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FAREWELL GLEN CAMPBELL ON WIND BACK WEDNESDAY


To mark his death today, an extra Wind Back Wednesday: a 2008 interview with Glen Campbell on what was thought to be his last tour of Australia, before the diagnosis of his Alzheimer’s became known.

WE CAN HEAR IT THROUGH THE WIRES

We all know the classic tragi-comic country song, the type where the dog died driving your best tractor, the tornado crushed the crops and your last bottle of whiskey, the bank took both the kids and the deeds, but God and the love of a good woman brought you back from the brink.

Now if you wrote one of those songs based on the life of Glen Campbell you would be laughed out of even the most hackneyed songwriting offices on Nashville's Music Row.

But imagine a finger picked acoustic guitar, or better yet a weeping pedal steel which finally gives way to a triumphant choir, playing in the background as you read the following. And remember, all of this is true.

Glenn Travis Campbell was born in 1936, the seventh in what eventually would be 12 children to a dirt poor Arkansas family. Dad was a sharecropper, mom had her hands more than full and the best money, sometimes the only money, came from picking tomatoes out of state.

"If we grew it, we ate it. If daddy shot it, mamma cooked it, it didn't matter what it was," Campbell has said.

They may have been poor but his father bought him a mail order guitar for $5 when he was four and his uncle Boo (trust me, that is his name) taught him picking and another uncle took him on the road.

The young Campbell turned professional at 16, soon after becoming father and husband and then divorcee.

Second verse. A move to Los Angeles in the early '60s found him, despite not being able to read music, in heavy demand as a session guitarist. And not just for commercials or fly-by-night pop labels desperate for anyone, but for Phil Spector and Brian Wilson (whom he stood in for on several Beach Boys tours).

The money was good, particularly in 1963 when he played on more than 500 separate sessions, and he was given the chance to release several singles.

None of those singles worked enough, until Gentle On My Mind broke the ice in 1967 and then a 19-year-old songwriter from the Midwest called Jimmy Webb offered him a song, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, then another, Wichita Lineman, and Galveston. Hallelujah, bring on the chorus!

"He was my writer man," Campbell recalls now of Webb. "I loved the way he wrote songs and those chord progressions which were marvellous." How close were they? Campbell even claims to be someone who understands Webb's McArthur Park.

All of a sudden Campbell was not just a crossover hit, with his songs at the top of both the country and pop charts, but a bona fide star. And he hadn't even recorded Rhinestone Cowboy yet.

"My privacy went in the period of one week, the first week we did the Good Time Hour [the 1969 TV variety show he hosted]," says Campbell. "The week before not many people knew who Glenn Campbell was, by the second week we started to get so much mail, particularly from the USS Wichita and the USS Galveston.

"I had like four or five albums but when I started the television show it was just one of those things. We had the product to sell. And EMI, every record plant they had they were pressing Glenn Campbell records. I could not have planned that. I just said thank you Lord."

Ah, but the good Lord knows a country song, like a country life, can't go smoothly for long. Here's the song's middle eight: the hits started to dry up, the TV show was cancelled, the drink and the cocaine took over and not surprisingly the second marriage foundered. As did the third.

"I couldn't pick women. I think I let them pick me, and that didn't work out," jokes Campbell. "But the Lord sent me a [fourth] wife and she is just so wonderful, and the two boys, who are 23 and 21, and a daughter 20."

The now long-time clean and born again man has in fact eight children.

"Ah," he pauses, calculating. "Yes, one, two … yes eight."

And grandchildren?

"Ah, you really got me there," he says, counting out loud again. "Five grandchildren and I've got a great grandkid somewhere there too."

One of those children, his oldest daughter Debby, even performs on stage with him now. As we'll see during Campbell's tour of Australia, she's not alone up there, her father choosing to travel these days with an orchestra. Not for long though, this tour is being called his farewell to Australia tour.

However, the man is still having so much fun you have to wonder why he's talking retirement. Sure, he is in his 70s, but the Rolling Stones are likely to keep going into their 90s, why not Campbell?

"Well, I'm thinking about hanging it up because I've been doing this ever since I can remember," he says. "There are pictures of me when I was eight or nine years old playing the guitar and singing, that's all I've done my adult life. I think I'm going to give myself a little time."

The choir sings, the song ends.

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