what Frank is listening to #76 – GLEN CAMPBELL – Big Bluegrass Special – (Capitol) – 1962
Where do I start with Glen Campbell?
The guy is a bonafide living legend. From rock band member, to session man, to pop country hit maker his guitar has never let him down. He in unquestionably one of the finest country, or rock, guitarists in the world.
His resume is to big for this commentary but in brief I paraphrase from a few sites:
Born in 1936 in Delight, Pike County, Arkansas. Playing guitar as a youth he eventually made his way to California where in 1959 he joined The Champs (who had had their big hit "Tequila" already).
He recorded an album (this one) and a couple of others and a couple of singles.
He was a touring member of The Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson in 1964 and 1965. He played guitar on the group's Pet Sounds album, among other recordings. On tour, he played bass guitar and sang falsetto harmonies. Other classics featuring his guitar playing include: "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by The Righteous Brothers, and "I'm a Believer" by The Monkees. He can be seen briefly in the 1965 film Baby the Rain Must Fall, playing guitar in support of Steve McQueen. Campbell was also the uncredited lead vocalist on "My World Fell Down" by the psychedelic rock act Sagittarius, which became a minor hit in 1967.(wikipedia)
In 1967 he recorded John Hartford's great song " Gentle on My Mind" and the rest is history as it was a big hit. He then teamed up with Jimmy Webb and put out a series of country pop hits.
Country pop is normally a bad genre but tracks like "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "I Wanna Live", "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife", "Wichita Lineman"(all 1968) and "Galveston" (1969), "Try a Little Kindness" (1969), "Honey Come Back" (1970), "Everything a Man Could Ever Need" (1970), and "It's Only Make Believe" (1970), "Let It Be Me," "All I Have to Do Is Dream" are genius.
Just about everything he did between 1967 – 1972 is great. It's not revolutionary and surprisingly his guitar is rarely up front but there are some well written pop songs, well sung and well produced for mass entertainment.
His 1972 – 1982 stuff is patchy – there are a couple of good albums and a great single "Rhinestone Cowboy" otherwise there is too much 70s MOR. And in my view if you are going to be MOR then 1960s MOR is the only place to be … full stop.
Glen also had a long cocaine fuelled affair with country singer Tanya Tucker in the 1970s (he was in his mid-40s and she was 21) – and she was a mega fox in a 70s country sort of way. (he has been married four times thus far and has eight kids).
Maybe his personal life contributed to his 1970s output though his 1980s and 1990s work is seemingly worse – or what I should say is, what I have heard is pretty average. Though again, to be fair, I have not heard a lot from these years.
Since 2000 there has been some improvement apparently – possibly due to the interest in authentic Americana and roots music which is after all how Glen started.
Wikipedia says: Since 1962, Campbell has recorded and released 51 studio albums and 6 live albums. He has also lent his vocals to 3 soundtracks for motion pictures (True Grit, Norwood, Rock-A-Doodle). He has placed a total of 81 singles (one of which was a rerelease) on either the Billboard Country Chart or the Billboard Hot 100 or the Adult Contemporary Chart, 9 of which peaked at #1 on at least one of those charts…… Campbell was hand-picked by actor John Wayne to play alongside him in the 1969 film True Grit …. ( I hesitate to add they offered the True Grit role to Elvis first but the Colonel turned it down because it wasn't top billing).
The guy has done it all.
Read any of the bios on him if you need proof.
So, when I found this album I was very excited as it was his first album – having said that it has been in the pile for six months now (there are about 200 country records I want to listen to in the pile … you lucky readers).
This album is unlike anything you have heard from Glen … it is straight country with an emphasis on bluegrass. On various albums over the years, and especially live, he has done a authentic country song or two but here we have a whole album of roots country and folk.
For those who may love the US folk boom of the early 60s it is pretty clear this album is aimed at that folk crowd also (check out "Rainin on the Mountain"). Authentic country, Appalachian and bluegrass music was being regularly revived ("The Kentucky Colonels", "The Gosdin Brothers", "The Dillards") at the influential Newport Folk Festivals anyway, so this is obviously an attempt to tap into that revival.
Country music like other genres has its familiar touchstones, and emotionally, country is "white man blues" – listen to the music and you will hear the songs are about manual labour, getting drunk, getting married, cheating on your wife, your wife leaving you, getting drunk, God, driving a truck, smoking, getting thrown in jail, getting drunk, having the "man" hassle you, getting drunk, being the outsider and importantly, family. Musically, it draws on a number of folk musics … Irish, Scot, English shanties as well as Spanish and French music – depending on which region you are from. Despite its highs and many, many lows country music is probably the most authentic and organic expression of the white blues as you are likely to get.
"Big Bluegrass Special" hooked Glen up with the Green River Boys and they did songs by Merle Travis (five songs), Cliffie Stone, Bob Nolan, and the Delmore Brothers (three songs) … so, given those writers, it's pretty authentic. And, that authenticity is what is surprising about this album, given what we know about the later Glen. But it is good, real good. Glen sings with the right amount of country white blues … and the playing is faultless. His voice is a tad to "clean" to be Merle Travis as he doesn't have that "lived in" voice yet, but that is only a minor detail when the music is done so well. One cant help but wonder if this was a hit whether Glen's career might have been entirely different.
- Truck Driving man – the obligatory truck driving song?
- There's More Pretty Girls Than One .
- No Vacancy
- Kentucky Means Paradise – a fun nonsense song which you could see Jerry Reed doing 10 years later.
- Lonesome Jailhouse Blues – how could you have a country album without a jailhouse song? – very Johnny Cash.
- One Hundred Miles From Home – what the fuck? … this is the (later) folk standard which is usually a song of joyous emancipation. Glen has slowed the song right down and turned it into a sad blues. The song is normally called "500 Miles" (as done by Peter, Paul and Mary, The 60s Highwaymen, Peter & Gordon, The Kingston Trio etc).
- Long Black Limousine – a magnificent song which is a great country lament. Elvis did this on his magnificent "From Elvis in Memphis" album in 1968.
Truck Driving Man – Live 1965
Long Black Limousine
Elvis' version of Long Black Limousine
or if you prefer it without the full production:
Other interesting bits:
- the album was re-issued in the early 70s in a different sleeve – which I have.
Do yourself a favour – listen to some Glen if you haven't before. Everyone needs at least Glen's Greatest Hits (on the Capitol label) in their music collection.
(originally posted: 16/08/2009)