The masterful guitarist and vocalist rose from session musician to superstar by fusing pop and country.
Early in his career, Glen Campbell’s guitar wizardry made him an integral part of L.A.’s famed yet largely anonymous group of studio players called the Wrecking Crew. And then his sparklingly clear tenor voice, affable personality, and crossover appeal earned him worldwide recognition as one of the more influential musical artists of the latter half of the 20th century. Campbell died in Nashville on Tuesday, August 8, after battling Alzheimer’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2011. He was 81.
Born in the tiny Billstown community near Delight, Arkansas, in 1936, Glen Travis Campbell was the seventh son (of a seventh son) in a family of 12 children. His father was a sharecropper and his extended family also included several musicians. At age 4, Campbell received his first guitar. “I took it over immediately, even though the strings were kind of high on it,” Campbell told Branson’s Review in 2002. “The guitar didn’t have an adjustable neck to lower the strings, so Dad made me a capo out of a piece of old inner tube and I could now play higher-up on the guitar’s neck without hurting my fingers.”
After dropping out of high school, Campbell briefly relocated to Casper, Wyoming, to play in a nightclub with his uncle, Eugene, whom the family called “Boo.” A stint in Albuquerque followed in 1956, with the Sandia Mountain Boys—the band of another of his uncles, Dick Bills. Two years later, Campbell formed the Western Wranglers. By 1960 he had disbanded that group and moved to Los Angeles, making $100 a week touring with the Champs, the instrumental outfit whose “Tequila” had been a 1958 smash.
Campbell and his Epiphone Zephyr Deluxe were soon featured on countless studio recordings, and he also had a regular gig at the Crossbow Inn in L.A.’s Panorama City neighborhood. He played rhythm guitar on “Travelin’ Man” for Ricky Nelson, Jan and Dean’s “Surf City,” and the Elvis Presley soundtrack hit “Viva Las Vegas.”
Having played acoustic guitar on the 1963 recording session for the Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School,” Campbell filled in for Brian Wilson as a member of the group’s touring band a year later. Around that time, he was featured on what would become Dean Martin’s signature hit, “Everybody Loves Somebody.” In 1964, Campbell, piano player Leon Russell, and Wrecking Crew bassist Larry Knechtel joined the house band of the ABC television music series Shindig!, which also included James Burton and Delaney Bramlett on guitars, and keyboard player Billy Preston.
Campbell’s exhaustive session work continued, with his distinctive guitar appearing on the records of everyone from Frank Sinatra to Nat “King” Cole to the Righteous Brothers to the Monkees. He later recalled, however, that not everything he played on was successful, noting that of the more than 500 sessions he participated in one year, only three songs were bona fide hits.
Glen Campbell cradles a Gretsch circa 2011. After he made his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease public, he embarked on his “Goodbye Tour” and recorded the recently released Adiós album.
Campbell also recording and writing songs for the American Music publishing company. And in 1961 he made his Billboard chart debut as an artist with “Turn Around, Look at Me,” a tune written by Jerry Capehart and released as a 45 on Crest Records. It reached only No. 62. But when his string of Top 40 hits began in 1966, it was estimable. His initial run of smash records includes John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” and the Jimmy Webb-penned classics “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Those three songs melded Webb’s intricate lyrics and challenging song structures with Campbell’s pristine vocals, set against the lush production and arrangements of studio master Al De Lory.
Webb’s admittedly sentimental stories vividly captured solitude in “Wichita Lineman” and conveyed fear and uncertainty in the Vietnam-era “Galveston.” Both songs featured Campbell’s Fender Bass VI playing in their instrumental breaks, with the solo on “Wichita Lineman” standing out as a shining example of his artistry. He made Grammy history in 1967 by winning four awards: two each in the categories of pop and country. In total, Campbell earned 10 Grammys, including three Hall of Fame Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1968.
After serving as host of a summer replacement series for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS in 1968, Campbell was offered the opportunity to host his own variety show. Debuting in January 1969 and running until 1972, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour shone a spotlight on the guitarist and his talented musician friends, including guitarist Jerry Reed, John Hartford, and bluegrass banjo player Doug Dillard. The “Pickin’ Pit” segment, like the show itself, exposed viewers to a wide range of musical genres week after week. In addition to his TV work, Campbell starred in the films Norwood and True Grit, earning a Golden Globe nomination as Most Promising Newcomer – Male for the latter in 1970.
With a strong foothold in both country and pop, Campbell embarked on live performances all over the world through the next several decades. He continued to sharpen his guitar skills and inspire many younger players, especially within country music, with Vince Gill, Keith Urban, and Brad Paisley among those who acknowledge their debt to him.
Campbell’s post-TV-show run as a hit-making artist proved arguably even more impactful, as he scored a pair of No. 1 pop records with the star-spangled “Rhinestone Cowboy” and his breezy take on New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights,” in 1975 and 1977, respectively. Despite an increasingly public battle with substance abuse, Campbell remained an in-demand live performer into the late ’90s—especially at his own Goodtime Theatre in Branson, Missouri.
While many of Glen Campbell’s late-’60s and early ’70s TV appearances were lip-synched—the norm at the time for network programs—he wields his own Fender Bass VI in this rendition of “Wichita Lineman” from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, playing his classic melody solo.
In June 2011, Campbell went public with his Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and embarked on his “Goodbye Tour,” captured in the poignant and powerful documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014). The film, with appearances from Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, U2 guitarist the Edge, and more, followed Campbell’s journey as he and his family came to grips with the illness and shared his talent with fans one last time on the road. The film also featured the final song he recorded in his lifetime, telling family, friends, and fans “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” as he entered the final stages of the debilitating disease. Recorded with several of his fellow Wrecking Crew players, the tune, which was co-penned with producer Julian Raymond, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Campbell was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. His recording career was reinvigorated in 2008 when he covered the songs of Green Day, Travis, Foo Fighters, Lou Reed and more for an album titled Meet Glen Campbell. Among the noted guitarists contributing to that project were Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Wendy Melvoin (Prince and the Revolution), and Todd Youth (Danzig). Campbell was the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
A full-length album of original material, the masterful Ghost on the Canvas, was released in 2011, just before his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This June, Campbell’s final studio work, Adiós, was issued. The album, recorded simultaneously with Campbell’s “Goodbye Tour,” featured four tracks penned by Jimmy Webb, including the extraordinarily poignant title cut, and was produced by Campbell’s longtime friend and former band member, Carl Jackson.
A light and tight bass powerhouse with an impressive design pedigree.
When David Nordschow has produced bass gear, the results have historically been significant. The design veteran’s credits include stints with SWR and Eden Electronics—both hugely respected names in the bass universe. Now manufacturing under his DNA brand, each chapter of Nordschow’s bass-amp legacy and 40-plus years of developer knowledge are built into each one of his meticulously crafted amps and cabinets. We recently looked at the class-D DNA-800, a small but mighty 800-watt head with loads of personality and taste.
The DNA of It All
The DNA-800 is a small bass head, but it’s not in the micro family. I’d say it’s more like a micro amp’s beefy cousin, since it maintains some size yet only weighs a hair under 5 pounds. I appreciate that the DNA-800 is rackmountable, since I like to properly protect an investment as well as keep my load light.
The front panel of the DNA-800 is straightforward: gain, shape, a 4-band EQ, a 2-knob compressor section, and master volume—with pull switches controlling even more under the hood. The gain control doubles as an input pad, the shape control can be activated to post-DI when pulled, and pulling the threshold control disengages the compressor. The knobs are tight and precise, and the six LED indicators tucked under the knobs are super bright, which we like for the dark stages.
The back panel is a lot busier than the front. The DNA-800 sports two Speakon speaker connections and a 1/4" speaker out. There is a DI with level control as well as an auxiliary input with level control. (I was a little baffled that the DNA-800 sports RCA connectors for the auxiliary, since I suspect most folks have a lot more 1/8" cables lying around than RCA cables.)
The back panel rounds out with a footswitch in, a slave in that allows a player to use the DNA to power an external preamp, effects send and returns, a tuner in, and, lastly, a secondary instrument input. The additional input can be handy in keeping the front panel clean when using wireless units and other rack effects. The only downside I see to this is if one needs to unplug or bypass a troubled unit in a hurry.
When it was time to hear the DNA-800, I plugged it into an Eden D410XLT (the irony is not lost here) and employed both a Fender ’75 Jazz reissue and a fretless Music Man StingRay. I started out with the J, the amp’s shape control off, and the EQ dials set at 12 o’clock, which usually means at zero. The controls, however, are labeled 0 to 10, which can be a little confusing. There is a cut and boost for each EQ control, so don’t be misled: Straight up means inactive.
With everything set flat, I was able to get a true representation of my passive Jazz, which is the mark of a great amp. There was no tone coloration with the DNA—yet. The shape knob is the secret sauce here. When I rolled it up, there was a subtle mid roll-off with a bass boost. It’s essentially a very detailed “smile” on an EQ that brings out subtleties of the tone. In easing this control up, my Jazz became more robust and sounded lively and active without added volume. The clarity was fantastic. I then eased on the compressor by setting the threshold and ratio about halfway, and found a vibrant slap tone. Somehow my bass sounded more alive, rich, and articulate. And I hadn’t even touched the EQ yet.
Speaking of EQ, a little goes a long way with the DNA-800. Adjusting the controls just a couple notches in either direction, the cut and boost were pretty significant. I found a very nice setting with both the bass and high-mid controls up one notch. Was I Marcus Miller? In my mind I was. Every nuance of the bass could be heard. Another great feature of the amp is that the EQ can be toggled on and off via the optional footswitch, which can add another dimension to your playing, approach to the bass, and overall tone.
The DNA-800 was just as at home with the fretless StingRay. The shape control was its friend here as well, but not as much adjustment was needed. The shape circuit was almost like an exciter at a lower setting—just enough to miss if it’s not on. Again, the EQ controls are effective, but with any and all bass, too much can muddy the waters and leave your tone fighting with lower frequencies and not being heard with the clarity it deserves. Such was the case with the Music Man. Too much shape or low EQ adjustment and, yes, I was shaking the ground, but the delicacy of the tone was lost. That said, I played my Music Man a lot longer than I have in a while, because the amp/bass combo sounded really, really nice once I had it dialed in. I even got a little crazy with the compression by setting the threshold high to squash my signal to a place I wouldn’t normally play, but I had a lot of fun with some percussive/tonal passages. The sign of great gear is that it inspires, right?
The DNA-800 packs power, punch, and personality. I love its light weight, and in the class-D range of amps, the DNA-800 is among the better ones I’ve heard. It’s crafted from top-quality components, which means the amp should serve a player for years to come. I personally would shuffle a few options around on the amp (and maybe include a headphone out for practice), but overall, the DNA-800 is a fine piece of bass amplification that will serve any level of player well if he or she is looking for an earth-shaking tone monster with great, yes, DNA.
Watch the Review Demo: