Glen Campbell has trouble with his memory these days, a problem he freely admits.
“I’ve had to take my screen out a couple times now and shake all the crap out of it,” he jokes during a phone interview, alluding to drug and alcohol problems he wrote about extensively in his autobiography.
At the time of the conversation, he can’t remember the names of the drummer and bass player who appeared with him every week on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. It’s relevant because the two musicians, along with singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Hartford, are featured repeatedly in the Time Life DVD Campbell is promoting, Glen Campbell Good Times Again, which compiles a number of the musical highlights from The Goodtime Hour’s three-year prime-time run on CBS.
In addition to solo performances of “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” the disc features duets with Ray Charles, Cher, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Roger Miller, whose one-liners Campbell remembers well.
“Roger was funny,” Campbell notes at the start of the conversation. “He said his wife was such a bad cook, a swarm of flies got together and fixed the screen door.”
A hokey cymbal crash would be appropriate here.
“He said pygmies were flying from the Amazon to dip their arrows in her gravy.”
Repeat the cymbals.
Good times again indeed.
Campbell’s memory outside of jokes may be faulty, but the DVD does a good job of recalling the music, fashion and television styles of the early ’70s. Bobbie Gentry’s lime-green outfit, B.J. Thomas’ tight pants and Rick Nelson’s flowing sleeves help date the post-hippie era. The music includes such middle-of-the-road fare as “For Once in My Life,” “Let It Be Me” and “Carolina in My Mind.” The camera angles change infrequently, there are no graphics to speak of, and the sets are quite simple — in a number of cases, it’s simply Campbell and a guest sitting on a bench while they sing together.
And there’s a swatch of the comedy that was part and parcel of the now-defunct variety show format. In a piece from the show’s first episode, the Smother Brothers do a western sketch with Campbell in which Tommy Smothers shows off his horse, which — apparent to everyone but him — is really a hippopotamus.
Silly, but it was exactly the kind of stunt that drew laughs from the live audiences at Hollywood’s Television City.
The Smothers’ presence could have provided the basis for a lot of rancor on the set. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour took plenty of political shots, and Dick and Tommy’s propensity for anti-war and anti-Nixon material eventually got their show kicked off the air.
Tommy Smothers produced The Goodtime Hour, but he didn’t try to mold it as a Smothers Brothers knockoff.
Campbell explains, “I told him, ’Two things you don’t mess with — politics and …'” Campbell halts. “Somethin’ else. What?”
“You don’t mess with politics and religion,” Campbell resumes. “Leave it alone. People get upset at that sometimes.”
Campbell himself was the antithesis of controversy. With his cleft chin, neatly parted hair and high cheek bones, he had a safe air about him, a sort of boy-next-door vulnerability.
But Campbell was no simpleton. He smartly made sure he owned the rights to The Goodtime Hour, and he used the show to enhance his growing reputation in the marketplace as an artist. He was only on his third hit record when it debuted in 1968 as a summer replacement series with The Summer Brothers Smothers Show as its offbeat title.
The entertainment press was much less developed at the time. There were no music video channels, the newsstand stocked few trustworthy celebrity magazines (People didn’t debut until 1974) and newspapers devoted more space to classical arts than to popular culture. Artists got their best exposure through the radio and through the variety shows of the day, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Andy Williams Show. Hosting his own program guaranteed exposure for Campbell, and within a year, Capitol Records issued a press release saying he was outselling his labelmates, the Beatles, in the U.S.
“It was the best thing as far as timing — having a product to sell and then having an outlet to advertise the product,” Campbell observes. “All they had to do was press the albums and sell ’em.”
All these years later, Campbell’s history as a singer, TV personality and excellent guitarist have netted him a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame, a facility he’s already predicting will one day house Brad Paisley.
“He’s the best guitar player, I think, in the world now,” Campbell praises. “He’s just awesome.”
Campbell meanwhile sees the people from his own history continue to appear in the news. Producer Phil Spector, who employed Campbell as a session musician on records by the Ronettes, the Crystals and the Righteous Brothers, is currently preparing his defense for round two of a much-publicized murder trial.
“He was always kind of a stand-offish guy,” Campbell reflects.
And his former romantic companion, Tanya Tucker, did a round of interviews recently when fires forced the evacuation of her new home in Malibu, Calif. As it happens, Campbell’s family moved to Malibu in June 2005, though Campbell hasn’t run into her.
“I don’t hold grudges,” he says. “I take Tanya for what she is. She was always kind of squirrelly. And she lies so much, she has to hire somebody to call her dog.”
By the tone in Campbell’s voice, it’s obviously time once again for cymbal crashes, even if the meaning of that line isn’t quite clear.
Nonetheless, he’s soon on a one-liner roll again.
“We didn’t have electricity. We had to watch TV by candlelight.”
That one, again, is attributed to Roger Miller.
“My wife’s such a bad cook, pygmies were flying from the Amazon to dip their arrows in the gravy.”
Offered up again just in case you didn’t remember it.