Glen Campbell was one of the smoothest cats to ever croon a country song or pick a guitar. And he was so skillful doing both, his prowess seemed effortless. The Country Music Hall of Fame member’s catalog—which includes “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and “Gentle on My Mind,” among others—will, without question, stand the test of time.
Glen died on Aug. 8, 2017, following a lengthy fight with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81 years old.
On the 5-year anniversary of his death today, let’s look back on the iconic career of the “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
Campbell Goes to ‘Phoenix,’ ‘Wichita’ & ‘Galveston’
Born April 22, 1936, in Delight, Ark., Glen made his way west as a teen to play in his uncle’s band in 1954. Later, he became an in-demand studio guitarist in Los Angles. Glen was a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew—a group of players who performed the music on albums by the Byrds, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, the Monkees, and the Beach Boys, among others. Glen, in fact, would join the Beach Boys as a touring musician in the ’60s when Brian Wilson ceased traveling.
However, it was with his own solo career that Glen had his greatest success.
Glen released the multi-week No. 1 albums Gentle on My Mind and By the Time I Get to Phoenix in late 1967.
Glenn scored a Top 40 hit on the country chart with “Gentle on My Mind” in 1967. The tune also became a Top 10 hit on the easy-listening charts. Glen found additional success with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife,” and his first chart-topper, “I Wanna Live,” in 1968. Of course, more No. 1 hits followed, including 1968’s “Wichita Lineman,” 1969’s “Galveston,” 1975’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and 1977’s “Southern Nights.”
It’s almost impossible to definitively pick Glen’s signature song. He had a handful. But for my money, it doesn’t get any better vocally than Glen singing his 1969 No. 1 hit, “Galveston.” Jimmy Webb’s beautiful lyric about a Vietnam War-era soldier leaving his Texas hometown coupled with Glen’s rich vocal is a stunner: “Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying…”
In a legendary career that spanned more than six decades and more than 50 million records sold, Glen earned six Grammy Awards. He was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1968, besting the likes of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, among others.
In addition to his musical stardom, Glen’s smooth on-camera persona helped him land a handful of film roles, most notably opposite John Wayne in 1969’s True Grit. He also gained recognition as a TV personality, hosting The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour variety show from 1969 to 1972. Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Linda Ronstadt were among the diverse acts who appeared on the series.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Glen in 2005.
When Glen revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer’s in 2011, a documentary about his farewell tour was already in the works. Glen Campbell: Ill Be Me, which focused around the tour and his battle with the disease, was released in 2014. The heart-wrenching production featured the touching tribute song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” Co-penned by Glen and Julian Raymond, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” was named Best Country Song at the 2015 Grammy Awards.