Campbell, Glen: Country Music Icon Dies at 81

Country music legend Glen Campbell, whose hits  included “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” died Tuesday. He was 81.

In 2011, Campbell announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and mounted a farewell tour. His official Twitter posted the news of his death. His daughter, Ashley Campbell, also shared a heartfelt message online.

Campbell’s influence in expanding country music’s parameters and fanbase was substantial. His signature hits combined orchestral arrangements and traditional pop hooks with countrified lyrical themes and vocal stylings, catalyzing both the “countrypolitan” and soft rock subgenres that would proliferate in the 1970s. (John Denver and Kenny Rogers both owe much of their careers to Campbell’s example.)

He sold more than 45 million records in his career and topped the country singles chart 12 times.

Crossover came naturally to Campbell, who had enjoyed a career as a prolific session musician for rock, pop and country acts alike. He possessed a calmly authoritative tenor and impeccable guitar chops, but his genial, easygoing charm as a performer was thrown into sharp relief by his hotheaded offstage character, with his reputation marred by substance abuse and allegations of domestic violence. Later becoming a born-again Christian, Campbell continued to maintain a steady audience well into his seventh decade, opening his own theater in Branson, Mo.

Born into a sharecropping family in southwestern Arkansas, Campbell was the seventh of 12 children. Picking up guitar at an early age, he left home at 14 to pursue music, landing in Los Angeles, where he fathered his first child at age 17.

He recorded guitar parts for such varied acts as Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees, Merle Haggard and Elvis Presley.

Campbell reached the height of his power in 1965, when he became a touring member of the Beach Boys — playing bass for the absent Brian Wilson — as well as contributing guitar parts to the group’s landmark “Pet Sounds” album.

Campbell had been pursuing a solo career, recording mostly unremarkable singles for Crest Records and later Capitol. Though he broke onto country radio a few times, he began to lose favor with Capitol label heads, who by the mid-’60s were pondering dropping him from the roster.

But Campbell’s career experienced a sudden, dramatic upswing in 1967, when he recorded a rendition of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.” Though the 45 barely breached the top-40 singles chart, the titular LP was a runaway success, topping the country album chart and reaching No. 5 on the pop charts.

The single “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was a bigger hit, reaching No. 2 on the country chart and marking the beginning of Campbell’s collaborations with songwriter Jimmy Webb, whose compositions provided Campbell with hits for years.

Campbell won four Grammys for the two songs at the 1967 awards — two in country categories, the other two in pop categories.

 

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