Glen Campbell Country Legend and Crossover Star, Dead at 81

Credit: Morgue File

Glen Campbell outsold The Beatles in 1968—the year of The Yellow Submarine and “the White Album.”

He was called by some a guitar prodigy and is credited by others as being the first crossover musician, bridging the seemingly-insurmountable gap between country and pop music.

During his 60-year career he sold more than 45 million records.

He had his final tour in 2014, during which a documentary crew followed him to document his struggle with Alzheimer’s, the disease which, it was announced Tuesday afternoon, has finally claimed his life. Campbell was 81.

He was born in 1936 and grew up in a sharecropping family in Arkansas. He discovered the guitar early and moved with an uncle at the age of 14 to Wyoming to start playing gigs.

After that he moved to Los Angeles and joined a studio band in 1962. According to rolling Stone “In 1963 alone, he appeared on 586 cuts” including “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Mama Tried,” and “Viva Las Vegas.”  

One bandmate from that time called Campbell the “best guitar player I’d heard before or since.”

In 1964 he took over when Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown to tour with the Beach Boys, playing bass and singing high harmony; Campbell called the experience “hog heaven.”

He had his first solo hit in 1967. Jimmy Webb, who wrote “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” that first solo hit, said that he and Campbell made albums together that were almost perfect and attributed Campbell with paving the way for “the country crossover phenomenon that made the careers of Kenny Rogers and…many other artists possible.”

He won Grammys in both the pop and country genres in that same year.

He hosted his own televised variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour from 1969 through 1972, boosting the careers of new artists like Willie Nelson and featuring such greats as Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.

He tried his hand at film with little success, but achieved another smash hit in 1975 with one of his most recognizable songs, “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

He had his share of controversies, dating Tanya Tucker who was 22 years younger than him, having a somewhat public battle with alcoholism and an addiction to cocaine, being involved in a hit-and-run and being arrested for it in 2003. He spent 10 days in jail for that incident.

He announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011 and went on his farewell tour with three of his five children backing him up on stage. He played 151 shows which U2’s The Edge called “incredible.”

Friends and family often spent their time visiting him in the assisted-living home where he spent his last years playing his old songs because, as one of them put it, “music utilizes all of the brain, not just one little section of it.”

He released his final studio album, Adios, mostly featuring cover songs in early 2017. His daughter said they were the songs he remembered most easily and that they were some of the last parts of his memory to go.

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