′Rhinestone Cowboy′ Glen Campbell′s lasting musical legacy | Music | DW | 09.08.2017
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'Rhinestone Cowboy' Glen Campbell's lasting musical legacy

Perhaps best known for his infectious hit "Rhinestone Cowboy" and role as a gunslinger in the John Wayne movie, "True Grit," singer Glen Campbell heavily influenced the music world before his death at the age of 81.

The son of sharecroppers in rural Arkansas, country star Glen Campbell once told Rolling Stone magazine that he used to watch television by candlelight. After dropping out of high school at the age of 14, the musician left home and began playing concerts with an uncle.

In 1962, he broke off to Los Angeles on his own - and immediately made a name for himself. He opened for The Doors at concerts, appeared on cuts by Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard and began acting on television and in movies.

Still, Campbell tried to remain true to his humble beginnings. The singer who learned to play the guitar at four and later lent his voice to 21 Top 40 hits, sold over 45 million records and had 12 gold records and in a decades-long career often made reference to feeling pulled between two worlds.

"I'd have to pick cotton for a year to make what I'd make in a week in L.A.," he said. 

Read more: Glen Campbell, country's 'Rhinestone Cowboy,' dies at 81

 In one song released in 1975, "Country Boy (You've Got Your Feet in LA)," the singer gives voice to the feeling that conjures up when he croons: "Country boy, you got your feet in LA / But your mind's on Tennessee / Lookin' back, I can remember the time / When I sang my songs for free / Country boy, you got your feet in LA / Take a look at everything you own / But now and then, my heart keeps goin' home."

That dichotomy was also explored in his everlasting hit, "Rhinestone Cowboy," which Campbell later said he felt was something of a personal anthem. "I thought it was my autobiography set to song," he wrote in his autobiography of the same name, "Rhinestone Cowboy."

This moving between two worlds may also explain why Campbell was the first musician able to bring country music into the realm of mainstream pop. 

"Glen was a prime mover in the whole creation of the country crossover phenomenon that made the careers of Kenny Rogers and some other... many other artists possible," said Jimmy Webb, who wrote the first major hit Campbell had, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."

A man of many talents

Black and white photo of Glen Campbell with John Wayne (picture-alliance/KPA)

Campbell played a Texas ranger alongside John Wayne in "True Grit"

With a pop appeal and honey-like voice, the musician collaborated with many of the most famous singers of the 1960s and 1970s, from Nancy Sinatra to Johnny Cash. In 1968, Campbell not only outsold The Beatles with his records, he also won Grammys in both the country and pop categories, including Best Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance, Best Country & Western Song, and Best Vocal Performance.

While he was still rising to fame in the music world, the chart-topping singer also began a television career as host of "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," which featured artists like Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Linda Ronstadt. The show is credited with helping upcoming country stars on their path to fame.

"He exposed us to a big part of the world that would have never have had the chance to see us," Willie Nelson said. "He's always been a big help to me."

Appearing in John Wayne's western classic, "True Grit," Campbell used his country boy charms to make headway in Hollywood. While he continued to sing and act, however, the glitz and glamour of 1980s Los Angeles took its toll on his personal life.

Read more: So many dead musicians? Rolling Stone editor-in-chief says it's 'quite natural'

The musician succumbed to the excesses of drugs and alcohol, eventually leading to his being charged for extreme driving while under the influence after causing a car accident. He wrote of his struggles with addiction, recovery and turn to religion in his autobiography, "Rhinestone Cowboy."

An Alzheimer's advocate

Country singer Glen Campbell in film I'll Be Me (picture-alliance/dpa/Captital Pictures)

After announcing his Alzheimer's diagnosis, Campbell took part in a documentary about his experiences with the disease

In 2011, the singer announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease before he went on a 15-stop farewell tour. He allowed cameras into his life at that point to document the struggle with Alzheimer's in a documentary, "I'll Be Me," released in 2014. It is something former US President and fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton said he would long be remembered for - perhaps even more so than his music.

Following public confirmation of his death on August 8, 2017, tributes to the man who changed music began flooding in over social media. Country star Dolly Parton issued a video statement via Twitter, saying "Well, Glen Campbell was special because he was so gifted. Glen is one of the greatest voices there ever was in the business. And he was one of the greatest musicians. He was a wonderful session musician as well, a lot of people don't realize that. But he could play anything and he could play it really well. So he was just extremely talented."

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, for whom Campbell stepped in on a 1964 tour, giving Wilson a much-needed break, wrote on Twitter: "I'm at a loss. Love & Mercy."

The tributes showed Campbell's widely felt influence, with country stars like Charlie Daniels and Lady Antebellum chiming in alongside Peter Frampton, Ringo Starr and Sheryl Crow.

A music reporter from the Tennessean likewise posted a video clip from an impromptu John Mayer tribute to the star at a concert in Nashville. 


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