The Rhinestone Cowboy sings "Wichita Lineman"

The Rhinestone Cowboy sings “Wichita Lineman” live. photo from YouTube via Screengrab

His Humble Start

In 1954, Glen Campbell’s professional career started. He started as a member of his uncle’s band. He decided to venture to Los Angeles in an attempt to make his mark as a session musician in 1960. His talent in playing the guitar was immediately noticed. The Rhinestone Cowboy became a member of “The Wrecking Crew” a group of musician that played on almost all of the biggest pop records during those times. Working as a session player, Glen Campbell also made his vocal debut with “Turn Around. Look At Me” back in 1962. The song only landed to No. 61 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Pop Chart.

The success from his debut song helped him secure a record deal in Capitol Records. Unfortunately, his first song released from Capitol, “Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry” only gave him a minor pop entry. Moreover, the song failed to chart and Capitol considered dropping him from the label.

Saving his Career

To save his career, Glen Campbell was teamed up with producer Al DeLory in 1966. The two collaborated on a song called “Burning Bridges,” Campbell’s first Top 20 country hit the following year. Then his next notable song was “Gentle On My Mind,” a song that became country music standard even though it only peaked at No. 30. The real breakthrough came with Glen Campbell’s success with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” A song written by Jimmy Webb, the song stayed at No. 2 for two weeks. In addition, Glen Campbell received a total of 4 Grammy Awards for “Gentle On My Mind” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” From those successes, it’s clear that he was headed for a major stardom.

The Songwriter Jimmy Webb Made the Hit  for the Rhinestone Cowboy

“By The Time I Get To Phoenix” was inspired by a real-life break between Jimmy Webb and a former girlfriend. Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” became a hit, Jimmy Webb was the hottest songwriter in Los Angeles. Even though Campbell already recorded one of the songs of Webb, the two still haven’t met. Campbell and Webb had the chance of meeting when they ran into each other one day at a recording session. Then, Campbell asked Webb if he had any more of those “town songs.” Jimmy replied that he didn’t have any at the moment, however, he promised to come up with something. That afternoon, he went home and wrote “Wichita Lineman” specifically for Glen Campbell.

The Hit Made for the Rhinestone Cowboy

The lyrics from “Wichita Lineman” came from a memory of Jimmy Webb when he was driving through Washita County. It was during the time when telephone companies were county-owned facilities and their linemen were county employees. The storyline behind “Wichita Lineman” was based around the same ex-girlfriend that inspired “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” To produce an identifiable song, Jimmy substituted “Wichita” for “Washita” because, for him, it sounded better.

After writing the first and second verse of the song, Webb sent a rough demo to the studio to see if Glen Campbell and his producer would like it. Jimmy was still planning to write a third verse for the song and a chorus if they like the song it. However, he felt that there was no need to spend more time for those lyrics. Then he never heard from Glen Campbell, so he assumed that he wasn’t interested in the song. Several weeks later, when Jimmy saw Glen he asked him,

“So whatever happened with that ‘Wichita Lineman’ thing? I guess you didn’t like it, huh?” Then Glen answered, “Didn’t like it? We recorded it.”

“But it wasn’t finished,” Webb protested, but Campbell laughed and replied, “Well, it is now.”

Because of the lyrical content, Glen Campbell and producer Al DeLory added a long guitar solo to make the song enough. Thereafter, “Wichita Lineman” became a No. 1 hit in country music and it also landed on the No. 3 spot in pop marking the second-biggest career hit for the Rhinestone Cowboy.

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