Glen Campbell Helped Legitimize Both Country And Rock In The Late ’60s

Glen Campbell wasn’t a Rocker, but given his huge talents and fun-loving personality, he certainly could have been one in a parallel universe. He was there on the scene when Rock & Roll was born, he performed on early Rock & Roll records and he toured with a Rock & Roll band. Had he hooked up with the right musical partners at the right time, he might have been the one leading the charge for Country Rock in the late ‘60s. But as it turned out, his decision to go mainstream was a good one for him, and in a funny way it was good for Rock too.

In 1960 Campbell arrived in Los Angeles from rural Arkansas, where he had been a child prodigy on guitar. Once he hit LA he quickly found work with the Wrecking Crew, the legendary studio backing band heard on literally thousands of tracks. He was the only member of the Crew who couldn’t read music, but he had an uncanny ability to nail his part on one take. Listen to his crisp, shimmering work on the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”, it wouldn’t be nearly as good with a lesser player on guitar.

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Brian Wilson loved Campbell’s guitar playing and singing so much that he asked Campbell to replace him for four months on a 1965 Beach Boys tour. After the tour, Bruce Johnston replaced Campbell as Brian’s “permanent” replacement, while Campbell worked his way through different corners of the Rock Revolution. That’s Campbell as uncredited lead singer on a minor psychedelic hit “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius. Pretty trippy stuff for a cowboy.

By the time he had his first major solo hit “Gentle On My Mind” in 1967, Glen Campbell was doing a lot of TV, lots of music shows like Shindig, but also a semi-regular stint on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the hottest, hippest show on TV at the time. When the Smothers Brothers got summarily cancelled in 1968, Campbell was chosen to replace them with his show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and I think this was where his light shone its very brightest.

As a backlash against the controversial “hippie” vibe of the Smothers Brothers, Campbell’s show was to be mostly Country music, and Country was about as unhip then as it is now. But Campbell’s disarming charm and his laid-back ease on camera made Country and other unhip styles much more accessible than they would have been otherwise. Check out above Campbell’s incredible playing in a jam with Ray Charles from the show. Who couldn’t dig that?

Even better, the Goodtime Hour would bring in the occasional Rock performance. Watch the amazing clip of Campbell singing and playing with Three Dog Night, and also his introduction of Cream’s legendary performance on the show. At a time of a big backlash against hippies and “evil” Rock Music, here was this conservative Country music show legitimizing the proto heavy metal of Cream. Glen Campbell never got enough credit for helping bridge the gap between the square and the hip in the late 1960s.

I wish there were more artists who could do the same today, who could help bridge the gaps between different kinds of music. There’s so much talk of people today being so polarized politically, but the truth is that people are very polarized musically too. We could sure use a guy like Glen Campbell today who could help introduce and legitimize different musical styles for a mainstream audience.

Photo: By LawrieM at English Wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by Timseid1 at en.wikipedia. (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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