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TALK: Glen Campbell

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After blurring the lines of country and pop, selling over 45 million albums worldwide, hosting a variety show on network television, having sung some of the most played hits of the last millennium (“Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy”), acting in a movie with John Wayne, touring with the Beach Boys, and being a member of the Wrecking Crew–one of the most revered session groups of all-time, responsible for playing on hit records for The Monkees, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Bobby Darin to name a few–where do you go from there?

Well, if you’re Glen Campbell (the man who boasts the résumé above), you craft out a covers album ranging in material from Green Day, Travis, and the Foo Fighters, to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, U2, The Replacements, and The Velvet Underground.

At face value the idea of a Glen Campbell-covers album might sound gimmicky or seem like an attempt to strike lightning again, in the same way Johnny Cash did late in his career with an unlikely covers album, The Man Comes Around. However, after listening to Meet Glen Campbell, all of these notions should be dispelled rather quickly. Campbell shows off his career-long ability of spotting a hit and makes each of the ten songs, uniquely, his own.

(And speaking of résumés, mine’s gotta look a little better now after having the opportunity to speak with Glen Campbell.)

Jim Shearer: Who came up with the idea for this project?

Glen Campbell: [Producer, Julian Raymond] told me about the whole project and asked me if I wanted to do it.

Jim: Did he select the songs for you to cover on the album?

Glen: We did it together. We had probably about 75-80 songs and we knocked it down to ten.

Jim: How did you go about picking the songs?

Glen: They were songs that I liked, makes it easy doesn’t it?

Jim: (laughs) Very easy. Did you have a favorite song out of the batch?

Glen: Oh boy, there’s a bunch of ’em on here. “These Days,” by Jackson Browne was great. They’re all good.

Jim: I think it’s a great testament to both you and the songs on the album, but your covers made me realize just how beautiful these songs actually are.

Glen: When I get a song in I just read the lyrics, first, to see what it is, and then I go by that. “Sadly, Beautiful” [by the Replacements]–what a good song!

Jim: Where there any songs that were close to making the album that didn’t?

Glen: Not that I know of. We narrowed it down to 10 and went with that.

Jim: There wasn’t an extra song or two where you thought, “Ah, maybe this needs to make it”?

Glen: No, but if we do another project I still got the sheet of [75-80 tracks]. There are still some great songs out there.

Jim: I wanted to ask you about the title of the album, Meet Glen Campbell. It seems a little odd for someone so accomplished.

Glen: I don’t know? That was Julian’s idea. I said, “That’s fine with me.” Maybe he did it for that old rock and roll feel?

Jim: Have you heard back from any of the artists that you covered on this album?

Glen: Yoko [Ono] sent us a letter, thanking us for bringing that song [“Grow Old With Me”] to the table.

Jim: It’s amazing how these songs take on a life of their own?

Glen: You know a good song will do that every time.

Jim: I was wondering what you thought about Johnny Cash’s cover album that he did late in his career?

Glen: He did that Nine Inch Nails stuff, didn’t he? I thought it was just fabulous. Of course I’m a huge Johnny Cash fan anyway. The way he interprets a song is second to none.

Jim: Did you guys ever get to share a conversation about that album?

Glen: No, never did–dadgumit.

Jim: (laughs) I was wondering, is there a major pop-culture figure from, maybe say, the 50’s through 80’s that you haven’t met?

Glen: I don’t think so. I’ve met everybody and their dog I think.

Jim: (laughs) You’re probably right. How is it to be back at Capitol Records?

Glen: It’s good. I went back through the old studios–I spent a lot of hours there doing records. It just brings a lot of memories back.

Jim: Back in the day I know you had a dispute with Capitol because you wanted to release “Highwayman” as a single. Was there a part of you that wanted to include “Highwayman” on Meet Glen Campbell just for spite’s sake?

Glen: (laughs) I never thought about it, but I sure do like that song.

(right: Glen Campbell: “I’ve met everybody and their dog.”.)

OG glen.jpeg

Jim: My wife’s aunt is a lifelong fan and wanted me to ask you a couple questions.

Glen: (laughs) Go ahead.

Jim: What do you consider to be the finest achievement of your career?

Glen: My career? Boy. The TV show was really a kicker. That probably helped my career more than anything. A network show could help you reach zillions of people. That was one, but–gosh–it’s hard to pick ’em out, isn’t it?

Jim: Her next question: What do you consider to be your most successful song pick? What’s your most disappointing?

Glen: “Wichita Lineman,” that won the award for most played song of the millennium. That was a Jimmy [Webb] one there!

Jim: Most disappointing?

Glen: That would be hard to pick out. I did somebody a favor one time and put out a song that didn’t do anything. That would be one, but I can’t remember the name of it.

Jim: When you’re choosing a song, how do you know if it’s the right one for you?

Glen: Because I’ve heard them over and over. It’s also the lyrics. I read the song, look at it on paper, and see how it reads. You can tell when you’re first getting into the song. “Times Like These” [by the Foo Fighters] -you read songs like these and they’re great. If you can get a good sound on the track too, then you’re pretty close to getting a “hit record” as they say.

Jim: (laughs) Just out of curiosity, do you ever check your myspace page or spend any time on the computer?

Glen: My kids do. They’ll surf the internet as they say. I’m not an interent buff. I know enough and I don’t want to learn anymore.

Jim: (laughs) Do you text?

Glen: (laughs) No I don’t, my wife does it for me.

Jim: Last question, how was it being part of the Wrecking Crew–one of the most revered session groups of all-time, who have their footprints on countless legendary rock and roll tracks?

Glen: Being a session musician was one of the highlights of my life. I was in there making some of the greatest music in the world with this incredible rhythm section that we had. That was really, really, really a kicker for me. To get into that Wrecking Crew, when they pointed that baton at you, you really had to play. It was the best rhythm section that I ever played in.

Jim: Do you ever walk into a grocery store or restaurant, hear a song that you worked on, nudge someone, and say, “Hey, I played on this song!”

Glen: Yep, I do.

Jim: Do you remember the last time it happened?

Glen: I can’t recall, but it was fun. It was just a little something that went through my mind.

Jim: Do you ever lose track of all the songs that you worked on?

Glen: I don’t really sit around and think about it, but when it comes up on the radio and someone mentions it, yeah, it’s a nice feeling.

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