Glenn Campbell, RIP. JC’s Co-Pilot. Not Steve Howe. Monkees. Superpower. Oceans Below. Louis Shelton.
Roger CortonYou wanted to talk about Glenn Campbell.
JCHYeah man. My fave. Absolutely my fave. Playing. Singing. The cat.
JCHThere was this period when he was doing Wichita Lineman and Galveston and so on and I just thought he was the coolest.
JCHOh yeah. When I was a kid he did a TV special where he got to play and that was it for me.
RCThat’s so funny to me because everyone always thinks you play like Steve Howe.
JCHThat’s only because Steve is the only guy in ‘Prog’ who was coming from any vaguely (cough) ‘country/folky’ aspect and to yer average ‘Prog’ fan [fake chinese accent] velly solly, we all look arike to you round eyes. (laughs). But his playing and mine actually have little in common. His playing came from Chet Atkins and Merle Travis and Scotty Moore with Elvis. I was aware of Elvis, of course, but I really never got into any of that kind of playing until I came to America. I mean it’s not part of trad Irish music at all. All I’m doing, really, is Glenn Campbell with 4,000% more distortion (laughs). With some Monkees thrown in.
JCHYeah, I can’t over-emphasize how much the Monkees influenced me. Where I lived we got like two radio stations and very little TV. All those ‘cool’ music trends of the sixties? I had very little idea about any of that. We got mostly re-runs that were five years behind the times (laughs). But I was aware of The Monkees and I was aware of Glenn Campbell and The Carpenters and Dion Warwick and so on because those uncontroversial ‘pop’ things were part of the standard fare on RTE and BBC. In fact, I think this is Glenn playing the solo on ‘Papa Gene’s Blues’.
And that’s basically the whole gag of the second half of Oceans Below (from the album Superpower). It’s just that twangy rumba feel sped up into merengue territory.
RCSee now you’ve ruined it for me. I’ll always hear The Monkees whenever I listen to that.
JCHSorry to ruin the mystique (laughs).
RCMe too. But back to that Glenn Campbell video. Now that I watch the whole thing, I hear what you’re saying. It does sound like you. Not Steve Howe at all, really.
JCHSee? Steve really wanted to be Chet or some Flamenco guy so that’s what you hear in his playing. You rarely hear him play straight rhythm or funk or jazz because that just wasn’t his thang. Now Glenn had more Western Swing chops–he’d throw in a surprising amount of passing notes that Howe wouldn’t know what to do with. Glenn’s a bit more ‘jazzy’. I was totally drawn to that, again, probably because it’s doable for me.
JCHYeah. I always say, people are what they do. Steve has larger hands than me–hell, everyone over the age of ten has larger hands than me–so he does stuff that I generally don’t. You know, things that require those large stretches. Flamenco, Classical, Chet’s stuff–they all have a lot of that.
RCSpeaking of Flamenco. The next Monkees video that popped up is “Valleri”. Now there’s a fake Flamenco solo. Very cool. Is that Glenn?
JCHNaw. That’s Louie Shelton. But I loooove that song. That’s my absolute fave Monkees tune. It starts out as a total Stones’ rip-off of Satisfaction, but when I heard that solo I just lost my mind! I gotta admit–THAT is like the only thing as a kid I ever took the time to try to figure out on guitar. Oh and the thing where Davy Jones gets raised up in the video? Man that was magic to me as kid (laughs).
RCYou really did live out in the sticks. OK, back to Glenn.
JCHI guess all I wanted to say is, you know, sic transit gloria mundi.
JCHAll fame is fleeting. I can’t tell you how famous Glenn Campbell was when I was a kid. And The Carpenters too. People now think ‘the seventies’ were like The Eagles or Disco or whatever but really the early seventies were Glenn Campbell. There was this period, like before Rolling Stone and Bruce Springsteen or punk or whatever where things were pretty squaresville–especially on broadcast TV. You just could not turn on the radio or TV without hearing Glenn or someone singing a Jimmy Webb or a Burt Bacharach tune. (sings) “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and all that. And if I’m honest, that is where my musical heart is. If I really think about how I play guitar or sing–my note choices; the way I bend notes or whatever, it probably comes from AM Radio circa 1970. And that’s Glenn Campbell time.
RCSo what’s your point?
JCHI dunno. Maybe it’s that his passing got only the briefest mention in the news. And that bothers me because I can assure you that he had as many hits, was as big in the culture at the time as, say, Prince in 1985.
RCBold statement. You really mean that?
JCHOh yeah. He was huge. And he had a looong stretch of hits. As long as anyone these days. Maybe what fifteen years? Twenty? What is interesting to me is that his death is not getting the big send-up his stats demand. And I’m kinda curious why. Most of the write-ups are about how he had Alzheimer’s and so on. It just seems weird.
RCOK, so let’s do it right and head out on a Glenn Campbell song. What’ll it be?
JCHWell, it gotsta be “Wichita Lineman”
JCHWell, even though it doesn’t feature his playing, it’s got that voice. And man what a voice. It’s funny considering he started as a session player, but Glenn just had one of those beautiful voices, the kind, like I always say, where he could sing from the telephone book and it would sound great. I mean he sounded SO great, I think that’s why people completely forgot what a great picker he was. Plus, it’s a Jimmy Webb classic and Jimmy Webb…
RCMr. Macarthur’s Park…
JCHRight on. Jimmy was… as the kids like to say, AS PROG AS FUCK (laughs). He really was. Pop songwriting back then could be so much deeper than it is today (sigh) and “Wichita Lineman” has that depth. It’s like a novella. I mean it’s complex, it’s sad, it’s epic, but it’s totally not a downer and it packs all that wallop into only three minutes. It’s just genius. And the icing on the cake is Glenn’s delivery. That’s exactly how I wish I could deliver a song. Every note seems so simple and straight forward, but it means something. No needless flash, but when he does bend a note? It breaks yer heart–but in the best way possible (laughs). That’s singing. You either got it. Or you don’t. Here’s the best thing I can say about Glenn Campbell: as great as Wichita Lineman is? He’s like the only guy I’ve ever heard sing it properly. That’s his song as much as say ‘Blackbird’ is Paul McCartney’s song. That’s how great he was. He took a classic song that should be doable by lots of singers and owns it. Forever.