He grew up as one of twelve children in a sharecropping family in Arkansas. When he was just 14, he dropped out of school and moved to Wyoming to live with his uncle Boo, who taught him how to play the guitar. Though he never learned to read music, he only had to hear a song one time, and he had it. He played cowboy bars throughout the West, and arrived in Los Angeles in the early 60’s.
He quickly became the most sought-after session musician in L.A. His band mate Leon Russell said, “He was the best guitar player I’d heard before or since.” He played on literally hundreds of tracks; in 1963 alone he played on 586 recordings. You can hear his guitar on songs as famous and varied as Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” the Ronettes, “Be My Baby,” Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” and even Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.”
In 1964, Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown, so he stepped in and became a touring member of the Beach Boys. He helped Wilson record the album Pet Sounds and played on half of its tracks. Wilson tried to return the favor and wrote his first solo recording, “Guess I’m Dumb,” which flopped.
But in 1967, he met songwriter Jimmy Webb, and together they crafted “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” They followed it up with a string of gems, including, “Galveston,” and “Wichita Lineman.” And that’s when his fame exploded. Country music sensation, TV show host, and movie star (he was hand-picked by John Wayne to be his partner in True Grit). In 1975, his hit, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” became one of very few songs to ever top both the country and pop charts at the same time.
Unfortunately, the story has a sad ending. He was recently diagnosed with Alzheimers, which is robbing him of the memory of his amazing career. So he headed back into the studio, where he was joined by numerous friends and musician fans. Together they recorded his 58th and final album, Ghost on the Canvas, which will be released next week. And he will end his life the same way he started it, by singing and playing. The Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour will take him around the world and will last as long as his health allows.