Glen Campbell looked back at his career for Pro Sound News in this 2008 interview. Photo: Dax Kimbrough.
With the death of Glen Campbell in early August, 2017, the music world lost someone who wasn’t merely a great performer, but also a noted session guitarist who played on a wildly diverse range of now-classic music, a TV personality and far more. Back in the December, 2008 issue of Pro Sound News, we chatted with the artist for our Music, Etc. column as he released an all-covers album, Meet Glen Campbell. When we did meet him, he was more than happy to look back at his wide-ranging career, recounting some of his successes with an engaging mix of modesty and pride. He will be missed.
Glen Campbell is a living legend in the music world. One does not have to look very far for his contribution to the modern musical landscape of our country, beginning with his work in the early 1960s as a member of Los Angeles’ legendary Wrecking Crew, the ultimate session band. Campbell’s guitar work is featured on recordings by everyone from Frank Sinatra (“Strangers in the Night”), to the Monkees (“I’m a Believer”), to the Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”). Additionally, he was considered a “go-to” session man for producers like Brian Wilson and Phil Spector—in fact, his guitar was an intrinsic element of Spector’s “Wall of Sound.”
After his days as a groundbreaking session guitarist, Campbell had a fantastic production relationship with Jimmy Webb, which gave us timeless hits such as “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” Later, of course, Campbell enjoyed a #1 hit with “Rhinestone Cowboy.” On his new studio album, Meet Glen Campbell, he offers his unique interpretation of an unlikely collection of songs by artists such as Green Day, Travis, the Velvet Underground (a group he provided session work for in the ‘60s), U2 and John Lennon. The experience for Campbell was exhilarating—so much so, that another similar album is already in the works.
On Making an Album of Covers:
I want to do another one of these albums—it was really fun to do. I don’t want to retire and quit as long as I can make music like this. John Lennon’s “Grow Old With Me” has to be my favorite song on the album—I am at that sentimental age now. John Lennon never had a chance to record that song, and it really fit in with the rest of the project—that’s why it was so cool.
On Being Part of the Wrecking Crew:
Being part of the Wrecking Crew was among the happiest days of my life. I realized at that point I was playing with the best musicians in the world. I remember during one of those sessions, Jan Berry of Jan and Dean counted off a song and had put Tommy Tedesco’s music upside down on the stand as a joke. The funny thing was that he actually played it note for note! [laughs].
Then Jan came over and jerked the music away from him, saying, “You’re just showing off!” Having the chance to sit there and play with musicians of that caliber was just a dream come true.
Those songs will never go away or die; they are history, and it was an era of change in music. There was something different on the horizon, and I don’t think anybody else besides the Wrecking Crew could have laid down the music like that. They were the best musicians that I’ve ever worked with or have ever been with.
On Touring and Recording with the Beach Boys:
Thank God for Al Jardine [Beach Boys’ guitarist], because sometimes when I played bass my hand would give out and he would take over. As a result, I ended up playing rhythm guitar at some of the shows. During those early live shows with the Beach Boys, you couldn’t hear anything but screaming—they would scream, “Dennis! Dennis!” He was the sex symbol, he was cool, and he was as good a drummer as anybody for what the Beach Boys were doing.
Pet Sounds is definitely a piece of American history. We would go into the studio, and the time would just fly by. It would be five hours later, and you wouldn’t even notice it because you were so into the music. I remember sitting there on “Good Vibrations,” spending about five hours of paid time while they were getting that Theremin part at the end of the track together. We were making good money for musicians back then, and the unions really stepped up and supported us.
On His Skills As a Session Guitarist:
I can read chord charts—I could never read notes. I was the only one of the session musicians who used a capo time and time again. We were doing a Jan and Dean thing, and Jan asked me, “What is that little thing there?” I showed him the capo and explained to him how many different sounds you could get from a simple D chord. From then on, he was always specifying different, open positions and we got sounds you could only get from a capo. That little device got me more sessions than anybody else in town, and everybody wanted that open Beach Boys, Phil Spector sound.
On Changes in the Studio Between Now and 40 Years Ago:
It’s basically the same as it was, but there are a lot more gadgets now. This time around, all I had to do was plug in and play, just like what I did before. I don’t get into all the gear, but can hear what all the different technology is doing. I also understand how easy it is to edit things in and out in Pro Tools. I am really very pleased with the sound on the album.
I usually leave the vocal sound to the engineers—I just tell them I want something thick and present. As far as guitars are concerned, the Ovation is my main instrument, and the old Fender Telecaster is my standby. I don’t think you could ever replace that.
On His Proudest Accomplishments:
“Wichita Lineman” always stood out in my mind, and, of course, all the Jimmy Webb stuff. Jimmy was all about the chord progression and the melody line, and he took his time. He didn’t take a lot of time intentionally, but he wanted to get it just right, so it would come out just like he wanted it. And the records we did were just fabulous—we recorded them at Gold Star, where Brian [Wilson] did all his stuff as well.
Another one of my proudest moments has to be “Rhinestone Cowboy,” since fans all over the world know it. That must be America’s song. Ain’t that a wonderful song? I’ve had more kids come up to me and sing, “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy!” I thought that was so much fun, these little kids singing that song.