Last Tuesday, August 8, 2017, country superstar Glen Campbell, passed away following a hard-fought battle of 6 years against Alzheimer’s disease. Elvis Presley and Glen Campbell came from humble Southern beginnings to scale the greatest heights of the entertainment industry, becoming a star of stage, screen, radio and record. Campbell was born in Arkansas and he was the 7th son in the family of eight boys and four girls. He became a guitar-playing prodigy who saw music as an escape from a harsh life of sharecropping when he was 10.
With Campbell’s young bride and a few hundred dollars in his saving, he left Albuquerque and headed for Hollywood. He got lucky when he fell in with a crowd of rock and pop movers. He worked sessions for teen idol Rick Nelson, landed a spot playing guitar for the Champs (of “Tequila” fame) and signed on as staff songwriter at publishing house America Music. There he launched his career as a solo artist.
Glen Campbell remained a sideman for most of the 1960s despite his early efforts as a solo artist. He appeared on more than 500 recordings in 1963 alone. He spent the bulk of the decade working with the era’s biggest names – including Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke, and Dean Martin Martin — with his fluid, ringing guitar gracing everything from Pet Sounds to “Strangers In The Night” to the Monkees’ “Mary, Mary.”
Campbell first met Presley on the road in 1957. Later during Elvis’ Hollywood days, he would watch Campbell play at local club gigs in Los Angeles. Presley and Campbell have developed a personal friendship and professional respect over the years. According Presley expert Ernst Jorgensen, Campbell played on only one Elvis track: a cover of Ray Charles “What’d I Say.” Recorded in 1963 in Hollywood, the song appeared on the soundtrack to the film classic “Viva Las Vegas.”
Campbell finally broke through as a solo act — scoring massive success with “Gentle on My Mind” in 1967. For a moment, Presley had hoped to land him as the lead guitarist for what would become his TCB band, a job that went to fellow six-string great James Burton.
Presley would cover the Campbell hit “Gentle on My Mind” during his “From Elvis in Memphis” sessions with producer Chips Moman in 1969. After a year, Presley suggested Campbell recut the 1950s Conway Twitty number “It’s Only Make Believe” which he did and became worldwide hit.
Campbell and Presley would become top draws playing Las Vegas in the late-’60s, often seeing each other perform live. As Campbell would recall in an interview with The Guardian in 2011, “When we played…in Vegas, (Elvis) would go in for a month, and I’d go in for a month. Then we’d switch. Elvis had more charisma in his little finger than everybody else put together. What d’you call it? Electricity.”
In an interview with The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Mafia member Red West — who died in July — recalled a funny Vegas episode where Presley, who rarely gambled, as he was unable to visit casino floors without attracting crowds, lost his shirt to Campbell.
“He went down to a casino one night when Glen Campbell was there. It was some sort of special occasion with Campbell acting as the dealer,” recalled West. “The whole casino was soon around Elvis’s blackjack table. Blackjack was the only thing he knew how to play. He lost about $10,000, got really upset and never went back again.”
Watch an interview with Glen Campbell as he tells a little story about Elvis Presley below.[like_button]