For decades, “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Wichita Lineman” have been synonymous for Country Music Great, Glen Campbell. Starting out as a poor 6-year-old performing on a local radio station, Glen followed his passion for music to become a Grammy Award winning recording artist, television celebrity, and actor. For Campbell, hitting the top of the music chart was a regular event; and many of his songs have become classics. In 2005 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2012 he earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In June 2011, Glen’s fans were saddened to learn he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He gave the final performance of his “Goodbye Tour” on November 30, 2012.
Recently, I asked Campbell’s friend, Jeff Dayton, for an off-stage peek at this music legend. Jeff is a talented Nashville musician, songwriter, and producer who formed a lifetime friendship with Glen while performing together for fifteen years. He is also my friend, and he kindly agreed to this interview.
Q: Jeff, I read a touching Facebook post of yours after a visit to Glen Campbell. How did you two meet?
Jeff: “In 1987, my band won a talent contest in Phoenix and the grand prize included opening a concert for The Judds, Alabama and Merle Haggard. Turned out Glen was an old pal of the Hag’s having done lots of his recording work over the years. I didn’t know Glen was at the concert until after our set, when he asked to come in our dressing room to meet me. I was blown away and appreciated his compliments.
The next night, we were playing at the grand opening of a Jack Nicklaus golf course (Desert Mountain in Carefree) and who’s there but Glen! We talked and I asked if he’d like to sit in. He asked if I knew all his songs. I told him yes .. except no, we really didn’t … but who’s going to pass up a chance like that?
We must have played thirty minutes together and everyone had a blast. A few days later, my phone rang and it was Glen asking if I’d like to be his new bandleader.
Q: How has Glen influenced your career?
Jeff: “In so many ways. He showed me his way of approaching songs in the studio and on stage. He taught me without teaching, if you get what I mean. He had the most natural ability of anyone I’ve ever played with, and his ear for classic, great songs was what made him a Megastar. I feel those influences every time I write or sing. His guitar playing was jaw-dropping good, and I tend to think those years in the 80s and 90s when we were together, were his prime.
I learned about down-home stage presence. He’d make a flub and tell the audience, “If you do it perfect, they’ll want it that way every time.” Thank God for perspective like that!”
Q: Glen Campbell had some huge hits. Which was his favorite?
Jeff: “He often said his favorite was “Wichita Lineman”, which I’ve found is everyone’s favorite most of the time. He deeply loved Jimmy Webb’s songs and sang lots of them backstage that he never got around to recording. “Cottonwood Farms” was one. He loved the complexity of Jimmy’s lyrics and the art of his melodies. We did around 4- to 5,000 shows together and I never tired of those songs.”
Q: Did he ever share stories about working with The Duke in “True Grit?”
Jeff: “All the time. Wayne was one of his heroes and there he was in Telluride, filming a major movie with this larger-than-life, giant of a legend. He was so nervous it was funny. He was the same way with Frank Sinatra when he got to play guitar on “Strangers in the Night.” Seeing how star-struck Glen was about those guys, showed how human he was. To paraphrase John Wayne, he reminded me of me. I was blown away that I was right there, playing with one of my heroes.”
Q: Was Glen as funny as he seemed?
Jeff: “God yes! He was a country boy and loved corny humor. He had a great ear for good jokes and I think his TV show taught him the value of having his audiences laughing with him. More than half his comedy was from Roger Miller, one of his best pals. Glen would say some of his lines in every concert, like “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous,” or “I don’t think I’m half as smart as I think I am.”
Q: What do you think Glen is proudest of?
Jeff: “I think his family has always meant the most to him. He never mentioned awards, the stardom, or any of that stuff. He just loved being with kin and friends, and having another great picker stop by backstage for some ferocious guitar pulling. I think being surrounded by the people he loved, and who loved him, meant the most. Having his daughter Debby singing on tour with us was wonderful for him. She brought that family love on the road.
That and golf. Lord, he loved golf. I’d walk in his hotel room someplace … like Davenport on a gray morning … and he’d be sitting in a bathrobe with short, zip-up leather boots and black socks sticking out the top; his hair all messy, watching rain delays on the Golf Channel.”
Q: What will your fondest memories be of Glen Campbell?
Jeff: “All the guitar beat-downs he gave me! The days on the golf course and times in his room talking about songs. Jams with artists who came to hear Glen that turned into onstage magic. The camaraderie between two guys who came up the same way; playing five or six nights a week in smoky clubs and roughing it for years to get to the next level. His kindness to the guys in the band, and the fair way he paid and treated everyone. His constant one-liners in every situation. His competitive side. The encouragement he gave me as a writer. The love his family freely shared with me.”
Q: It must be hard to watch your friend slipping away to Alzheimer‘s, what would you like to say in closing?
At the end of my visit yesterday, he misted up, hugged my neck, and said, “I’m sorry.” I know what he meant. He wanted to fight his way out of the cloud that was covering his mind, be back 100 percent, play like he used to, and know everyone again. I’ll miss that time too but thank God we’ve got memories. I hope his are alive inside him too, but right now we don’t know much about this disease.
I’ve been on stage with many artists, past and present, stars and newcomers, and I’ve never been with anyone, anywhere who could hold a candle to ole’ Glen. He was the perfect trifecta — singer, picker and writer — and as good at all three as God has ever made. I’m blessed to have been there at his side.”
After listening to you, Jeff, it’s easy to understand how that salt-of-the earth young boy became Glen Campbell, the Music Legend. His memories may fade, but our memories of him won’t. Thank you.
Thanks to my friend, Jeff Dayton, for allowing us to learn more about this music icon through this interview. To read more about Jeff, check out his websites, Jeff Dayton Music and Jeff Dayton Band.
“About Glen Campbell” – Glen Campbell Website
“Glen Campbell Bio” – Biography.com
Additional reading: “Glen Campbell Living Musical Legend”