Remembering Glen Campbell: Explore His Approach to Guitar

By Levy, Adam | Acoustic Guitar, November 2017 | Go to article overview

Remembering Glen Campbell: Explore His Approach to Guitar


Levy, Adam, Acoustic Guitar


□ uring the late 1960s and on into the '70s, variety shows were a staple of American television. Anchored by charismatic hosts who could sing, draw laughs in comedic sketches, and maybe even dance a little, these programs-one hour long, typically- would feature multitalented guests as well.

Among the more popular variety shows of this period were The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Dean Martin Show, The Sonny and Cher Show, and The Johnny Cash Show. Tuning in to any of these, as so many viewers did, you simply couldn't avoid Glen Campbell-who appeared on all of the aforementioned shows, and others. With moviestar looks, good-old-boy charm (he grew up in rural Arkansas), a dulcet voice, and spectacular guitar skills, Campbell was a sought-after guest. From January 1969 thru the summer of '72, he even hosted his own variety show-The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

TV wasn't the only medium that Campbell seemed preternaturally suited for. If you were within earshot of a radio during this era, you were bound to hear Campbell singing "Gentle on My Mind," "Wichita Lineman," or "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." He was remarkably successful at crossing stylistic boundaries-"Rhinestone Cowboy" topped Billboard's Hot 100 charts and the industry magazine's Hot Country Singles charts and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts, as well.

Campbell favored a variety of guitars throughout his career, but if he's associated with one brand in particular, it would be Ovation-a manufacturer that flourished during the 1970s, building easily amplified acousticelectric models with rounded backs made from synthetic materials. In 1969, Campbell became one of the company's earliest endorsers, regularly playing their instruments onstage and onscreen. Ovation recently unveiled the Glen Campbell Signature Model-a meticulous recreation of Campbell's original 1771 model.

While Campbell was developing his own recording career, he was also logging hours as a studio guitarist on sessions for Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, and others. Throughout the 1960s, he was frequently in league with the Wrecking Crew-a cadre of first-call session musicians who provided musical backing on countless hit recordings. He is among the players featured in the 2008 Wrecking Crew documentary.

In the decades that passed since Campbell's early successes, he continued to record and release new music. His 64th studio recording, Adiós was released June 2017- just two months before his death from Alzheimer's disease, August 8th. The album was tracked in 2012 and 2013, on the heels of his Farewell Tour, while he was still relatively lucid. The poignant documentary I'll Be Me chronicles this 2011-2012 tour and Campbell's declining condition. As the film shows, his performance could still be remarkably on point, even as his memory continued to deteriorate. Onstage, sterling musicality was never far from his grasp.

Whether playing live or in the studio, working as a sideman or on his own albums, whether playing electric or acoustic-or, for that matter, baritone or 12-string-Campbell always displayed a distinctive style-propulsive, articulate, keenly melodic, and sometimes wry. In just about any musical context or medium, he was one of those players whose signature sound can be recognized within the first few notes. In the examples that follow, you'll get a close look at some of the essential elements of Campbell's methodology.

THE RISE OF PHOENIX

One of Campbell's best-known recordings is his 1967 take on "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," a timeless ballad penned by songwriter Jimmy Webb and originally recorded by Johnny Rivers. In Campbell's intro, he alternates between two major-seventh chord voicings, not unlike the chords shown in Example 1a. These wistful chords-played over a static F in the bassist's part-help to establish the song's melancholy mood.

In the verse sections, Campbell switches to a simple arpeggio pattern similar to Example 1b. …

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