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Glen Campbell, overrated?

Not hardly, chump. UNDERrated, if anything.

Was Glen Campbell a highly overrated guitar player? Isn’t it true that country music is the least complex and simplest to play? The man certainly didn’t have the technical skill to play metal or anything more difficult. Do you agree?
When Eddie Van Halen asks for guitar lessons (via comments made directly by Alice Cooper), it’s a pretty good bet you have something significant to offer. Alice said that Eddie Van Halen did exactly that regarding Glen Campbell.

Glen Campbell was beyond impressive and nary a whiff of distortion to hide behind.

Also, you don’t play with the Wrecking Crew if you are overrated. Just sayin’.

True, dat. But who is/was this Wrecking Crew of whom he speaks, you ask? Oh, just this.

The Wrecking Crew were a group of all-purpose, highly revered studio musicians who appeared on thousands of popular records – including massive hits such as “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds and “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas And The Papas. The instrumental work by this group of session men (and one woman) defined the sound of popular music on radio during the 60s and early 70s, meaning The Wrecking Crew can reasonably lay claim to being the most-recorded band in history.

The exact number of musicians in the loose collective of Los Angeles session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew is not known, partly because of the informal nature of the hiring and also because much of their work went uncredited. Three of their key members were the magnificent session drummer Hal Blaine, bassist and guitarist Carol Kaye (one of the few female session players in that era), and guitarist Tommy Tedesco.

Among the leading musicians who were members at various times were: Earl Palmer, Barney Kessel, Plas Johnson, Al Casey, Glen Campbell, James Burton, Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, Jack Nitzsche, Mike Melvoin, Don Randi, Al DeLory, Billy Strange, Howard Roberts, Jerry Cole, Louie Shelton, Mike Deasy, Bill Pitman, Lyle Ritz, Chuck Berghofer, Joe Osborn, Ray Pohlman, Jim Gordon, Chuck Findley, Ollie Mitchell, Lew McCreary, Jay Migliori, Jim Horn, Steve Douglas, Allan Beutler, Roy Caton, and Jackie Kelso.

The great James Burton, just to home in one of those many standout names, was Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist for many years, and a total badass he was, too.

Burton plays better and with more precision behind his damned head than most of us do with the guitar in its usual position. Back before joining up with Elvis in the waning days of the King’s glory, of course, Burton also played on all those great old Ricky Nelson hits way back when, among an incredible roster of others. Happily, the Master of the Telecaster is still with us, alive and kicking at 83 years young.

James Edward Burton (born August 21, 1939, in Dubberly, Louisiana) is an American guitarist. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2001 (his induction speech was given by longtime fan Keith Richards), Burton has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Critic Mark Deming writes that “Burton has a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest guitar pickers in either country or rock … Burton is one of the best guitar players to ever touch a fretboard.” He is ranked number 19 in Rolling Stone list of 100 Greatest Guitarists.

Since the 1950s, Burton has recorded and performed with an array of singers, including Bob Luman, Dale Hawkins, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley (and was leader of Presley’s TCB Band), The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, John Denver, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Judy Collins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Claude King, Elvis Costello, Joe Osborn, Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell, Hoyt Axton, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young, Vince Gill, and Suzi Quatro.

Impressive credentials in anybody’s book—anybody who knows what the hell he’s talking about, anyway. But before I forget, let’s get back to Glen Campbell and his by-no-means-inconsiderable guitar-pickin’ chops.

Yeah, like I said: UNDERrated, if anything. With tasty, countrified-jazz riffage like that in his pocket, ready to be whipped out and sprayed across the landscape anytime he needed ‘em, Glen Campbell was about as “overrated” a guitarslinger as the incomparable Roy Clark was.

They just ain’t making guitar wizards like Glen or Roy anymore, folks, and that’s a crying shame.

Update! Well, I shoulda known such a thing would exist out there, but looky what just popped up coinkydinkally in my YewToob after the Roy Clark vids I was listening to as background music for post-writing were done.

I gots no idea why, but Campbell seemed to favor those weirdo Ovation electrics, like the 12-string he’s working over in the above vid. In fact, it appears that he had a longstanding endorsement deal with Ovation to produce a cpl-three Glen Campbell signature-model guitars. Bizarre, if you ask me. But then, I never have been big on them Ovations, and I damned sure ain’t no Glen Campbell, so what the hell do I know?

“Overrated”? In a pig’s eye. Pull the other one, bright boy, it has a big ol’ bell on it.

Wierderer and wierderer update! That mention of Alice Cooper in the Glen Campbell context above? Yeah, well, just get a load of this right here.

Campbell’s was a remarkable career but was not without its share of tragedy. His popularity both soared and waned. He battled the demons of alcoholism and drug addiction, only to emerge a better man. Illness eventually robbed him of his memory. But through it all, Glen was always revered by other musicians. One of whom was shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper. Campbell and Cooper became friends in the 1980s when both had moved to Phoenix, trying to escape destructive lifestyles. The two men remained friends for the rest of Campbell’s life. In this 2017 interview, Alice Cooper reflects upon the unlikely relationship and beautiful bond he had with his friend Glen Campbell.

“You think of Glen, country; Alice Cooper, rock and roll; we couldn’t have been closer.” Cooper elaborated, “It was unique in the fact that I was so far away from him in music, the character of Alice Cooper, and he was so far into the middle. Really mainstream rock and roll, you know. He could go hang out with the Rat Pack, or he could hang out with Donnie and Marie, or he could hang out with the Beatles or anybody. He was in that middle, he was that sort of all purpose, good-looking kid that could do anything. He was the golden boy. And yet him and I were like this when it came to sense of humor, when it came to golf, when it came to music.”

“It was one of those things where I’d be playing golf with him, and this was when he was in good shape, he was out touring, and he was playing guitar and he was playing golf every day, and he was doing Branson. Every once in a while, he would tell me a joke on the first tee. And then on about the fourth tee, he’d tell me the same joke again. And then about the 16th hole, he would tell me the joke again. And we would all just kind of go ‘well, maybe he’s just forgetful’. We could just see the beginnings of it, of him slipping a little bit.”

“We were telling jokes,” Cooper remembered, “I told him a joke, and he was laughing his head off. Came back about 10 minutes later and he says, ‘Tell me that joke again.’ I tell him the joke. He came back like five times.”

“Yet, you put a guitar in his hand, and he was a virtuoso. You would get him on stage, and he was automatic. I don’t care how much he had slipped; he was there. When it came to that, he was there.”

“We were both songwriters. We were both musicians. We were both in the business 50 years. So, we understood the business.” Alice would go on to say, “I loved being with Glen. I loved playing golf with him. He had a million stories about his world. And I had a million stories about my world. In other words, he would tell me a story about Roger Miller. And Bobby Goldsboro. And this guy, and this guy. And I’d laugh and I’d say, ‘Okay, I’ll tell you a good one on Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix’. We could both tell a lot of stories because we were both in those different worlds. And sometimes it crossed over. We did know all the same people. We knew the Sinatras, and we knew Elvis Presley. We both knew the Beatles so a lot of it was just telling stories about the stuff that happened to us. And Glen had some good ones. He got around.”

“I always said as an amateur, 60 yards in, the best player I ever played with. He was a master short game player. We had some really fun times. I played at least one or two times a week with Glen when he lived here.”

“You know if Glen called up and was like, ‘Alice, let’s play tomorrow?’ I’d go, ‘absolutely, let’s go.’” said Cooper. “I loved being with Glen.”

Whodaevvathunkit, huh? What an amazing, heartwarming story. Strange bedfellows, perhaps. But one can only be happy for them that somehow, against all odds, they found each other and developed such a beautiful friendship to gladden their hearts and lighten their burden just that little bit extra.

Deep dive update! Okay, I’m really down the rabbit hole here, but the mention earlier of the Wrecking Crew got me to thinking about some of the great session groups of yore: Booker T & the MGs, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, the Mar-Keys, &c. To wit:

Session musicians (also known as studio musicians or backing musicians) are musicians that are hired to perform in recording sessions and/or live performances. The term sideman is also used in the case of live performances, such as accompanying a recording artist on a tour. Session musicians are usually not permanent or official members of a musical ensemble or band. They work behind the scenes and rarely achieve individual fame in their own right as soloists or bandleaders. However, top session musicians are well known within the music industry, and some have become publicly recognized, such as the Wrecking Crew, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and The Funk Brothers who worked with Motown Records.

Many session musicians specialize in playing common rhythm section instruments such as guitar, piano, bass, or drums. Others are specialists, and play brass, woodwinds, and strings. Many session musicians play multiple instruments, which lets them play in a wider range of musical situations, genres and styles. Examples of “doubling” include double bass and electric bass, acoustic guitar and mandolin, piano and accordion, and saxophone and other woodwind instruments.

Session musicians are used when musical skills are needed on a short-term basis. Typically session musicians are used by recording studios to provide backing tracks for other musicians for recording sessions and live performances; recording music for advertising, film, television, and theatre. In the 2000s, the terms “session musician” and “studio musician” are synonymous, though in past decades, “studio musician” meant a musician associated with a single record company, recording studio or entertainment agency.

Session musicians may play in a wide range of genres or specialize in a specific genre (e.g. country music or jazz). Some session musicians with a Classical music background may focus on film score recordings. Even within a specific genre specialization, there may be even more focused sub-specializations. For example, a sub-specialization within trumpet session players is “high note specialist”.

The working schedule for session musicians often depends on the terms set out by musicians’ unions or associations, as these organizations typically set out rules on performance schedules (e.g. regarding length of session and breaks). The length of employment may be as short as a single day, in the case of a recording a brief demo song, or as long as several weeks, if an album or film score is being recorded.

Thanks to my then-gf’s best friend Neil working out of Hit Factory, I got called in myself for some occasional—VERY occasional, they had plenty of bigger and better names than mine on the in-house Rolodex—session work there when I lived in NYC. It was…demanding, to say the very least. Extremely so, in fact. Nonetheless, I loved every minute of it; the pay was good (union scale, usually, which back then in NYC was 500/hr), and I was hugely flattered to even be asked at all. Quite the compliment it was, really.

16 thoughts on “Glen Campbell, overrated?

  1. I was going to mention Roy Clark as one of those “no skill needed, mere country musicians” but, once again, you beat me to it. Knock it off!

    I saw a clip from a longer video, of a modern guitar player, a small time pro but considered pretty good, watching a video of Roy Clark from the 1950s. “How does he do that? I didn’t even know a guitar could make that sound!”

    But check this out, from Wikipedia:

    Roy Linwood Clark was an American singer, musician, and television presenter. He is best known for having hosted Hee Haw

    I suppose. And Jonathan Winters is best known for voicing Papa Smurf.

    1. The sad thing is, he probably WAS best-known for that. It’s almost an insult, really. But when I was 14 and taking guitar lessons from my Uncle Murray, he made damned sure I knew who and what Roy was, bless his heart. My family watched Hee Haw every week, and I never did see Roy Clark quite the same way after that.

      1. My family watched Hee Haw every week

        Ours, too. That and the Muppet Show were the only shows that my dad would rush up from the barn to catch. (After his day job he repaired motorcycles to help pay the bills. Thanks for the recession, Nixon, Ford, and Carter.)

        When The Child was maybe eight I started showing her clips of “Where oh where are you tonight” and “Gloom, despair, and agony on me”. Loved them, which suggests the mental age of Hee-Haw’s target demographic, heh. She and I recorded a few and sent them around to family. Godawful, but they were supposed to be. Responses ranged from “Aaargh!” to “That brings back memories.”

        1. Be sure to check out my latest update to the post, Steve, the one with Alice Cooper. It’s…well, it’s fucking awesome, is what it is.

        2. Oh yeah, just remembered how much my dad HATED Buck Owens. He really couldn’t stand him for whatever reason, so we were mainly watching for Roy. Well, and probably the Hee-Haw girls, too, I imagine, although that possibility never came up in dinner-table conversation. 😉

    2. And Mr. Clark was not only great on the guitar, but also on every other instrument he ever tried to play!

  2. My fingers are getting cramps just from watching those dudes playing.

    I recognize Glenn Campbell as one of the greats.

    1. As well you should, Barr. It amazes me that someone even asked the original question at all; given the tremendous negative response he got on Quora, I’m actually kinda embarrassed for the guy.

  3. The toughest Hit Factory session I ever got called in on was with this gospel group–who knew they even HAD those in NYC?–I had to play behind, sight-reading sheet music and just basically trying to stay out of the way otherwise. Not exactly a match made in Heaven, you might say.

  4. I saw Glen Campbell years ago becuase a girlfriend wanted to. He was incredible played about everything imaginable but the blues he did was incredible.

    Steve Cropper ought to be someone mentioned here.

    1. Oh absolutely, Jaybo. I didn’t get around to mentioning him in this post, but Cropper was with Booker T and the MGs for a while there, and was an original founding member of the Mar Keys before that. Either wrote or co-wrote “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay,” “Soul Man,” “In The Midnight Hour,” “Knock On Wood”–too many to go into with Cropper, almost. One of the all-time greats for sure and certain.

  5. Primarily in the interest of making sure the comments don’t stay stuck on Unlucky 13, and apropos of nothing of any real import, I’ll say this about those danged Ovations: I had occasion many years ago to futz around a bit with a couple of the infernal things, and have to admit that, for an acoustic box with a plastic back on it, the sound was a lot richer and fuller than one might expect. Nice, easy-playing thin neck profile too. But I just never could warm up to ’em at all, and never for a moment considered buying one. I dunno, maybe it’s me that’s the weirdo here, not Glen Campbell.

  6. I’ll let this page slip on by with one last comment –

    I don’t know of a single thing Glenn Campbell did that I disliked. Not one.

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