If there was ever any doubt about Glen Campbell’s ongoing influence on the country music industry, it was dispelled during the 2011 CMA Awards. As Campbell watched from the front row, he received a triple tribute featuring performances by Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, all highly regarded musicians who, as top-shelf guitarists and entertainers with wide, genre-crossing appeal, display some of Campbell’s DNA.
Since the announcement earlier that same year of Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and his subsequent album and comeback tour, the 2012 Grammy Lifetime Achievement winner has become nearly as visible as he was during his career’s first wave, which crested nearly 40 years ago. While it’s true that Alzheimer’s disease is steadily stealing the legendary musician’s memory, it’s equally certain that Campbell and his musical legacy are in no danger of being forgotten.
Nashville is home to numerous pro musicians and songwriters with direct ties to Campbell, and a few of them will be gathering at Douglas Corner this Friday, Nov. 21, to pay their own personal tribute. The event, conceived by local promoter and concert producer B. Alan Ladd for his Nashville Flipside series, will appropriately double as a benefit for the Middle Tennessee region of the Alzheimer’s Association Mid-South Chapter, which serves 22 counties. Sharing the evening’s bill are singer/songwriter Dickey Lee (“She Thinks I Still Care”), singer Mila Mason, longtime songwriters Chris Gantry and Jimmy Payne (both of whom have Campbell cuts on their lengthy résumés), and musicians/songwriters Carl Jackson and Jeff Dayton. Jackson, who wrote Campbell’s late-career single “(Love Always) Letter to Home,” played banjo in the star’s touring band for a dozen years, while Dayton, a pro songwriter, guitarist and solo performer, served as Campbell’s bandleader from 1986 until 2002.
“There’s no question I’m thrilled to be honoring Glen and his legacy,” says Dayton. “To have been deeply involved in that—albeit at a later time, not during his mega-stardom but definitely during his ride—I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.”
It’s not an exaggeration to state that contemporary country music is similarly indebted to Campbell, who was among the first artists to prove just how sizable an audience could be reached by smartly produced music with deep country roots. In 1967, Campbell’s first year as a Top 10 artist, he won a then-record-breaking four Grammys: two in country categories and two in pop. While Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves and other “Nashville Sound” acts preceded Campbell as successful crossover acts, few if any arrived at that stylistic intersection as organically as Campbell, an Arkansas-raised picking prodigy who was playing country music professionally in his teens. He was advanced and versatile enough to later win a coveted slot in the elite L.A. studio scene, where he contributed to such records as Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” The Monkees’ 1966 debut album and numerous Beach Boys hits before his solo breakthrough came with 1967 ‘s “Gentle on My Mind.”
“Playing on hit record after hit record would make somebody a darn good hit-record maker,” Dayton correctly notes. “As a musician, he’s pretty unparalleled. All the greats would come to Glen’s shows and they were just so respectful: Micky Dolenz from The Monkees, Gene Clark from The Byrds, Bill Medley from the Righteous Brothers, a young Keith Urban (‘May I meet Mr. Campbell?’ Dayton inserts as a comic aside, imitating Urban’s Down-Under accent and deferential tone) . . . you know, everybody. Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, you name it. They all came around. They all hold him in such high regard.
“Forgive me if it sounds like I’m name-dropping,” he says, “but I was talking to Waylon one night—Waylon was getting ready to do a show with us—and he turned to me and said, ‘I’ll tell ya about ol’ Glen. When Glen had his TV show, he never forgot who his friends were. And he had every one of us on there, and every one of us owes our career to him.’”
Indeed, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which ran from 1969 to 1972, regularly featured a diverse assemblage of progressive-country musical guests, from Linda Ronstadt, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Joe South and Roger Miller, rivaling the more frequently cited Johnny Cash Show (which aired during the same time period) for spotlighting artists who shared Campbell’s own experimental approach to country music. “I think Glen would historically be considered to be the beginning of country-pop,” reckons Dayton. “Because he was so clean-cut, and everybody loved him, and he was in everyone’s living room.”
Friday night, the Glen Campbell stories and songs presented in the living-room intimacy of Douglas Corner Café will provide a gentle reminder of the affectionate bond between Nashville and one of country’s—and pop’s—brightest. (Jamie Hartford, whose father, John, wrote “Gentle on My Mind,” may also appear if current health issues allow.)