Only a handful of country artists made the cut when London-based Mojo magazine recently polled Shania Twain, Tony Bennett, Alice Cooper, Etta James, Tom Jones, Diana Krall, Curtis Mayfield, Ray Price, Robert Plant, Rod Stewart and 165 other vocal stars from a wide range of fields to come up with a list of “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” Alongside such giants such as Hank Williams, George Jones and Patsy Cline, Glen Campbell was selected by his peers as one of the few country representatives.
In naming Campbell, the much revered pop publication was quick to point out his other achievements, too. Hotshot guitarist, short-term Beach Boy, TV and film star, pop-country hitmaker, golfer–these things define Glen Campbell the celebrity. But if anything, Mojo noted, they obscure his enormous worth as a singer.
For the first time in his varied and successful career, the Grammy-winning singer lends his talents to an entire album of traditional Christmas songs. A Glen Campbell Christmas, released on the brand new TNN Classic Sessions label, features 11 hand-picked songs that are not only Campbell’s own favorites, but also the time-tested favorites of most people. While his out-of-print 1968 holiday album for Capitol, That Christmas Feeling, contains contemporary compositions by the likes of Willie Nelson and Roger Miller, his new Yuletide collection is made up of nothing but traditional tunes. In his own inimitable style, the singer wraps his sweet, soothing tenor voice around “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “What Child Is This,” “The First Noel” and other beloved standbys on A Glen Campbell Christmas.
The album, a majestic dedication to the spirit of the season, features Campbell surrounded by ace musicians Brent Rowan (guitar), Michael Rhodes (bass), Eddie Bayers (drums) and Dennis Burnside (keyboards). Bayers co-produced the project with proven hitmaker Barry Beckett (whose credits include Tammy Wynette, Alabama, Neal McCoy and Lorrie Morgan), and Burnside arranged the album’s 11 tracks.
The release of A Glen Campbell Christmas coincides with a TNN holiday special of the same name. The hour-long television program premieres at 8 p.m. Eastern tonight on TNN, with repeats to air on December 8 and 16 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Campbell showcases tunes from his new holiday album surrounded by a Yuletide setting at the Big Cedar Lodge, a picturesque resort on Table Rock Lake in Missouri’s Ozarks. Collin Raye–like Campbell, an Arkansas boy who can sing– joins the host on “Silent Night.” The Kinleys sing “Silver Bells” and join Campbell for some more holiday fun on “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.” Campbell, Raye and The Kinleys perform “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
In support of the new album and TV special, Campbell is in the midst of a 15-date Christmas tour that wraps up in his current home state of Arizona on December 20. His oldest daughter, Debby, sings and plays with him on the tour. Campbell divides the show in two parts. He performs a set of secular hits such as “Gentle On My Mind,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” rounded out by a set of Christmas classics.
“It was a lot if we just got an orange in a sock for Christmas,” the 62-year-old singer says of his childhood days in Arkansas. “But we celebrated Christ and that was really, really the best part of it. I’ve made other Christmas albums, but I’ve never done one of all standards, songs that everybody sings at Christmas time. When you really have your heart in the project, it really makes a difference.”
The seventh son in a sharecropper’s family of 12 children, Campbell was born into hard times. When he was four, his father bought him a $5 Sears Roebuck guitar. From an early age he set himself apart with his proficiency on the instrument. Campbell began playing in his uncle’s Western swing band when he was 18. Upon moving to Los Angeles, he became a prolific studio musician and singer.
“I was one of those jack-of-all-trade singers doing demo sessions,” Campbell recalls. “I was a hot demo singer in L.A. I received $10 a song. It didn’t matter what it was, I would do it. I guess that’s where the blend of my music comes from.”
He recorded with instrumental rock ’n’ roll combo The Champs in 1960, two years after the group hit big with “Tequila.” He also performed on several Beach Boys records and became Brian Wilson’s road replacement in the pop band in 1965. “My voice extended a tone-and-a-half playing with the Beach Boys,” Campbell maintains. “I was doing Brian’s part, playing the bass. I had never tried to play licks on the bass. I was up there on stage floating around on the high As and high Cs while trying to play bass. It was nerve racking, but it was also a lot of fun. The noise from the audience was louder than us.”
Known more for his studio work than as an artist at that point, he also performed with Ricky Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, Merle Haggard and The Mamas & Papas in the sixties.
Campbell’s breakthrough as a solo artist came with his version of John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” in 1967. It only hit No. 30 on the country charts and No. 26 on the pop charts, but the song has proven to be a perennial favorite. BMI, one of America’s largest music licensing firms, named the song its fourth most-played song of all time. He immediately followed up the success of “Gentle On My Mind” with a trio of intriguingly wistful story songs, all written by Jimmy Webb and million-sellers, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.”
Campbell next secured his own CBS TV musical variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, took co-starring roles in True Grit (with John Wayne) and Norwood and set about becoming an “all-round entertainer.” In 1968, he was named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. Between 1967 and 1980 he effortlessly straddled the country and pop fields, racking up 48 country hits and 34 pop hits on the charts.
He lost ground, however, due to alcohol problems, three divorces, and a much-publicized, tempestuous relationship with Tanya Tucker in 1980. With his wild ways behind him, Campbell is now a devout Christian who is enjoying a happy marriage. In 1994, the singer produced Rhinestone Cowboy: An Autobiography. Written with author Tom Carter, it proved to be a “revelation” book in that Campbell was totally open about the ups and downs of his life. The book received some flack, not least of all from Tanya Tucker.
“What I said in the book–that’s it,” Campbell maintains. “I know that to be a fact. If anybody writes otherwise, I can say they’re a liar. My whole life is in that book, the marriages, everything. It’s not a pretty sight. I was a jerk. I was lost, but now I’m saved. I was blind, but now I see. I wrote it because I wanted people to know there has been a change in Glen Campbell.”
Having given his life over to Christ, Campbell approaches Christmas songs with new meaning and insight. And rarely has the magic of Christmas been more beautifully expressed than on A Glen Campbell Christmas.
In the manner he knows best, Glen Campbell musically expresses sincerest wishes for a very Merry Christmas to you.