Before his majestic 1960s hits like “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” before his mid-’70s No.1 singles “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” before his years as an elder statesman of country music, Glen Campbell was (and remained) a white-hot guitar player, a veteran of literally hundreds of sessions with a Los Angeles-based team of ace musicians that played on songs by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Phil Spector to the Beach Boys and film soundtracks and TV commercial jingles. Campbell played on all of the above as well as songs by Elvis Presley, The Monkees, Merle Haggard, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and many, many more.
Along with drummer Hal Blaine, keyboardists Larry Knechtel and Don Randi, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and a dozen-odd others, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist James Burton spent countless hours with Campbell in “The Pit,” the L.A. studios where the team would grind out classics, one-hit wonders and long-forgotten songs like clockwork. Below the two share some memories of Campbell, who passed away Tuesday at 81 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
“He had a terrific personality, was a real family man, loved his kids, and was a top professional studio musician too — always friendly, but like the rest of us, he sometimes got bored and would stand up and sing an off-color hillbilly song and crack us up. One time someone hollered, ‘Look out, Glen’s going to be a big star someday!’ — obviously ribbing him, but he sure showed us! We all ended up working for him then when he became a solo artist.
“Glen created a huge spot in music that was his own, both with his guitar playing but also with his great singing and entertaining — that’s rare. He was a fantastic guitarist, playing mainly by ear, but his great singing voice caught us all by surprise later on. He took up singing when, increasingly, the music parts were more arranged, and he couldn’t sight-read [music]. A couple of times, I had to hum him his parts when he whispered ‘How does this go?’ He did well with chord charts, though, did some great guitar solos and was fantastic on the record dates.
“He borrowed my Dano bass guitar for his solo on [Campbell’s 1968 hit] ‘Wichita Lineman’ when we cut that track at Capitol Studios — in one take! I knew it would be a smash — great tune, great singing, fine production.
“I always loved that guy, he was so pleasant to be around. I think later on his kids kept him going with their love. He loved his family, and always was loyal to his musicians, too. A real square-shooter.
“I don’t think he ever changed. I saw him years later and he was the same playful Glen — full of humor and cutting up.”
“Glen and I have been friends and played together since the late 50s. I played on [Campbell’s first major hit] ‘Gentle on My Mind’ and many other records of his, including his first album, which was a bluegrass record named ‘Kentucky Means Paradise.’
“When I was playing with Ricky Nelson, Rick didn’t really want me recording with other artists. He wanted to keep our sound unique, so I forwarded all my studio calls at the time on to Glen Campbell. That’s how he became a studio musician and ultimately we were both in the ‘Wrecking Crew’ together. Glen did go with Ricky Nelson and me to Japan and played bass guitar with us. I also performed on Glen’s ‘Goodtime Hour’ [late ’60s variety TV show] many times, what a fantastic show that was.
“Glen was truly a musical icon and I am so honored to have called him a dear friend. It’s a sad, yet happy occasion. Glen may no longer be here, but I know he is now with the Lord. He will be terribly missed by myself….and the world of music.”