ROLLING STONE- Glen Campbell, the indelible voice behind 21 Top 40 hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” died Tuesday. He was 81. A rep for Universal Music Group, Campbell’s record label, confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone. During a career that spanned six decades, Campbell sold over 45 million records. In 1968, one of his biggest years, he outsold the Beatles.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell, at the age of 81, following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease,” the singer’s family said in a statement.
Campbell was a rare breed in the music business, with various careers as a top-level studio guitarist, chart-topping singer and hit television host. His late-career battle with Alzheimer’s – he allowed a documentary crew to film on his final tour for the 2014 award-winning I’ll Be Me – made him a public face for the disease, a role President Bill Clinton suggested would one day be remembered even more than his music.
Campbell was born in 1936 in Billstown, Arkansas, the seventh son in a sharecropping family of 12 kids. “We used to watch TV by candlelight,” Campbell told Rolling Stone in 2011.
In his youth, Campbell started playing guitar and became obsessed with jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. He dropped out of school when he was 14 and moved to Wyoming with an uncle who was a musician, playing gigs together at rural bars. He soon moved to Los Angeles and by 1962 had solidified a spot in the Wrecking Crew, a group of session pros. In 1963 alone, he appeared on 586 cuts and countless more throughout the decade, including the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”
“I’d have to pick cotton for a year to make what I’d make in a week in L.A.,” he said. “I learned it was crucial to play right on the edge of the beat … It makes you drive the song more. You’re ahead of the beat, but you’re not.” Fellow Wrecking Crew member Leon Russell called Campbell “the best guitar player I’d heard before or since. Occasionally we’d play with 50- or 60-piece orchestras. His deal was he didn’t read [music], so they would play it one time for him, and he had it.”
In late 1964, Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown on tour with the Beach Boys, and the band called on Campbell to replace him on bass and high harmonies. “I took Brian’s place and that was just … I was in heaven then – hog heaven!” Campbell remarked. READ MORE