Gary James' Interview With
Glen Campbell

While 1967 may best be remembered for the Summer Of Love, it was also the year that Glen Campbell released "Gentle On My Mind", a song that launched his career, a career that's still going strong today. (1999) Each year since 1970, Glen has been a headline attraction in the world's largest show rooms in Vegas and he continues to tour the world.

In 1991 alone, he appeared before more than one million people in seven countries on three continents. For the past four years, Glen has been a featured performer in Branson, Missouri. In fact, he likes Branson so much that in June 1994, he opened the Glen Campbell Goodtime Theater (2200 seats) where he plays to capacity crowds all the time. He also released his autobiography "Rhinestone Cowboy" in 1994. Recording for New Haven Records, performing gospel music, Glen won not only a Dove Award but a brand new following.

Glen Campbell was one of twelve children born in a small town in Arkansas. When he was only four, his father bought him his first guitar. Within two years, he'd become a masterful player. By the age of fourteen he'd already left home to pursue music full-time. Joining a three piece band led by his uncle Dick Bills in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he later toured the Southwest with his own band. At twenty-four, Glen mad the big move to L.A. and despite the fact that he couldn't read music, became one the "hottest" studio musicians in the business, backing such greats as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley. He even toured as a member of the Beach Boys.

Glen Campbell's hits are numerous and include "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", "The Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife", "Wichita Lineman", "Galveston", "Southern Nights" and "Rhinestone Cowboy". In 1968, CBS replaced The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour with The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which ran for four successful seasons. Glen even co-starred with John Wayne in the movie True Grit.

Just how popular was Glen at the time? Well, in 1969 Glen Campbell sold more records than the Beatles. Glen has taken home more awards than anybody else. He made history by winning a Grammy in both Country and Pop in 1967. "Gentle On My Mind" took top Country honors and "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" won in Pop. He's been named Male Vocalist Of The Year by both the CMA and the ACM and the CMA's Entertainer Of The Year.

Recordwise, Glen Campbell has sold over 45 million records. He's recorded over forty albums, earning twelve Gold albums, seven Platinum albums, fourteen Gold singles in the process. He's been awarded five Grammys and a Dove Award.

We're very proud to present an interview with Arkansas' finest, a true talent and a real legend - Mr. Glen Campbell.

Q - You wrote "Rhinestone Cowboy" because, and I'm quoting you, "If my words here prevent one person from making the mistakes I made, going the way I went, then the trip back in time will have been worth it." The book has been out for over a year now, has anyone told you it's changed their life?

A - Oh yes, a lot. People came through a line here (Branson) 'cause I sign a lot of autographs during intermission and I sign a lot of books. They say "Glen, your book has really helped me in my life. Your book has changed my life." I get all kinds of things from it. "You inspired me to quit drinking. You inspired me in a lot of facets in my life." It's just amazing the feedback I get.

Q - "Noting but nothing was going to come between me and my ultimate goal, not even basic needs." Would it be fair to say that your ultimate goal was to become a successful touring, recording artist?

A - Well, I don't really know. My ultimate goal is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and see God. That's my ultimate goal.

Q - But, as a kid growing up, you wanted to become a recording artist?

A - Well, I wanted to become the best jazz guitarist in the world too. I don't think I really emphasized that in the book that much. I guess that was the ultimate goal yeah, to record and tour. I got to do that from almost every aspect. I toured with The Champs back in 1960, 1961. I was a Beach Boy in 1965. So I got to do that. (laughs) Boy, did God fulfill that beyond my wildest imagination.

Q - To get to that level you needed what, driving force, blind ambition?

A - I think I practiced my trade enough, which is singing and playing, being a musician and a singer, to have people recognize that and call me. You know, it's like if they call you to build a house and you don't know how to build a house, you're not going to get the job. I was ready when I was called to do something; I could do it musically. I didn't limit my talent by pursuing one particular kind of music. I didn't limit it by pursuing Jazz or pursuing Country or pursuing Pop. Music was my world before they started putting a label on it. If somebody heard music that was different from another section of the country, they'd label it. That Detroit Sound, you record it in L.A., it sounds the same way to me. So people label music. That came from working in my uncle's band in Albuquerque. We had a five day a week radio show, six, seven years. You use up a lot of material doing that. We did everything from Country to Pop, when Rock came along.

Q - You had an education in music like no one else before you.

A - Exactly. We had to be on top of it. We had to do the old hits and the hits of the day.

Q - Before you became a "star", you were a "star session player". Was that not enough for you?

A - Oh yeah, it was. The session stuff just evolved. I'm glad it did because I knew the guys who were doing the studio work when I was doing it, there's not that much studio work now, as there was then. There's a few of the guys that still do the TV and movie soundtracks and things like that. But, all the old musicians I worked with are basically doing the same thing. But, I'm glad things evolved like they did in my life. I think it was the guidance of God. He definitely had His Hand on me, guiding me, to end up where I am right now, and that is doing shows in Branson where I can basically do anything I want. The only problem is, I don't know what I want. (laughs) You know what I mean?

Q - You've got enough people comin' to see you.

A - Oh, yeah. It's marvellous.

Q - It's like you had a career, and it's been re-born again.

A - Right. It definitely has.

Q - How many shows are you doing these days?

A - We do ten shows a week. We do matinees Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. We're off on Monday.

Q - What are you charging for tickets? $20 a piece?

A - No. It's according to when you buy them. I don't even deal with that end of it, Thank God. So, I actually don't know what the breakdown it.

Q - What's your show like?

A - I'm doing a full-fledged production show, eight dancers, seven musicians on stage, two keyboards, synthesizers, fiddle, banjo. We play a little bit of everything. But, it mainly showcases what Glen Campbell does.

Q - You didn't name the person who cheated you out of royalties while you were a songwriter at American Music. How come?

A - He came out of the woodwork and he said I changed a chord in it. I just didn't want to name names. He knows who he is.

Q - Yeah, but I don't. I like to expose people when I can.

A - (Laughs) Well, he took the award for writing half of "Summertime Blues" with Eddie Cochran. I'm sure he wrote half of that, too. It was like "Turn Around, Look At Me".

Q - Your father was quite physical with you. He used to beat you, didn't he?

A - Well no, he didn't give me anything I didn't deserve. (Laughs) He didn't beat me. He'd give us a whipping. He'd tell you to do something and if you disobeyed him, he'd take the strap to you.

Q - What effect did that have on you? Did that give you something you could use later on in you life?

A - Yes, definitely. You get children that are disciplined. I think that's a basic of what we have with our society today.

Q - I bet you don't use the strap on your kids.

A - I bet I do. Are you kidding me? If they don't mind me, I hit 'em across the rump with a belt. I said undisciplined children are what's out there in our society today. The murderin', the druggin' and the drinkin' and the fighting and the killing and the gangs, that's undisciplined children. Disciplined children don't do those things.

Q - The first show you ever saw in Vegas was Bobby Darin's show and you were impressed. Why?

A - Oh, he was sharp then. He was on top of the world. He had the full orchestra. Bobby was cool. Bobby was cocky onstage. He was very sure of himself. I said "boy, that's great. I'd like to be playing in that band." I never thought I'd like to be up front singing it, you know? I was thinking of it from a musician's standpoint at that time

Q - And the audience actually paid attention to his lyrics and arrangements?

A - Oh, yeah. It's not that way now. I played Atlantic City last year over the Fourth of July. I didn't feel comfortable at all.

Q - How long were you a member of The Beach Boys?

A - Oh, I did their sessions from '64 to the end of '67. The last thing I worked on with 'em was the "Pet Sounds" album. I was on the road with 'em maybe a year, year and a half, off and on.

Q - And you played guitar on "Help Me, Rhonda" and "Good Vibrations"?

A - Yeah, and "Dance, Dance, Dance", all of 'em.

Q - You recall that the first time you played bass and sang in high harmony, you made about a hundred mistakes, but no one noticed. Are you talking about the audience or the other guys in the band?

A - The volume was such that in a coliseum somewhere in Dallas, Texas. I don't think it made that much difference. Most amplifiers have ten on 'em, for the volume control, and ten is the loudest. Well, the Beach Boys had eleven on theirs most of the time. (Laughs.) It was loud. It really was.

Q - You opened a show once for Jim Morrison and The Doors. Did you get to meet him?

A - Oh yeah, we rode up on the plane with him, to Portland, Oregon and then rode back with him the next day.

Q - You were in The Beach Boys then?

A - No. I was doing a solo. I was just out there with a guitar singing. Then the Doors. Vince Gill did that with me a couple of times. Just him on a guitar. That's kind of the way it was, you know.

Q - What did you think of Morrison?

A - He was pretty well out of it the whole time. He was floating around out there wherever he lived at that time.

Q - You were talking about Merle Haggard in your book and you mentioned that he doesn't have a record deal. You write that's a testament to the sad shape of Country music today, a good looking kid with an average voice can often get a record deal when a genuine legend cannot.

A - That's true.

Q - You're not talking about people like Garth Brooks or Alan Jackson are you?

A - No, I'm not.

Q - Who then?

A - There's a lot of 'em out there. Just turn on Country Music TV. You can spot 'em in their videos. I think Garth Brooks is fabulous. He had some great songs. Alan Jackson, I think "Here In The Real World" is probably as good of a song as you'll find in Country music.

Q - You're not talking about Clint Black are you?

A - No. Clint's a good guy. Clint's a talented writer.

Q - How much of a say did you have in the material you recorded?

A - I didn't have hardly any say up until "Gentle On My Mind". That was my first project to go into the studio and do what I wanted to do. I never was one to rock the boat.

Q - So, the producer really had the control over Glen Campbell in the studio.

A - For awhile, yes.

Q - You bring up an interesting point in your book: 'Trying to survive as a touring singer and songwriter is difficult since a songwriter needs peace and a touring singer has little of that." Isn't that what's wrong with the record business? How can you be expected to write quality material when you're jumping from plane to plane?

A - Well, you really can't. Alan Jackson wrote most of his good songs before he even had a record deal. I know because I was very close to that whole project. That's really the way it goes. You just run out of your material. When I was doing studio work, I had time to find songs, then, when it hit, I had to do a lot of good songs on the albums and the singles, because I knew about them before, and I'd look for them. Then when I got up there and they'd say "we got to record", I didn't have anything to record, because I hadn't been out there looking for songs. I'd been out there touring, making money, doing TV shows, and doing that number. You lose sight of what got you there and that is the song.

Q - "Today's songwriters lack inspiration. Many of today's singers unwisely try to write their own material so that they can earn more money." Where then does a songwriter go to get that inspiration you speak of?

A - Well, if they don't write it, they gotta know who can. I think Alan Jackson finding "She's Gone Country" is great. When you're up there in the Top Five, Top Ten, you can find the good songs if you look for them.

Q - You say, "I'm curious about some of the alcohol, drugs, and sexual habits of some of the reporters who delight in reporting on the morality of others." You must be talking about Geraldo.

A - (Laughs.)

Q - "I've never understood why somebody who doesn't sing is qualified to write reviews about my singing or why someone who doesn't play a guitar is qualified to write a critique of my instrumental skills."

A - That's right.

Q - I always thought that Glen Campbell got good press. Someone really got under your skin. You got some bad reviews did you?

A - Oh no, it was just over the years people wising off. They'd say this guy's great and this guy's great. If a guy doesn't play guitar, don't talk to me about it, about how good another guitar player is. You can say what you like and that's basically what reviewers do. Siskert & Heather (Siskel & Ebert) the movie critics, all they're doing is giving their opinion about what they like. They don't make movies. They don't know what goes into it. Consultants are what's wrong with the music business today. They've consulted it down to no singing and one chord, mainly mainstream music today. This is what everybody wants to hear. This is what they're selling, the consultants at the radio stations and the consultants at the record companies. Turn on the radio and you'll hear one song out of ten that's basically got merit to it. They're cutting it for drive time and they're cutting it for the dance clubs. The artist doesn't pick what he wants to do usually. That's why it's so hard for a guy to get started. I was so thrilled to get Alan Jackson started with "Here In The Real World". I told Alan if you don't cut that, I'm gonna cut it, or I'm gonna get a record on it." Thank God, it wasn't two weeks later 'til he had a record deal with Arista

Q - You're recording for?

A - New Haven (Records). Contemporary Christian. I'm doing a TV album. That seems to be the thing to do nowadays. In a song I did called "Branson", it says "Too out of shape for Wranglers and too old for video." (Laughs.)

Q - From "Rhinestone Cowboy": "A singer can sell records and wind up with top billing simply because a publicist or record company generates publicity for him or her." That sounds too simple. Who are you talking about here?

A - Well, all the flash in the pans you've seen. OK, I'll give you the group The Knack. One album. Nothing since. People who really don't cut it in the business, don't stay in the business. How many people out there from the late '50's, '60's, '70's, are even working today? You think Ringo Starr could get arrested by himself? As a talent? The guys in Country music now have two or three big records, and they go out live on the stage, and they really can't cut it. In other words, they're promoted because they're good-looking. A lot of producers at a record company want to produce an artist. I went through that for five years. "We'll cut this song now." I turn on country radio now, and I long to hear a good Merle Haggard tune. I long to hear a good tune that isn't aimed at drive time or aimed at a dance club.

Q - What did you think of Johnny Carson when he came out dressed as a cowboy and sang "Rhinestone Cowboy"?

A - I thought it was the funniest thing I ever saw. I rode out on a big, white horse on the American Music Awards and sang it. That's where he got the idea from. (Laughs.)

Q - "A real manager is the guy who can get you on TV, get you a big record deal, or get you a premium booking when your voice isn't all over the airwaves." Is there a manager out there like that today?

A - Oh yeah. I imagine there's a lot of them. Even the bad ones can do that. (Laughs.) A real manager is really a guy who deals from the top of the deck, and who does things honestly.

Q - Again from "Rhinestone Cowboy": "Some of the greatest singer / musicians I know are among the least famous, and some of the most famous are among the least talented." Who are you talking about here? Give us some names.

A - I'll name you some real good ones, Steve Wariner. Fabulous. Ricky Skaggs, fabulous player. Probably the most talented singer and guitar player on top of the music business today is Vince Gill. The bad ones are not here anymore so I don't talk about them.

Q - What's ahead for Glen Campbell?

A - I'm not doing July and August here (Branson, Missouri). I'm gonna take some time off, do some private parties, do fairs.

Q - So you could be at the New York State Fair next year?

A - I don't know. I've been thinking about taking off. (Laughs.)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell