Glen Campbell brings triumphant 'goodbye tour' to Van Wezel in Sarasota: interview

The country-pop great returns to Sarasota to sing farewell and about 'a better place'

wtatangelo@bradenton.comNovember 1, 2012 

He's going out in style.

And with dignity.

The great Glen Campbell gave a glorious farewell earlier this year with a stirring performance of his signature song "Rhinestone Cowboy" at the Grammy Awards show.

As he brilliantly sang the poignant lines about a life spent in the spotlight it appeared like the entire Staples Center crowd, including a Beatle, were on their feet and singing along.

This writer cheered, too, from his living room.

Campbell, a five-time Grammy winner, revealed last year that he's battling Alzheimer's disease.

But that hasn't stopped the country-pop hero from recording the excellent album "Ghost on the Canvas" and embarking on his critically acclaimed "Goodbye Tour," which comes to the Van Wezel on Sunday.

Joining Campbell on stage have been three of his children, Cal, Shannon, and Ashley, also highly talented musicians.

"The Grammys was one of the coolest moments," the 25-year-old Ashley said during a recent phone interview. "It was just unreal to look down while playing banjo and see someone like Paul McCartney smiling and appreciating my dad."

After Sarasota, the 76-year-old Campbell only has a handful of dates before concluding the tour at the end of the month in Napa, Calif., not too far from the family home in Malibu. According to Ashley, no more shows are scheduled.

She remains upbeat, though, when considering these final performances with her famous father.

"It's been overwhelming, a good emotional trip for me to spend so much time with Dad," she said, "to play with him, to learn from him, to get to see all the love and appreciation."

Campbell has been the "Rhinestone Cowboy" for as long as most people can remember. But his professional career started years before he recorded the limelight anthem or hosted the popular variety TV show "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour."

For most of the 1960s, Campbell was part of an elite group of Los Angeles-based session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. Campbell sweetened some of the greatest pop and rock recordings of the era with his supple guitar style and occasional background vocals.

"I would have been content to just do studio work, making it on my own never really entered my mind," Campbell told this reporter during a phone interview in 2005 to advance a previous performance at the Van Wezel.

"I remember thinking to play rhythm guitar with Frank Sinatra on 'Strangers in the Night,' Oh yes, it doesn't get any better than this," Campbell recalled.

In addition to "Strangers in the Night," Campbell can be heard on immortal recordings by Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson and Merle Haggard as well as numerous Phil Spector productions, including smash hits by The Righteous Brothers and The Ronettes.

And then there's Campbell's stint as a Beach Boy, which started when he was hired by band leader Brian Wilson to play on five tracks that formed the nucleus of "Pet Sounds."

Solo success came for Campbell with the title track to his 1967 album "Gentle on My Mind." Written by John Hartford, the song has become one of the most recorded titles in popular music, thanks, in large part, to Campbell's definitive version.

The next few years found Campbell consistently charting with a string of songs featuring mature lyrics brought to life by his sonorous voice and carried by gorgeous melodies and arrangements owing equal parts to pop and country.

Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston" were huge hits for Campbell in the late 1960s.

Although written about a soldier serving in the Spanish-American War, "Galveston" struck a nerve when it was released during the conflict in Vietnam. In 2005, Campbell agreed that it could also be sung from the perspective of a soldier in Iraq.

"Oh, yes," Campbell said. "When you mention that I get chill bumps."

The song includes the line "I am so afraid of dying," which on Sunday will likely cause this writer and others to shed a manly tear.

"It's just a great song," Ashley said. "I love hearing him playing it."

The Sarasota audience will get to experience Campbell perform "Galveston," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," "Southern Nights" and other hits from his illustrious past.

One of the most moving moments of the night, though, might come when he sings "A Better Place." It's an autobiographical song from "Ghost on the Canvas" that Campbell co-wrote with producer Julian Raymond.

The song acknowledges Campbell's current battle with memory loss and past struggles with alcohol and drug abuse.

Fortunately, Campbell found sobriety and peace during the past two decades with his wife, Kim, and their three children.

It's that sentiment of hope, and gratitude, that carries the song, making it a pop masterwork as touching as anything the legend has ever recorded.

"It really sums up my dad's journey," Ashley said. "His producer really cares about him and wrote it with him, and totally about him. It's a beautiful song."

Details: 7 p.m. Nov. 4, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets: $10-$65. Information: 941-953-3368 or www.vanwezel.org.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo

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