Glen Campbell wants you to know that he has Alzheimer’s disease.
The pop and countrypolitan icon also wants you to know that he’s facing it head-on, and before the degenerative brain disease takes his memories, his music and eventually his life, Campbell is going to go out doing what he loves, singing and playing for fans on his Farewell Tour.
Campbell and wife Kim announced his condition last year in the June issue of People magazine. In late August, the legendary singer/guitarist/actor, best known for country-flavored pop hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights” and “Wichita Lineman,” released his 61st and final studio album, “Ghost on the Canvas.”
The album finds the 75-year-old Arkansas native applying his amazingly still clear, smooth and strong voice to a collection of songs co-written by Campbell and friend/album producer Julian Raymond, along with others by contemporary songwriters including former Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg (the title track), Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, Jakob Dylan and ex-Jellyfish/Beck sideman Roger Manning Jr. It’s his first album since 2008’s critically acclaimed “Meet Glen Campbell,” which found the singer taking on contemporary tunes from the likes of Green Day, Jackson Browne and the Foo Fighters.
Despite the circumstances surrounding the recording sessions, “Ghost on the Canvas” is not a morbid affair. Though it may be hard for fans to listen without a heavy heart, throughout the album Campbell stays positive and hopeful, even while acknowledging his own failings and his impending fate.
After 55-plus years in the music and entertainment business, a couple of wives and eight children, several of whom are joining him on the tour, Campbell doesn’t fear his future.
“Because I love the Lord. He’s been so good to me, man,” he told the Village Voice back in August. “When I look back on things – the hit records, the good fortune I’ve had – I can’t complain. Mostly, there’s my kids and my lovely wife. We been married 29 years. She ain’t even that old!”
Glen Travis Campbell was born in Delight, Ark., in 1936, the seventh of 11 children. He picked up the guitar as a preteen and at 16 he left home to join his uncle’s band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys, in New Mexico. A few years later he set out for Los Angeles where he became a first-call session guitarist as part of the Wrecking Crew, the loose group of session aces who played on a ridiculous number of hit records throughout the 1960s.
Always underrated as a guitarist, Campbell’s playing can be heard on hits such as The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” and Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” Campbell also played on the Beach Boys’ venerated “Pet Sounds” album and was briefly a touring member of the band.
His solo career really took off in 1967 with the bouncy “Gentle On My Mind,” and he followed that with hits including “Galveston” and the Grammy-winning two-fer of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.”
Campbell’s growing popularity, easygoing smile and personality earned him a television show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” which lasted three seasons from 1969-1972. In 1969, John Wayne chose Campbell to star alongside him in “True Grit,” earning the budding actor a Golden Globe nomination as best newcomer and an Oscar nomination for best song.
Throughout the 1970s Campbell was a regular guest star on variety and talk shows and still singing, including his two No. 1 crossover pop hits, “Southern Nights” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Although Campbell’s image may have been squeaky clean, he embodied the ethos of sex, drugs and countrypolitan, with heavy drinking and his highly publicized and volcanic relationship with fellow country star Tanya Tucker at the dawn of the ’80s.
Campbell married his fourth and current wife, Kim, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, in 1982. Their three offspring Cal, Shannon and Ashley are currently members of Campbell’s touring band, playing drums, guitar and banjo/keyboards respectively. Firstborn Debby started with the tour, but has since left.
Though his future and increasingly his mind are becoming cloudy, Campbell keeps going as long as he can, content with his past and at peace with his present.
“I’m really not worried about anything,” Campbell told the Vineland Daily Journal last summer.
“You know those people who say, ‘Oh, geez, I wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow?’ Tomorrow’s cool. Just don’t mess it up. It’s just wonderful. I think where I am at right now in this universe, I wouldn’t want to be anything else than what I am.”