In 1967, when Glen Campbell released “Gentle on My Mind,” he had already been a part of Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” team, played guitar on “Tequila” and toured as part of The Beach Boys. These built him a rep as a great session player and outstanding guitarist, but the general public didn’t know who he was.
That is, until he connected with a John Hartford song and took off on the country and pop charts. Soon, he was making classics out of Jimmy Webb songs (“Galveston,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and especially “Wichita Lineman), starring opposite John Wayne in “True Grit,” and hosting his own TV variety series (remember those?). He was 31.
On June 4, 2011, Glen Campbell took the stage at the Palladium. At age 75, he needed the monitors to keep track of many of the lyrics that put him on the charts. He didn’t always remember which guitar he’d be using next or which key to start in. He was not a font of anecdotes nor did he offer much in the way of new material.
But—with help—he put on a terrific show.
Campbell opened, appropriately, with “Gentle on My Mind,” leading into “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Try a Little Kindness” and Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” and the spirited playing immediately showcased the talented folks he brought with him. The fact that four of his seven travelling companions are his children gave the entire affair an added layer of warmth.
Eldest daughter, Debby, with a strong, traditional country voice, joined Campbell on “Let It Be Me, his 1969 hit with Bobbie Gentry and the Johnny Cash classic “Jackson.” When Dad took a break, she teamed with banjo-playing sister Ashley, a stunner in the Taylor Swift style, on “Landslide.” Picking up the pace a bit, the duo freshened up the overplayed song, the difference in their ages adding poignancy to the “I’m getting older, too” line.
Their playing throughout left me hoping Indy will get a chance to hear Instant People, Ashley’s band with, among others, brother Cal on drums (give a listen here).
Familiar songs continued—“Rollin' in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and its overly commercial follow-up “Southern Nights” (played with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek energy by the hip trio of guitarists) and even the “William Tell Overture.” The only bit of the new came with a brief song that Campbell wrote, which included the open-hearted line “I have tried and failed/I have won and I have lost” and “Some days, I’m so confused, Lord.”
Yes, Campbell seemed confused at times. But he played well enough, sang well enough, and seemed happy surrounded by members of his family (and in that I think it’s fair to count keyboardist T.J. Kuenster, who has been working with Campbell since the 1970s and even wrote the songs for the animated “Rock-a-Doodle,” in which Campbell played Chanticleer the rooster).
As expected, opener Jimmy Webb joined the band on stage for the final few songs. Webb, who penned many of Campbell’s biggest hits, also served as opening act, playing a nearly one-hour set at the top of the show—with added drama from the storm passing overhead, sending the place into a brief blackout before the generator kicked in.
Never dull and with some fun stories to tell about the likes of Richard Harris (who recorded his “MacArthur Park”) and Waylon Jennings (who opted not to record his “If These Walls Could Speak”), Webb nonetheless made an effective case for why some songwriters shouldn’t perform their own songs. With little voice to speak of (and little desire to hold back), he opened with an over-emphatic renditions of “Highwayman” that would have turned me off the song completely if I hadn’t had the memory of the Cash/Nelson/Jennings/Kristofferson version.
Webb did seem sufficiently baffled and a little embarrassed by “Up, Up and Away” being a Grammy-winning song of the year and held back a bit on his beautiful “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.’ But it took Campbell and company to demonstrate how to translate Webb’s words and music, with the show-ending songs “Galveston,” “Didn’t We Almost Make It,” and the blue collar existential classic “Wichita Lineman.”