Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Glen Campbell was America's cowboy in the bright light of stardom and the twilight of Alzheimer's

Glen Campbell had to sing Rhinestone Cowboy. Who else could have done the song justice?

Picture a young Campbell, and you'll see a shining, strapping dude in a fringed leather jacket or gem-pocked Nudie suit, a guitar slung around his big, wide collars. He was born in rural Arkansas, but with his million-dollar smile and poster-busting chin, and the syrupy strings that soared throughout his early-'70s songbook, he was the picture of countrypolitan glamor. He was a cowboy, yes, but he shone like a rhinestone. The light caught his face at all angles.

That's the image so many will remember of Campbell, the legendary country performer who died Tuesday at 81. But there is another, and it is almost as powerful.

Six years ago Campbell announced his diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease, complications from which claimed his life. He battled bravely, touring as long as he could, starring in an acclaimed documentary, I'll Be Me, that earned him a Grammy and his first Academy Award nomination. He was not himself in those final years — he could not speak well, occasionally missed lyrics and cues on stage — but millions admired his poignant perseverance.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Audiences gently embrace Glen Campbell's 'Goodbye Tour'

"I just take it as it comes, you know," Campbell told CNN in 2012, the year he was awarded the Grammys' Lifetime Achievement Award. "I know that I have a problem with that, but it doesn't bother me. If you're going to have it handed to you, you have got to take it, anyway. So that is the way I look at it."

Campbell knew a few things about strength. He struggled for years to make his name as a singer, even as he shone on guitar for one of the finest American groups ever assembled, the knockout band of 1960s and '70s L.A. session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. He played on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Frank Sinatra's Strangers In the Night, backed Elvis Presley and Dean Martin and the Monkees. He toured with the Beach Boys and Ricky Nelson.

But talent like Campbell's can only spend so long in the shadows. Over time he matched up with songs he'd make his own — Buffy Sainte-Marie's The Universal Soldier, John Hartford's Gentle On My Mind, Allen Toussaint's Southern Nights, Jimmy Webb's By the Time I Get to Phoenix and Galveston and Wichita Lineman. Though he wasn't really known as a songwriter, he so thoroughly embodied these songs through his impassioned voice and inimitable dust belt twang that it felt like he'd lived them all. Songs of soldiers, songs of housewives, songs of the working class — Campbell found a way to connect with them all. By 1968, he was the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year; the following year By the Time I Get to Phoenix won the Grammy for Album of the Year.

And, of course, the camera loved him. You've seen that chin. TV came calling for him early, first as a guest star and then as the host of his own Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which ran for several seasons on CBS. "Hi, I'm Glen Campbell," he said, introducing every episode. But by then, everybody knew it.

In 1969 he co-starred in the classic western True Grit as La Beouf, the flashy Texas ranger paired up with John Wayne's crusty Rooster Cogburn. Again, perfect casting: Campbell was the apple-cheeked, pearly-toothed, sideburned prettyboy pitted as a sleek antagonist to Wayne's gritty antihero until he saved the day with a "bully shot" at the end.

This, in some ways, was the image brandished in our minds in Rhinestone Cowboy, that of the polished patriot put through the wringer, "riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo." He was a pioneer of the genre, but as the poster boy who "sold my soul to the devil in L.A.," to quote his 1975 hit Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.), he was seen by some as too slick, too poppy to be authentic, and it cost him. For decades, he drifted in and out of relationships — he married four times — and in and out of relevance. He popped up on TV and in movies, kept releasing albums, scored the odd minor hit here and there. He drank and drugged, lost his way, found the light and repeated it all.

Even before his Alzheimer's diagnosis, he had enjoyed an uptick in popularity. Part of it was due to the deep, sonorous twang of his guitar, a sound revered by musicians from all genres. Leon Russell once called him the best guitarist he'd ever seen.

RELATED : Glen Campbell's wife Kim talks Alzheimer's on visit to Largo

But the diagnosis shook the Nashville community, and the industry as a whole. Campbell soldiered on, playing to fans nationwide, including two emotional, sold-out crowds at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre in 2012.

"We've been through some bad days, and it's gut-wrenching. He'll struggle with a guitar solo one day and the next he'll just nail it completely," his daughter, Ashley, told the Times before those shows. "The other night he happened to turn my way during a solo and I could see the fretboard and my jaw just dropped."

In the face of an insurmountable illness, Campbell kept on going, inspiring millions of fans, shot by bully shot. He gave the world a fight to remember. Rhinestone or otherwise, the strongest cowboys always do.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Comments
SoundBytes: Asher Roth, Adam Devine, Bayside, the Outlaws and more

SoundBytes: Asher Roth, Adam Devine, Bayside, the Outlaws and more

— Comic and actor Adam Devine (Workaholics, Modern Family, Pitch Perfect) is coming to the Tampa Theatre on Oct. 27, about two years after he had to cancel a gig there due to filming schedule conflicts. Tickets are $36 and up. Click here.—...
Published: 08/20/18
Travis Scott coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Travis Scott coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

And now we know when and where Travis Scott is coming to town.The hip-hop superstar announced last week that he was bringing his "Astroworld: Wish You Were Here" world tour to Tampa. Today it was announced the show will take place Nov. 12 at Amalie A...
Published: 08/20/18
Colin Jost of SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’ coming to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater

Colin Jost of SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’ coming to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater

We are positively awash this week in local tour news the stars of Saturday Night Live.On Wednesday, Chris Redd will headline a back-to-school comedy show at Orlando's CFE Arena for students at the University of Central Florida. From Friday to Sunday,...
Published: 08/20/18
Trans-Siberian Orchestra coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Trans-Siberian Orchestra coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Winter is coming. And with it, as always, comes the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.The long-running rock symphony experience will return to Tampa's Amalie Arena for two shows (3 and 7:30 p.m.) on Dec. 16, according to an announcement from the organization....
Published: 08/20/18
Review: Journey, Def Leppard defy Father Time, thrill 17,500 fans at Amalie Arena in Tampa

Review: Journey, Def Leppard defy Father Time, thrill 17,500 fans at Amalie Arena in Tampa

The inevitable question a double bill like Def Leppard and Journey begs is this: Which of the two classic rock hit machines, both well into their 50s and 60s, still rocks the hardest? Stick around, we'll get there in a minute.First, though, can we ta...
Published: 08/20/18
SoundBytes: Tanya Tucker, Joe Diffie, Young Nudy and more

SoundBytes: Tanya Tucker, Joe Diffie, Young Nudy and more

— The always-intriguing concert calendar at Stockyard Live in Holiday has added a couple of more country veterans to the mix: Tanya Tucker on Nov. 9 ($25 and up, click here) and Joe Diffie on Nov. 10 ($18 and up, click here).— Up-and-comi...
Published: 08/17/18
I studied Taylor Swift lyrics for three years. Then she invited me to meet her.

I studied Taylor Swift lyrics for three years. Then she invited me to meet her.

TAMPA — The Florida sun burned through my black pleather top as I hurried around Raymond James Stadium. I tried to grip a set of metal plates used at the Tampa Bay Times printing press, but my hands kept slipping. The sweat had little to do wit...
Published: 08/17/18
Travis Scott coming to Tampa

Travis Scott coming to Tampa

Travis Scott is the man of the moment right now in hip-hop, with his latest album, the hugely anticipated Astroworld, sitting at No. 1 in the nation.Now he's about to take Astroworld on the road. And his tour will include Tampa.Scott announced cities...
Published: 08/16/18
Cridlin: Aretha Franklin, world’s greatest singer, transcended cultural barriers

Cridlin: Aretha Franklin, world’s greatest singer, transcended cultural barriers

Aretha Franklin wore her crowns like no other.At the Grammy Awards in 1972, where she won the fifth of her 18 trophies: A regal scarlet shawl embroidered with gold, swirled around her sturdy Afro. At the first Divas Live concert in 1998: A golden wra...
Published: 08/16/18
Paul McCartney’s ‘raunchy’ new song: ‘Fuh You’

Paul McCartney’s ‘raunchy’ new song: ‘Fuh You’

NEW YORK (AP) — The man who co-wrote I Want to Hold Your Hand more than a half century ago is speaking more directly these days. Sir Paul McCartney released a new single on Wednesday called Fuh You, where the key line — "I want to fuh you" — contains...
Published: 08/16/18