Glen Campbell had no better booster in his final decade than producer Julian Raymond, who helmed three late-career comeback albums for the legend before producing and co-writing “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” a farewell recording that was nominated for a Best Song Oscar. Considering that he also joined the band for much of Campbell’s goodbye tour, few outside of Campbell’s immediate family circle had a better view of the singer’s final triumphs and frailties than Raymond. Variety spoke with the producer about his involvement in these last victory laps shortly after Campbell’s passing at 81 on Tuesday.
Can you describe your feelings, now that what you’d had so many years to prepare for has come to be?
It’s hard to believe, even though you knew it was coming. [Campbell’s wife] Kim was so dedicated to him in every way you could ever think of that I felt happy for him that he had her right to the very end. Even though I feel bad, it’s truly their loss, and your heart goes out to her and the kids, first and foremost. But… how do you say this? Seeing the condition he was in and being around him a little bit in this last year, it’s a good thing that it happened. Because it just wasn’t him. It wasn’t Glen. It was somebody else. I don’t know how to describe it other than that. It’s a terrible disease that affects people in different ways, but it just sucks the personality right out of you. He wasn’t speaking; he barely moved; he didn’t acknowledge anybody. The character, his movements, his mannerisms, all that stuff was gone. I’m glad he’s gone to a better place. It’s better for him, and certainly his family, who were suffering through this thing for a long time.
The album you did with him before his diagnosis, “Meet Glen Campbell,” set him up to be looked at in a new and more thoughtful way, with more contemporary poignant material, and it really helped set a mood for what he did after his condition became known. Can you take us through that?
I’d been asked by Capitol to work with some legacy artist, and they gave me a list of people. Glen’s name wasn’t on it, but I grew up loving him, and my parents did especially. I reached out to Stan Schneider, his then-manager, and got together with Glen, who thought it was a great idea, and we knocked out “Meet Glen Campbell” in two weeks. I just rewrote the songs (by artists like Lou Reed, U2, Tom Petty, the Foo Fighters, and Jackson Browne) to sound more like classic Glen songs that Al De Lory, his producer, and Jimmy Webb did in the heyday. It was a fun record to make, and he had a really good time.
Then we decided to do another record. I knew there was something wrong, and I was informed by the family privately that he had Alzheimer’s. So we decided maybe we should do an album a little bit more based on his life and legacy, so we did “Ghost on the Canvas.” It took him longer to do everything, but he picked all those songs, and we wrote a bunch together. We created that album thinking that probably it was going to be his last, because he was deteriorating, and we didn’t really understand how quickly it was going to come about. So when we finished the record, we thought maybe we should do a goodbye tour.
Then I asked my friend James Keach if he would come out and film. We were only going to go out for like three weeks. It ended up being a year and a half, and James stayed out with him that whole time to make the “I’ll Be Me” documentary. It lasted that long before they had to pull him off the road because he just wasn’t able to do it well anymore. But it gave him a chance to connect with his fans. It started out at the Troubadour and it ended up at the Hollywood Bowl, and man, to grow that big in that amount of time was incredible. After they pulled him off the road, I did one last song with him in 2013, which is “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” for the documentary. We went back in and recorded one last time with the Wrecking Crew, his friends. And despite what’s going on out there, what people are saying about this whatever this other thing I’ve been hearing about [the recently released “Adios” album] being the last record, it’s not true. The last thing he ever recorded was absolutely “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”
His condition had to have been pretty advanced when you recorded that last track, if they’d already had to put an end to the farewell tour.
To watch all these guys like Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn and all these legendary musicians who had done “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman: with him…. It was a hard, super-emotional day. But also a magical day; it was fun watching him joke around with his friends.
I owe a lot to the Grammys for giving him the lifetime achievement award [in 2012], because that event was really the last [public] thing that he kind of knew a little bit about what was going on, and was so happy the love he got from the audience, and with people like Paul McCartney embracing him and telling him how much they loved him. And everything that happened afterward, with “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” being nominated for best song for the Academy Awards, and winning the Grammy for best country song, all that stuff he wasn’t aware of.
But really, you couldn’t go any higher for the end of his career. I’m proud of him, and proud of what his family went through. That was a hard judgment call to make, to let James Keach go out there and film everything that was going on, warts and all. And that movie helped so many people. There were so many letters and emails saying how important the song was and how the movie gave them an insight as to what was to be expected and what was coming with their family, and people who had it in early stages. That doesn’t get any better, as far as creating art that helps people as well as moves them.
Before the diagnosis, even when “Meet Glen Campbell” came out and got reams of good press in 2008, he was still not playing to big crowds. It’s a bittersweet irony that maybe it took this diagnosis to sort of get him his due again.
Making it public wasn’t any kind of publicity stunt. The reason for it was that he was out playing while we were doing the album “Ghost on the Canvas,” and his reviews were: “Don’t pay to go see Glen Campbell. He’s just a drunk. He’s on drugs; he’s got issues.” They were belittling him and making fun, and they didn’t know he had this disease. So I went to management and William Morris and said, “There’s nothing wrong with [revealing] this. He’s out there making a living and trying to do his thing, and people won’t say those things if you just let them know that he has Alzheimer’s.” There were certain people that thought it would hurt his career, but we just needed to have those [outsiders] stop saying those things about him. And people felt bad, afterwards, for doing it. I don’t blame them; he’d be forgetting words and saying kind of strange things, and they just thought he was on drugs.
When he toured after the revelation, there was the opposite factor: people praising him for far surpassing expectations.
That really kept him going. He just loved connecting with the audience. It was an emotional experience to see a lot of those shows, because people were so into it and clapping and singing along. So when it didn’t look like he was having a good time or wasn’t into it anymore, that’s when it was time to pull the plug. I would say through 90 percent of that tour, he was having the time of his life. Because he hadn’t seen those type of crowds in a long amount of years. He played Carnegie Hall and places like that — he hadn’t done that since the late ‘70s. I wasn’t along for the entire tour, but I was there playing on a lot of it, and I could see how much he felt the love from the audience. When they decided to pull the plug on the tour, up in wine country, that it was going to be the last show (in Napa, California on Nov. 30, 2012), I got the call to come up and be there for that, and I did. He started off rough, but he finished it. It was an incredible night, for sure.
With so many performers aging into their 80s and beyond, there are questions about how long do you keep it going, as voices or memories falter, even if they’re not suffering from Alzheimer’s. It’s a question we’ll have to face more and more as rockers age up: A good part of the audience will want to see them soldier on to the end, but there will be others who judge them by the standards of their peak years and say they should have called it earlier.
I think they made the right call. I saw one of the last concerts of Sinatra in Vegas, and he was barely moving and barely hanging in there. So I know what you’re talking about, as far as when you should hang it up. But if you saw any of the goodbye tour shows, he still sang and played great. At the end he couldn’t do it well enough to not feel like people might start saying we were taking advantage or just propping him up on stage. The interesting thing is, the tour definitely kept him going. When he stopped singing and playing is when he started to deteriorate rapidly. Because that’s the earliest thing he could ever remember doing. It was in his blood.
He was clearly one of those legacy performers who needed some outside help to see a way to make relevant new music and reclaim his legacy. To help him do that in his last decade must have been a great thing.
It was a thrill. I was finally happy to get to make a record my parents liked, too, unlike all this other crazy stuff that I get involved with. But the most amazing thing for me to see was this love story of Kim and Glen, because I’ve got to tell you, man, that woman was in there to the very end. She was really strong, and she had his back all the way. She truly loved him, and that’s quite a story in itself, in my opinion. So she’s the one that deserves all the accolades because she had to deal with it on a day-to-day basis and did it well. Despite all the things you may hear from other family members, that’s all complete b.s. She’s in it for him 100 percent of the way. She truly loves him.
That does seem like a happy ending to a not entirely happy life story, the disease notwithstanding.
Yeah, and I guess a biopic is moving forward. I think they’re pretty close to getting that going, and that could be a great thing for his legacy. James Keach is involved with that. He [produced] “Walk the Line,” so it could be something really good again – I hope. James Keach said, after he got to know him, he said his story was far darker and far crazier than Johnny Cash’s. He should know, because he spent a bunch of years with Johnny Cash as well before he made the movie. It’s interesting. I would find that hard to believe on one hand, but then I started finding out the stories of Glen and what had happened, especially in the ‘70s, and it was pretty crazy stuff as well. He lived a thousand lifetimes, that’s for sure.
It’s hard to imagine who would play him, but if they found someone to play Cash…
Well, it’ll be a [more demanding] job, just waiting for [an actor with] a tenor voice who’s also an amazing guitar player. Whoever gets it better do their homework.
Do you have a favorite recording of his, either one you did with him or historically?Historically, my favorite song that he and producer Al De Lory did is off an album called “Try a Little Kindness.” It’s “Home Again” — that’s my favorite song by far. And there’s a song that we did called “There’s No Me Without You” that we did on “Ghost on the Canvas,” and he always told me that was his favorite song he ever recorded. He told me that a number of times. I love all the Jimmy Webb songs, but those two songs I just mentioned are the ones that stand out most to me, one because he loved it so much, and the other one just because I love it so much.