The Rhinestone Cowboy rides out for the last time

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RIP Glen Campbell 22/4/1936 - 8/8/2017 (Image screenshot YouTube)

Country music legend Glen Campbell has died at 81 following a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

In a career spanning 50 years, Campbell sold 45 million albums — 12 gold, four platinum, and one double-platinum. He placed 80 different songs on Billboard's country, pop and adult contemporary charts. In 1967, Campbell won four Grammys in the country and pop categories — a record at the time.

He also had a life that was as eventful and dramatic as the country music he has popularised.

He was born Glen Travis Campbell on 22 April 1936 in a small farming community near Delight, Arkansas. The seventh in a family of 12, Campbell was determined to escape his humble origins.

As Campbell said in a 1970s press bio:

"I spent the early parts of my life looking at the north end of a southbound mule and it didn't take long to figure out that a guitar is lighter than a plough handle." 

He received a $5 guitar from a department store at age four and became a prodigy, mastering genres ranging from simple country to sophisticated jazz by the time he was six. He left school in Year 10 and went to play in a New Mexico-based band with his uncle, Dick Bills. He also married his first wife, Diane Kirk, in 1954 when he was just 17. They were together less than three years.

Campbell met his second wife, Billie Nunley, while playing in an Albuquerque club and took off to Los Angeles with her in 1960. The couple rode in in a 1957 Chevrolet and only had $300 between them, plus a small trailer full of meagre belongings.

Luckily, Campbell soon found himself in demand as a session musician. Although he could not read music, his virtuosity with the guitar led to him playing sessions for both Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, the Mamas and the Papas, Merle Haggard, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole, Phil Spector and others.

He played on Elvis Presley's 'Viva Las Vegas', the Monkees' 'I'm a Believer' and the Beach Boys' 'Sloop John B'. He also toured with the Beach Boys in 1965 as a replacement for troubled leader Brian Wilson and was later offered a permanent position with the band, which he turned down because his own solo career was taking off.

Campbell initially played with a band called The Champs until 1961, when he released his first solo single 'Turn Around, Look At Me'. It was a mild hit, charting at 62 on the Billboard singles charts.

Follow-up singles did not do as well, and Campbell's record label was considering dropping him when he released two successful country songs in 1967: 'Burning Bridges' and 'Gentle On My Mind'. Campbell followed this up with the haunting 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix'.

Campbell released one of his best-known songs, the working class anthem 'Wichita Linesman', in 1968.

This was followed by 'Galveston' in 1969.

It outsold the Beatles and attracted favourable comparisons with the King.

"Not since Elvis Presley's ascendancy more than a decade ago has a young soloist come along to capture the mass audience with such effectiveness as Glen Campbell," wrote Vernon Scott of United Press International.

Campbell's manager, Nick Sevano, disagreed:

"I don't think he's the new Elvis. I think Glen has a broader audience than Elvis."

When the handsome and affable Campbell appeared on television, his career took off like a rocket.

He hosted a 1968 summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and was later given his own show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Through his session music connections, Campbell was able to attract the hottest musical acts of the time, including the Beatles, the Monkees, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Linda Ronstadt and Merle Haggard. He launched the careers of Anne Murray and Jerry Reed, who appeared on the show.

Through his show, Campbell was credited with breathing new life into the country music scene.

"The change that has come over country music lately is simple," said Campbell. "They're not shuckin' it right off the cob anymore. I think the public is getting tired of all that crazy acid rock and wants to get back to good melodies. Country music has more impact now because it's earthy material - stories of things that happen to everyday people. I call it People Music."

Campbell's career declined in the mid-1970s. He began to drink heavily, his TV show was cancelled and his marriage was in deep trouble. Just when the music industry was about to write him off, Campbell released his biggest selling hit, 'Rhinestone Cowboy'. It became a major anthem in the summer of 1975.

Unfortunately, Campbell's personal life did not improve. His wife, Billie, filed for divorce and he took up with Sarah Barg, whom he married in 1976. However, the relationship was severely strained due to Campbell's continued heavy drinking. He later admitted that he had started to use cocaine.

However, Campbell achieved another hit in 1977 with 'Southern Nights' and took up with young country star Tanya Tucker after he and Barg divorced. The relationship with Tucker ended acrimoniously and Campbell spent the early '80s out of control, behaving erratically, drinking heavily and indulging in cocaine.

Following a near overdose in Las Vegas, Campbell found religion through a new relationship with Radio City Music Hall Rockette Kimberley Woolen. He married Woolen in 1982 and gave up cocaine. It took a little longer for him to give drinking away.

Campbell was kept busy during the 1980s and 1990s with touring, but his health was steadily declining. When he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005, Campbell was already showing signs of dementia.

In 2011, Campbell and his wife announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease but would release a new album and go on a Goodbye Tour while he could still perform. Although he had to read lyrics from a TelePrompter, Campbell remained in fine voice and proved to be a staggeringly sharp and fluid guitarist.

In June 2017, Campbell released his last album, 'Adios'. Three of his children – Ashley, Cal and Shannon – appear on several tracks. He died two months later.

Campbell's death has prompted a flood of tributes.

'Glen Campbell was one of the greatest voices of all time,' tweeted Dolly Parton.

Said Brian Wilson:

'I'm very broken up to hear about my friend, Glen Campbell. An incredible musician and an even better person. I'm at a loss. Love and mercy.'

"I love Glen for many reasons but above all, for his humanity," said Australian country legend Keith Urban.

Tim McGraw wrote:

'Songs, songs,, in a world of good stuff, his was great. In a world of great stuff, his was special.'

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