ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. | Of all the songs to have stuck in my head:
“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main roads,
“Looking in the sun for another overload.”
“Wichita Linemen” is just one of the Glen Campbell songs that have popped into my memory since the late 1960s starting with “Gentle on My Mind.”
When Campbell died last week, years after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the melody and lyrics again began playing in my brain. I read that he started singing as a boy at a church in Delight, Ark. — I’m sure that’s pronounced Dee Light in Delight — and that an uncle helped him learn guitar.
Campbell is remembered as a country music singer, but I’m not sure where his music fit. At the time, country was George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash and the like. Rock and roll was the ’Stones, the Mamas and the Papas, Elvis and the Beatles.
Campbell’s hits were on a lot of charts, not just country.
He sang “Gentle on My Mind” like no one else could, although they tried. Supposedly, Frank Sinatra could make any song his. He recorded “Gentle on My Mind,” and it was awful. It sounded borrowed, not owned. By comparison, Elvis’ cover of the song was merely bad.
For years I thought nobody could beat Judy Collins’ version of “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” but then I bought “Reunion,” a little-known album of Campbell singing some new Jimmy Webb songs. Campbell’s version was over the moon.
Campbell first got noticed on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” and went on to have his own show, a summer replacement called “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.”
It was when he began recording Webb’s heartbreaking songs, starting with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” that his voice became a sort of soundtrack for my life and, I’m certain, those of other teens and young adults.
He released “Honey Come Back” in 1970, timed, I’m sure, just to make me feel even worse over getting dumped by somebody.
“Each lonely day’s a little bit longer,” he sang, “than the last time I held you, seems like a hundred years or more.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks a lot.
For some reason, they played “Galveston” a lot over Armed Forces Radio, maybe because of that line, “I clean my gun, and dream of Galveston.” We had a guy named Schroeder in Alpha Co., 3/21 Infantry, who was a surfer from around Galveston. Like me, he heard it over through a tinny little ear phone plugged into a transistor radio.
Blessedly, I’m four decades into a happy marriage and early on Vonette and I bought concert tickets we couldn’t afford and drove from Anderson to Greenville, S.C., to see Campbell.
Campbell was touring with a great band and, about midway through, he said he stepped out of the lights to let the band do a few songs. But I noticed him off to the side, nowhere near a microphone, picking his guitar. Leaning forward in my seat and concentrating, I could hear him and came to know then that he was among the best guitar players on the planet.
Before his death, Campbell recorded “I’m not Gonna Miss You,” a song about Alzheimer’s that he wrote with Julian Raymond. Campbell was known for being upbeat, and told Raymond, “I don’t know what everybody’s worried about. It’s not like I’m going to miss anyone, anyway.”
There’s a line that goes, “I’m still here, but yet I’m gone.”
Sometimes, I’ll think of those back roads of my youth when I’d speed between red clay banks and across muddy creeks with Glen Campbell coming over the radio turned up loud in my ’66 Impala Supersport. It’s all still gentle on my mind.
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