Glen Campbell, a country and pop trendsetter as a guitarist and a vocalist, took the sounds of both Tennessee and California uptown across a career that spanned over 50 years.
Glen Travis Campbell was born on April 22, 1936 in Billstown, a tiny community in Arkansas, to parents John Wesley and Carrie Dell.
Campbell received his first guitar at age 4 from a Sears catalog and within two years, he was performing live on the radio. Just like Willie Nelson, young Campbell revered the guitar style of jazz innovator Django Reinhardt.
At age 17, Campbell moved from Houston, Texas to Albuquerque, N.M. to join an uncle's band. Campbell formed his own country outfit there, the Western Wranglers, in 1958. Of course, bigger things were ahead for Campbell in Hollywood.
The Wrecking Crew and Other Session Work
In 1960, Campbell arrived in Los Angeles and swiftly found work as a guitarist. He briefly joined The Champs, the group already known for its instrumental hit "Tequila," and landed a gig writing songs and recording demos for American Music, a publishing company. The latter earned him a glowing-enough reputation for a spot in the Wrecking Crew, a West Coast equivalent of Nashville's A-team session players that at different times included Leon Russell and future Elvis Presley band leader James Burton.
Campbell worked with The Beach Boys during the 1960s, both as a session musician and as a fill-in bassist on tour (replacing Brian Wilson) in 1964-'65. He also appears on albums by such popular acts as The Monkees and Dean Martin.
Country Music Beginnings
Early signs of Campbell's county music potential came in 1962 with bluegrass outfit The Green River Boys and, soon after, in Dillards-adjacent project The Folkswingers. Before that, Campbell failed to make a dent in the pop charts with his first solo single, future The Vogues hit "Turn Around, Look at Me."
Campbell also plays guitar on multiple definitive recordings by Capitol Records label mate Merle Haggard, namely "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive." Haggard believed in Campbell's talents enough to sneak copies of early Campbell singles into mailers of the Hag's records that got sent to country radio stations.
Campbell's solo star ascended in 1966 when his version of "Burning Bridges" became a Top 20 country hit. The following year, the original single release of the John Hartford-penned "Gentle on My Mind" plus "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," the first of multiple successes found with songwriter Jimmy Webb, solidified Campbell's superstar status.
No. 1 Albums and Grammy Award Hauls
In 1967, Gentle on My Mind became the first of seven consecutive non-holiday albums by Campbell to go No. 1 on the Billboard country charts. By the Time I Get to Phoenix (1967), Hey Little One (1968), A New Place in the Sun (1968), duets collection Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell (1968), Wichita Lineman (1968) and Galveston (1969) round out the list, with the latter two's title tracks ranking high among the best showpieces of Campbell's emotive delivery and tenor voice.
At the 10th annual Grammy Awards in Feb. 1968, Campbell won four trophies, which were spread across country and pop categories. The following year, he broke new ground for an entire genre when By the Time I Get to Phoenix became the first country LP to win Album of the Year.
The biggest sign that Campbell transcended music, much less the country genre, came in 1969 when he co-starred alongside John Wayne in True Grit. Campbell performed the theme song, a crossover Top 40 hit.
It wasn't Campbell's first film (he played small roles in Steve McQueen's Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965) and Roddy McDowall's The Cool Ones (1967)) or his last (with other roles ranging from Joe Namath's Norwood (1969) to the animated film Rock-a-Doodle (1991)). Yet his scene-stealing smile never played as vital a role in a box office smash as it did alongside The Duke.
The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour
A 1968 summer replacement gig for CBS' controversial The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour landed Campbell his own TV variety show the following calendar year. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ran from Jan. 1969 to June 1972, creating pivotal jobs for comedy writers Steve Martin and Rob Reiner and future country stars Anne Murray and Jerry Reed.
As Johnny Cash did with his own variety show (Campbell was among his guests, as shown in the top photo above), Campbell regularly brought his fellow country singers into America's living rooms via appearances by Mel Tillis, Roger Miller and others.
Television host remained part of Campbell's job description, between one-off primetime specials, multiple stints emceeing the American Music Awards in the 1970s and a short-lived syndicated series in the 1980s, The Glen Campbell Music Show.
Continued Musical Success
Campbell scored two additional legacy-sealing hits in the 1970s: No. 1s "Rhinestone Cowboy" (1975) and "Southern Nights" (1977). He continued charting Top 10 country albums throughout the decade as well, with Glen Travis Campbell (1972) and the following year's Hank Williams tribute as highlights.
The 1980s brought a Top 10 cover of future Randy Travis No. 1 "It's Just a Matter of Time" (1985) as well as the Steve Wariner collaboration "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" (1987).
Campbell married his first wife, Diane Kirk, in 1955. Their daughter, Debbie Campbell, joined her father's stage show as a singer in 1987. The couple divorced in 1959.
He wed his second wife, Billie Jean Nunley, in 1959. They had three children together: Kelli Glen, William Travis and Wesley Kane. Campbell divorced Nunley in 1976.
From 1976 to 1980, Campbell was married to Mac Davis' ex-wife, Sarah Barg Davis. They had a son together named Dillon.
After splitting with Davis, Campbell began a relationship with Tanya Tucker that sparked frequent tabloid gossip.
Campbell wed the former Kimberly Woollen, a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, in 1982. Glen and Kim's three children, Cal, Shannon and Ashley Campbell, joined the family band in 2010 and performed with their dad until worsening symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease forced him to retire from touring in 2012.
Campbell died on Aug. 8, 2017 in Nashville at age 81. His Goodbye Tour and subsequent years got covered in the 2014 film I'll Be Me. His final album, Adios, was issued in June 2017.
Twenty-first century honors for Campbell include his 2005 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Glen Campbell's Net Worth
Reports since his passing valued the Campbell estate at around $410K, a drop from net worth projections of as much as $50 million. The Tennessean clarified that the smaller figure "excludes future income rights from royalties."
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