Glen Campbell’s warm tenor, good-natured persona and knack for selecting songs such as “Wichita Lineman,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” made him a star, and for a good run of years in the ’60s and ’70s he was one of the biggest, with his musical career branching out into television and film for a spell.
But Campbell, who died Tuesday, Aug. 8, at 81 after years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, also added to his legacy in his final years from the openness with which he dealt with his diagnosis, choosing to speak about it publicly, performing a final run of concerts before the condition stripped him of his memory. A documentary film, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” followed him on his journey in life, in the disease, and in those final shows.
Though in recent years Campbell had lost the ability to talk or understand much around him in the care home where he lived near Nashville, a final album, the aptly titled “Adiós,” was released in June, a collection of covers recorded in 2012 and 2013. It serves now as an almost eerie farewell, his tone and pitch untouched by age and ailment even though the record’s producer had to feed him lyrics line by line during those recording sessions.
When I interviewed Campbell at the end of October 2010, just before his appearance at the City National Grove of Anaheim, I remember hanging up the phone and wondering if something was wrong with him. He’d paused periodically during the call to call out a question to his wife Kim, who was with him in the room at their home in Malibu, having forgotten the names of some of the well-known performers he’d worked with or covered on his most recent record.
At one point he went on a tangent about how his capo – the clamp-like device used to change the key of a guitar – was the source of all his success at the start of his career. That was ridiculous, of course, because when Campbell left his home in Arkansas to move to Los Angeles in 1960s he quickly became an in-demand studio session guitarist and singer, his ability to hear a piece of music and instantly play it, overcoming his inability to read music.
Yet in some points during that conversation he was unerring in his thoughts and memories, such as when I asked him if he had a favorite song out of all he’d recorded.
“‘Wichita Lineman’ is totally, totally incredible,” he said. “(Songwriter Jimmy Webb) has got such good chord progressions, and then…