This is another installment of my Friday series on L.A. Music, featuring artists and bands that originated in Southern California or are closely linked to Los Angeles.
Did you watch the Grammy Awards this year? Everyone considered the high emotional point of the show to be Jennifer Hudson's tribute to Whitney Huston, who'd died the previous day. I didn't even see that segment. For me, the most emotional moments were during the performances for Glen Campbell's Lifetime Achievement Award. Campbell, who announced last year that he's suffering from Alzheimer's, came out on stage accompanying The Band Perry, who covered his first hit, "Gentle on My Mind." I tried, I really tried, to suck it up and hold it back. Epic fail. Before the end of the segment, I was bawling, my face in my hands and my two children little anxious satellites, hovering around and offering me Kleenex.
Perhaps you don't associate country-pop singer with L.A., but I disagree. Campbell was born a poor share-cropper's kid in Arkansas in 1936, but he came out to L.A. in the late '50s with a wad of cash, a guitar, and some dreams. And yes, I'm being corny, but this is the man who's most famous for singing "Rhinestone Cowboy," after all.
Out in L.A., Glen Campbell was first a session musician for a string of big names, including the Beach Boys. He played on many tracks on their album Pet Sounds, and also played rhythm guitar on Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night."
After getting signed to a record label, he struggled to find his niche or produce a hit, until he recorded the song "Gentle On My Mind," which became a huge hit and won a Grammy, and Campbell's career was assured.
There are a handful of singers and songs that I associate closely with my daddy, and up near the top of the list is Glen Campbell. I'd have to write a very long-winded essay to explain all the nuances of the why's and wherefore's of this association. I can tell you that my dad didn't like to be tied down, that he never was very good husband material, even after a nearly forty-year marriage to my mother. I can say that their courtship and early days can in some ways be summed up in Campbell's hit song, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."
I can say that hearing Glen Campbell's early songs, with their lush arrangements, remind me of my own early days in the long backseat of a big Ford sedan, listening to those songs turned up high on a scratchy AM station.
Today marks the five-year anniversary of my dad's death. It was also a Friday the 13th, that morning we gathered for the last time in the hospital. My dad hadn't been aware of much for the last week of his life, but he'd have appreciated the irony of dying on Friday the 13th. He of the "if it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all" variety.
After five years, I still can't listen to most Glen Campbell or John Denver or George Jones songs and make it through without crying. Today will be no different. Here's the Campbell song I love most, a song about highways and train yards and sleeping bags and a young man out on the road, recorded by a young, healthy man who didn't even know it was the beginning of his dream coming true, when he recorded it back in 1967.
Here's the song, performed in a duet with the songwriter, John Hartford, on the Smothers Brother's show.
Enjoy, and Happy Friday. Even on Friday, April 13th.