We share the sadness in the rest of the music world as news breaks today that Glen Campbell, celebrated country singer and guitarist, has died at the age of 81. Campbell had been suffering this past few years from Alzheimer’s disease and eventually succumbed to its complications.
While never a specifically bluegrass artist, Campbell was responsible for helping launch the career of one of our most beloved performers, the great John Hartford, also deceased. His recording of Hartford’s classic song, Gentle On My Mind, was a giant hit in 1969, and continues to be among the most recorded and performed songs in the country music realm.
It was also in 1969 that Campbell took over the Smothers Brothers television show as a summer replacement, a show that became popular right away, and continued to air on CBS until 1972 as The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Hartford appeared alongside Campbell during each episode for a sit-down acoustic segment with John on banjo during what was otherwise a fairly standard musical variety show. After Hartford moved on, Larry McNeeley took his place on the show, as the banjo/guitar segment had become an audience favorite, and they featured an instrumental bluegrass tune each week.
Other remembrances will surely tout the many achievements Campbell had seen over the course of his long career in the music business, including multiple Grammy awards, chart-topping hits, and sold-out shows all over the world. We especially wanted to remind bluegrass fans of the debt of gratitude they owe to this legendary entertainer, who remained close with Hartford and another good friend, Carl Jackson, until the end. I guess he knew a good banjo player when he met one.
Glen stopped performing in 2012 when the progression of his disease made remembering lyrics an issue, though he continued to be seen around town in Nashville.
He left another gift to the bluegrass world in the form of his daughter, Ashley, who is a banjo player and singer following in her father’s footsteps.
Deepest condolences to the Campbell family and his millions of fans. And a a deep thanks to the man for all he did for our music.
R.I.P., Glen Campbell.