Watching A Legend At Work

So when Glen Campbell wants to close the show – at least the main portion of the show, just before the two scheduled encores – what does he do?

Well, those who’d been keeping track of the hits he’d performed last night at St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre had a pretty good idea. And they were right, as Campbell’s seven-person band – four of them his children – launched into “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

It made sense. “Rhinestone Cowboy” was No. 1 for two weeks in 1975, and it was the biggest hit of Campbell’s career, a career that dates back to 1961 as a singer and back into the 1950s as a session guitarist. It’s a catchy tune, but it never caught on with me back then, and – although I knew I would hear it Tuesday evening – it wasn’t one of the songs that drew me to the Paramount.

But when Campbell came out to the lip of the stage as the song’s chorus came around the second time, he pointed his microphone at the audience and asked all 600 or so of us to sing with him. And just like the other folks in the audience, I found myself singing along from my seat in the balcony: “Like a rhinestone cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo . . .”

And I was having a great time as I did.

But that’s what great entertainers do: They charm their audiences, pull them in and then send them home humming songs they’d perhaps never much cared for or maybe never even heard before. Glen Campbell did all that last night at the Paramount, and more.

Many performers start a show with one of their hits, and the Texas Gal and I shared guesses as we waited for the show to start. I continued to ponder the question a little bit as I listened – more and more intrigued and interested – to a five-song set by Instant People, an alt country/folkish group made up of three of Campbell’s children and two other musicians.

By the time a couple of other musicians had joined those already on stage and introduced Campbell, I’d decided that he’d likely open with “Gentle On My Mind.” It was, after all, his first major hit, going to No. 39 in 1968. And it was, in fact, his opener last evening, followed by the powerhouse pair of “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get To Phoenix.” I’ve seen a fair number of concerts over the years, but I’d be hard-pressed to remember an opening salvo like that.

From there, Campbell and his band made their ways through his career, touching on other hits – “It’s Only Make Believe,” “Try A Little Kindness,” “True Grit” and more – and then visiting some other friends in the country oeuvre: Campbell gave us “Didn’t We,” a Jimmy Webb song more closely identified with Richard Harris. He and his eldest daughter Debby did a saucy version of “Jackson,” better known as a duet between Johnny Cash and June Carter or Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. And his younger daughter Ashley – a multi-instrumental and member of Instant People – picked up her banjo and joined Campbell up front for a lightning-fast rendition of “Dueling Banjos,” best known from the 1973 hit by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell (and from its inclusion in the 1972 film Deliverance).

For years before he made it as a singer, of course, Campbell was a prominent session guitarist in the Los Angeles area, working many times with Phil Spector, the Beach Boys and many, many others. He showed last night that even at the age of seventy-five, he’s still a dexterous and evocative guitarist. The pure speed demonstrated on “Dueling Banjos” was balanced by the simple and melodic solos he’d added – at that point in the show – to “Galveston,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and a few others. (Some of those solos did evolve into some pretty quick country picking.) I should note that, given his age, Campbell’s voice has also held up well. It’s still rich in the lower register and effective though a bit reedy – almost like Willie Nelson’s – in the mid-range. He reached for very few high notes last evening, although when he reached for them, he got them.

Shortly after performing “Dueling Banjos,” Campbell and his band took us through a rapid but musically brilliant performance of the finale to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” known more popularly among Baby Boomers as the Lone Ranger’s theme. Coming out of that – Campbell played the last minute or so with his guitar held over his head – he slowed things down with the last of the three great Webb songs: “Wichita Lineman.”

I’ve shared here a couple of times my musical bucket list, my collection of certain songs by certain performers I’d like to hear someday. I’m not sure why it wasn’t, but “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell should have been on that list.

(It’s not like it’s rare or anything, but here’s the original version of “Wichita Lineman.”)

There was more, of course. “Southern Nights,” “Let It Be Me,” a duet from Debby and Ashley on Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide,” the two encores of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (Campbell noted that he played guitar on the Righteous Brothers’ version of the tune in 1964) and the hymn-like “A Better Place.” By the time the lights came up and the Texas Gal and I began to make our ways out of the balcony, I was wondering – out of all the concerts I’ve seen – how many times I have actually seen a legend at work. Whatever the total turns out to be, last night was one of them.

But there was a moment yet to come. After waiting a few minutes in the lobby, the Texas Gal and I went into the theater’s main floor and down to the stage. There, we bought a CD with highlights of Instant People’s album We Must Be Camping and got it signed by both Ashley and Cal Campbell.

And as we left the theater, we saw the tour’s bus waiting at the curb. We figured that the seventy-five-year-old Campbell was already inside, resting, having already done an afternoon show at the Paramount before taking the stage again for the evening peformance. But we thought we’d hang around for a while and see if anything happened. A few moments later, the bus door opened, and out came two of the younger folks on the tour. One slipped away quickly, and I told the other fellow that they’d all done a great show. He thanked me, and I decided, well, what the hell?

I held out my ticket stub from the concert and asked if Glen was on the bus. The younger fellow nodded, took my stub and turned back to the bus, saying, “I’ll see what I can do.” As you can see from the picture below, he did pretty well for me.

Amended since first posting.

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2 Responses to “Watching A Legend At Work”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    A couple who’ve been friends of mine for years could never stomach “Hey Jude.” In a fairly recent conversation about some other song, I ventured that they probably liked it about as much as they liked “Hey Jude.” “Oh, we like ‘Hey Jude’ now.” They’d become converts during the obligatory sing-a-long at a Macca concert.

    Nice souvenir!

  2. […] week, whiteray at Echoes in the Wind wrote about seeing Glen Campbell perform in concert, and how Campbell’s performance of “Wichita Lineman” was one for his […]

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