eddie Cochran. I'm sure he wrote half of that too. It was "Turn Around Look at Me".
Q: Your father was quite physical with you. In fact, he beat you.
A: Well, no. He didn't give me anything I didn't deserve. (Laughs). He didn't beat me. He'd give us a whipping. He'd tell you to do something. If you disobeyed him, he'd take the strap to you.
Q: What effect did that have on your life?
A: You get children that are undisciplined and they grow up to be undisciplined. I think basically that's what we have with our society today.
Q: I bet you don't use a strap on your kids.
A: I bet I do. Are you kidding me? If they don't mind me, I hit 'em across the rump with a belt. I said undisciplined children are what's out there in our society, today. The murdering, the drinking, and the drugging, and the fighting and killing and the gangs. That's undisciplined children. Disciplined children don't do those things. I've never had to spank my son Shannon. I just tell him something and he does it. A lot of kids are that way. A lot of kids are rebellious.
Q: The first show you ever saw in Las Vegas was Bobby Darin's Show. What so
impressed you about his show?
A: Oh, he was sharp then. He was on top of the world. He had the full orchestra. Bobby was cool. Bobby was cocky on stage. He was very sure of himself. I said boy that's great. I'd like to be playing in that band. I never thought I'd like to be up there singing. I was thinking from a musician's standpoint at that time I think.
Q: You say that the audience actually paid attention to his lyrics and
A: Oh yeah. It's not that way now.
Q: Now they talk.
A: Oh, yeah.
Q: You were a member of The Beach Boys for how long?
A: Oh, I did their sessions from '64 to the end of '67. The Last thing I worked with 'em on was the "Pet Sounds" album. Then, on the road with 'em maybe a year, a year and a half, on and off.
Q: You actually played guitar on "Help Me Rhonda", and "Good Vibrations."
A: Yeah. "Dance, Dance, Dance", all of 'em.
Q: You say that you made about a hundred mistakes the first time you played bass
and sang high harmony, but that no one noticed. Are you talking about the band or the audience?
A: The volume was such as in the coliseum somewhere in Dallas, Texas that I don't think it made that much difference. Most amplifiers have 10 on 'em, for that volume control. Ten being the loudest. The Beach Boys had eleven on theirs most of the time. (Laughs). It was loud. It really was.
Q: You opened a show once for Jim Morrison and The Doors?
Q: Did you meet Morrision?
A: Oh, yeah. We rode up on the plane with him in Portland, Oregon and then rode back with him the next day.
Q: Was that when you were a Beach Boy?
A: I was doing Glen Campbell, solo.
Q: That must've been some show.
A: It was. Me out there with just a guitar singing and then The Doors. Vince Gill did that with me a couple of times. Just him and a guitar. That's kind of the way it was, you know.
Q: What'd you think of Morrision?
A: He was pretty well out of it the whole time. He was floating around out there wherever he lived at that time.
Q: You were talking about Merle Haggard in your book and how he doesn't have a
record deal. You write, "That's a testament to the sad shape of country music today. A good-
looking kid with an average voice can often get a record deal when a genuine legend cannot."
A: That's true.
Q: Who are you talking about here? You're not talking about Garth Brooks or Alan
Jackson, are you?
A: No. Turn on country music television, you can spot em. I think Garth Brooks is fabulous, man. He had some great songs there. Alan Jackson, I think "Here In the Real World" is probably as good of a song as you'll find in country music.
Q: You're not talking about Clint Black, are you?
A: No. Clint is a good guy. He's a talented writer.
Q: How much of a say did you have in the material you recorded?
A: I didn't have hardly any say up until "Gentle On My Mind." "Gentle On My Mind" was my first project to go in the studio and do what I wanted to do. It seems like I was never one to rock the boat.
Q: So, the producer really had the control over Glen Campbell in that studio?
A: Yeah. For awhile there.
Q: That was probably the way it was done in those days wasn't it?
A: Oh, definitely. I remember in the Phil Spector days, the words, the music, the songs, it didn't matter, it was Phil Spector.
Q: You write, "Today's songwriters lack inspiration. Many of today's singers
unwisely try to write their own material, so that they can earn more money." If a singer isn't writing
their own material, where does the material come from to insure they make the big bucks?
A: If they don't write it, they gotta know who can. I think Alan Jackson finding "She's Gone Country" by Bob McGill is great. When you're up there in the Top Five and the Top Ten, you can find the good songs, if you look for them.
Q: Trying to survive as a touring singer and songwriter is difficult since a
songwriter needs peace and a touring singer has little of that." That's a good point, because isn't
that what's wrong with the business. How can you write if you're always jumping around?
A: Well, you can't. Alan Jackson wrote most of his good songs before he ever had a record deal. I know, because I was very close to that whole project. That's really the way it goes. You just run out of good material. When I was doing studio work, I had time to find songs. Then when it hit, I got to do a lot of good songs on the albums, and the singles, because I knew about them before, and I looked for them. Then when I'd been out there, and we'd go into record, I didn't have anything to record, because I hadn't been out there looking for songs. I'd been out there touring, making money, and doing t.v. shows. You lose sight of what got you there and that is the song.
Q: You write "I'm curious about the alcohol, drugs, and sexual habits of some of
the reporters who delight in reporting on the morality of others."
Q: "I've never understood why somebody who doesn't sing is qualified to write
reviews about my singing, or why someone who doesn't play a guitar is qualified to write a critique
of my instrumental skills."
A: That's right.
Q: Some reviewer must've really got under your skin, didn't they? Who would that
A: Oh, no, it was just over the years people wising off saying this guy's great, and this guy's great. If a guy doesn't play guitar, don't talk to me about how good another guitar player is. You can say what you like and that's basically what reviewers do. Consultants is what's wrong with the music business today. They've consulted it down to no singing and one chord, for mainstream music today. This is what everyone wants to hear. It's what they're selling. The consultants at the radio stations and the consultants at the record companies. Turn on the radio, and you'll hear one song out of five, or out of ten, that's got merit to it. There're cutting it for drive time and they're cutting it for the dance clubs. And the artist doesn't pick what he wants to do usually. That's why it's so hard for a guy to get started. I was so thrilled to get Alan Jackson started with "Here In the Real World." I told Alan if you don't cut it, I'm gonna get a record on it, I'm gonna cut it. And Thank God, it wasn't two weeks later that he had a record deal with Arista.
Q: Do you have a record deal today?
A: Yes. New Haven. Contemporary Christian.
Q: "A singer can sell records and wind up with top billing simply because a
publicist or record company generates publicity for him or her." I've been doing interviews for a
long time now, and that just sounds too simplistic to me. Again, I have to ask, who are you talking
A: Well, all of the flash in the pans you've seen. O.K. I'll give you the group, The Knack. One album. Nothing since. People who really don't cut it in the business, don't stay in the business. How many people out there from say the late 50's, 60's, 70's are even working today? You think Ringo Starr could get arrested by himself, as a talent?
Q: What did you think when Johnny Carson came out on the stage, on a horse,
and sang "Rhinestone Cowboy?"
A: I thought it was the funniest thing I ever saw. I rode out on a big white horse on the American Music Awards and sang it. That's where he got the idea from. (Laughs).
Q: "A real manager is the guy who can get you on t.v., get you a big record deal,
or get you a premium booking when your voice isn't all over the airwaves." Is there a manager out
there like that?
A: Oh yeah. I imagine there's a lot of them. Even the bad ones can do that. (Laughs). A real manager is really a guy who deals from the top of the deck and does things honestly.
Q: "Some of the greatest singer musicians I know are among the least famous and
some of the most famous are among the least talented". Give me some examples.
A: O.K. Steve Wariner, fabulous. Ricky Skaggs, fabulous player. I'll tell you probably the most talented singer and guitar player in the music business today is Vince Gill. The bad ones are not here anymore so I don't talk about them.
Q: You were writing about "popularity prime" and that you employed 18 people.
A: I had more than that.
Q: Well, you say, "There is no way you can be at your best when you're setting
up equipment, playing it, tearing it down, and moving it to another town a thousand miles away,
day after day." But, at the peak of your popularity, you were not your own roadie, were you?
A: No, but I couldn't believe it, I was in on everything for awhile. I was talking about the whole company. I wasn't talking about me specifically, tearing my equipment down. God, the people you take on the road. That's what I like about Branson now. It's there everyday. You don't have to pack it up and move. That's such a load off of you.
Editor's note: Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.