Magazine article Guitar Player

Under Investigation: Glen Campbell

Magazine article Guitar Player

Under Investigation: Glen Campbell

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE MOST POIGNANT MOMENTS IN THE most-excellent 2014 documentary film Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me--which documented circumstances surrounding his 2012 Farewell Tour, and had its television premiere on CNN on June 28, 2015--occurs when Campbell, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in late 2010, sits, Ovation acoustic in hand, and tries to verbalize why he had problems during a then-recent concert. His attempts are unsuccessful, but during the entire scene, Campbell is running a perfectly executed alternate-picked chromatic finger exercise at a tempo most of us can only dream of, and doing it while he's talking. In other words, he's still practicing.

Now that's commitment.

A true American icon, Glen Travis Campbell has done it all, and almost always with a guitar front-and-center. During his peak session years as a member of L.A.'s esteemed Wrecking Crew, he played on more than 300 songs per year. From December 1964 to early March 1966, he was made an honorary Beach Boy, filling in on bass and high falsetto harmonies for an absent Brian Wilson. As a television personality, he brought weekly doses of actual guitar playing to the small screen via The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. As a solo artist, he released more than 70 albums over a 50-year period. And since the time when "American Pickers" meant guitarists and "shred" was something you did to make coleslaw, Glen Campbell, America's most versatile guitarist, has been ... well, shredding his ass off.

With the release of I'll Be Me, Campbell has permitted unprecedented and startlingly frank coverage of his battle with this debilitating and largely misunderstood disease, which, while drastically affecting most of his cognitive abilities, has somehow left his guitar skills relatively untouched through his last appearance in Napa, California, on November 30, 2012 (though he did suffer tonal and monitor difficulties during this show). As uplifting as it is heartbreaking, Glen Campbell's story is inspirational and will hopefully provide a source of comfort for any aging guitarist faced with similar circumstances. That said, let's leave the rest of his bio, gear info, and discography to the internets, and dive right into a heapin' helpin' of Campbell's good-time guitar playing.


Ex. 1 depicts the aforementioned chops-building finger-twister, which begins in first position on the first string. Assign one finger per fret and play four descending chromatic notes--A[flat]-G-G[flat]-F, fingered "4-3-2-1." Stay in position, switch to the second string, and then reorder the fingering pattern to "4-1-2-3" to play E[flat]-C-C#-D. This establishes the complete eight-note pattern, which is then repeated on each pair of adjacent strings over the course of two-and-a-half bars. The "turnaround" and shift to an ascending pattern occurs on beat three of the first 3/4 measure (bar 3). Bar 4 commences the "upside-down" version of the pattern. Move up one fret to second position, play F#-G-G#-A (fingered "1-2-3-4") on the sixth string, and then jump to the fifth string and play B-D-D[flat]-C (fingered "1-4-3-2") to complete the new eight-note pattern. Repeat the pattern on each ascending pair of adjacent strings until you hit beat three of the second 3/4 measure (bar 6). Use this beat to shift back to the first descending pattern, now played a whole-step higher in third position, and repeat the whole shebang until you run out of fret-board or stamina--whichever comes first!


Campbell's first big hit, 1967's "Gentle on My Mind," was written by John Hartford and features a propulsive hybrid-picking pattern similar to the one profiled in our recent John Lennon fingerstyle U.I. (November, 2015), albeit with a pick. Ex. 2a lays out the basic one-bar acoustic guitar figure using a single open-D chord, while Ex. 2b demonstrates how to apply the same pattern to eight bars of the song's verse progression. …

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