LINKS, LINKS, LINKS…

I don’t do this often (maybe I should) but serendipity demands it this week:

Please read Sheila O’Malley on Elvis the Actor….

Neal Umphred on Elvis at the Edge of Reality….

And David Cantwell, then and now, on Glen Campbell….

Believe me, you’ll be a better person.

And, for whatever reason, this is the Elvis song that’s been running through my head all week, so you might as well do yourself a favor and share some space in my head…

ONE MORE BEFORE WE GO…

In the five-plus years I’ve been doing this, I can’t recall a reaction on social media as strong and across-the-board from every quarter as the outpouring of love and respect for Glen Campbell in the last day-and-a-half. It probably says as much about our fractious times and the natural desire to reach for something–anything–that speaks to a common culture, as it does about Campbell’s remarkable career. I might have more to say about that later.

But there’s one story I haven’t seen referenced anywhere else that’s worth repeating. This is from the liner notes of his 1976 Best of...which happened to be one of the first LPs I ever bought.

“Hank Cochran and Jeannie Seeley were out here, and they happened to fall by the studio for a visit. I happen to have a fairly good vocal range, and I was kinda showin’ it off that day. I was cutting ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ for an album and did the performance live. The performance came off so well that I started carrying the dub of it around with me. I was following Elvis into Vegas, and I said, ‘Hey man, I want you to hear this old song. I think it’d be a gas for you.’ And he said ‘A gas for me? I’d release it just as it is.’ And I thought, yea, I just might do that. And wouldn’t you know it, the record went Top 10.'”

Pop, Country and UK. Deservedly so…

No idea if Glen or Elvis pegged the 1958 original (Conway Twitty’s first big hit and one of the greatest vocals ever waxed) as the sublime best-Elvis-ballad-not-by-Elvis it was–the vocal delivering everything the title denied.

More likely they just knew a good thing when they heard it.

In any case Twitty’s early career was one of the first splits Nashville imposed on its artists–forcing them to choose between country and pop, a barely told story, which resulted in the likes of Brenda Lee and the Everly Brothers, who were literally Children of Nashville, being shut out of country radio. That story still has its fullest explanation in Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City, originally published in 1970, where he outlined a divide which, in the long night between Elvis going in the army in the spring of 1958 and Olivia Newton-John punching through the wall as a true “outsider” in the fall of 1973, only Campbell was able to bridge consistently. (Conway, who hit the Pop Top 40 five times in the fifties–including three Top Tens–didn’t hit the country chart until 1966. After which he never stopped hitting it, but had only one Pop Top 40–1973’s “You’ve Never Been This Far Before”–the rest of his decades’ long career. Yes, the wall was real. Upon his return from the army, Elvis himself had scant country success until 1974. Don’t ever let anyone tell you Olivia Newton-John wasn’t a working class hero.)

And, yeah, I still wish Elvis had cut it, too.

COUNTRY BOY (Glen Campbell, R.I.P.)

He came along at the right time. No previous era could have accommodated the full range of his gifts, no subsequent era has wanted them.

In the sixties and seventies, though, when going to the big city was still something worth aspiring to for a boy from Billstown, Arkansas, he was at home.

He probably leaves millions of fans, and not a few aficionados, unaware of the depth and scope of his achievement. His guitar playing lit up hundreds of sessions and mellowed out hundreds more. I’ve seen his fellow musicians on the internet here and there claim he was the real talent in the west coast Wrecking Crew that played behind every hit-maker who recorded in L.A., back when every American hit-maker did.

I don’t know enough to confirm or deny that. I know this. None of the others were among the scant number of artists who ever went on the record eighty hits of their own.

That wasn’t by accident. However great he was as a guitar player, he was at least as good a singer. He shone–usually quietly–in the greatest era of vocal music we’ve yet produced. And he shone by being one of the very few who could blend the lonesome quality of the great country singers who doubtless dominated the Arkansas air he grew up in with the laid back assurance of the saloon singers he kept company with in L.A. or Las Vegas as his fame rose high enough to land a variety show that was required viewing for everybody who had a television in my part of the world.

Oh, and he made a few movies. The one big one was only True Grit, where, no matter what you might have heard, he only held his own against John Wayne.

Guess he figured there wasn’t much that arena could offer for an encore after that.

Of course, some might have said the same about his first lasting hit, which was only this…

And they might have said the same about any number of even greater records that flowed forth, one after another, as the years went by.

“Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Galveston” “Try a Little Kindness,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights,”–all worthy of being signature songs for him, or anyone, and collectively only scratching the surface.

My own favorite was running up the charts in the months when I first started listening to the radio in the mid-seventies. I knew who he was–had seen him on TV. Even knew some of his songs. But this one served as a kind of sequel to “Rhinestone Cowboy” and was perhaps even more autobiographical.

And a kind of new introduction.

There’s nothing, after all, like the radio. And nothing now, like the radio was then.

Released at the last moment before the city overwhelmed the country and sucked all the life out at both ends, I still hear the final chorus as his finest vocal hour, dedicated to the small voice in all of us that wants to go back and knows it can’t–even if we found every dream we ever left home to search for.

And, oh by the way, he could pick…Like nobody’s business.

Not bad for Billstown, or a man who came to rest tonight….in Tennessee.

ALMOST (BUT NOT QUITE) TOO LATE TO DO THE RIGHT THING NOW…

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is about to induct Ringo Starr for “Musical Excellence.” This is a category they came up with a few years ago to presumably reward folks who didn’t fit any easy categorization (sometime hitmaker, longtime ace sideman, and all around general eccentric, Leon Russell, was an early and deserving beneficiary of the new approach).

David Cantwell has an excellent piece up on Glen Campbell and, though he doesn’t mention the Rock hall, it serves as a fine argument for why Campbell, stricken with Alzheimer’s in recent years, would be a much more deserving recipient than Ringo or just about anybody else who is likely to strike the nominating committee’s fancy. And I’ll just add that it would have been awfully nice to do it this year, when Glen, whose music meant so much to so many of us, might still be cognizant enough to appreciate it.

You know, if they were going to expand the category to guys who sold millions of records and all:

and speaking of people who should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…

[NOTE: Glen is, incidentally, in the Country Hall of Fame…I’ll be posting a little tribute to its newest members in a day or so]