Jimmy Webb wrote the songs that lofted Glen Campbell to stardom in the late 1960s — “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “Where’s the Playground, Susie?” — and the two remained friends for the five decades that followed. While both had bigger hits with other collaborators, in many ways Campbell’s was the definitive voice for Webb’s songs, and vice versa. (For more on Campbell’s life and career, see this.)
Campbell died Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 8) after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. A rep for Webb said he was not up to the many interviews that had been requested, but as the tribute to his friend below shows, he was not at a loss for words.
Well, that moment has come that we have known was an inevitable certainty and yet stings like a sudden catastrophe. Let the world note that a great American influence on pop music, the American Beatle, the secret link between so many artists and records that we can only marvel, has passed and cannot be replaced. He was bountiful. His was a world of gifts freely exchanged: Roger Miller stories, songs from the best writers, an old Merle Haggard record or a pocket knife.
He gave me a great wide lens through which to look at music. The cult of The Players? He was at the very center. He loved the Beach Boys and in subtle ways helped mold their sound. He loved Don and Phil [Everly], Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield [the Righteous Brothers], Flatt and Scruggs. This was the one great lesson that I learned from him as a kid: Musically speaking nothing is out of bounds. Of course, he lavished affection and gifts on his kids, family and friends. His love was a deep mercurial thing and once committed he was a tenacious friend as so many in Nashville and Phoenix, L.A. and New York, compadres all over the world would testify. One of his favorite songs was “Try A Little Kindness” in which he sings “shine your light on everyone you see.” My God. Did he do that or what? Just thinking back I believe suddenly that the “raison d’etre” for every Glen Campbell show was to bring every suffering soul within the sound of his voice up a peg or two. Leave ’em laughin.’ Leave them feeling just a little tad better about themselves; even though he might have to make them cry a couple of times to get ’em there. What a majestically graceful and kind, top rate performer was Glen on his worst night!
When it came to friendship Glen was the real deal. He spoke my name from ten thousand stages. He was my big brother, my protector, my co-culprit, my John crying in the wilderness. Nobody liked a Jimmy Webb song as much as Glen! And yet he was generous with other writers: Larry Weiss, Allen Toussaint, John Hartford. You have to look hard for a bad song on a Glen Campbell album. He was giving people their money’s worth before it became fashionable.
I am full of grief. I am writing because I think you deserve some sort of message from me but I am too upset to write very well or at any great length. It’s like waking up in the morning in some Kafkaesque novella and finding that half of you is missing. Laura and I would call upon you to rest your sympathy with Kim Campbell and her children Cal, Shannon and Ashley; his older children Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, and Dillon; grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren. Perhaps you could throw in a prayer for the Webb kids, Chris, Justin, Jamie, Corey, Charles and Camila who looked upon him as a kind of wondrous uncle who was a celebrated star and funnier than old dad.
This I can promise. While I can play a piano he will never be forgotten. And after that someone else will revel in his vast library of recordings and pass them on to how many future generations? Possibly to all of them.