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Gentle Glen on My Mind

by David Souslby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"


Early 1965 and I’m tuned-in to the early-morning radio, getting ready for work when from out of the blue comes this thunderous opus, a song that crackles through the air and swirls round you like a cloak. It’s the Phil Spector–produced Wall of Sound classic, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, by The Righteous Brothers, and I’m instantly hooked. It seems that every day there’s something new and exciting in the world of rock music, and today is no exception. I buy the 45 platter in my lunch break and for the next two or three weeks it gets played over and over again.

It becomes one of my all-time Sixties favourites, but it was several years later before I find out that contributing to that wonderful sound was none other than Glen Campbell. His masterful guitar playing was in great demand throughout the early to mid-Sixties and he gained a reputation as one of the most sought after session men in the music business.

One year later, and he Beach Boys release their Pet Sounds album. I buy a copy as soon as it hits the record shops. I’m a big Beach Boys fan and this album just bowls me over — it’s everything a great rock album should be. The harmonies are out of this world and the musicianship is awesome. As with You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, I have no idea that Glen Campbell is a session man on the album.

It’s as an artist in his own right that Glen Campbell comes into my life. He’d had minor hits in the US charts during the early Sixties, but it was with his interpretation of Gentle On My Mind in 1967 that I first started to appreciate his talent. I recall hearing the song on the radio the day it was announced that Brian Epstein, who launched The Beatles to fame as their manager, had been found dead at his London home. An overdose of sleeping pills was blamed for his death. It seemed such a sad waste of life. It felt sadder for the fact that The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album topped the charts both sides of the Atlantic, and their All You Need Is Love single reigned supreme Stateside.

Later that year Campbell worked his magic again with the Jimmy Webb classic By The Time I Get To Phoenix. I remember thinking what an emotive song it was, delivered from the heart and oozing class: performed gently with great feeling. I was soon to be a father for the first time, so I have fond memories of the song, having listened to it many times in the build up to the big day. 

Come early winter 1969, the wind is howling against the window panes, the few remaining leaves on the trees lining the pavement are fluttering on the branches in a losing battle to keep their anchorage, and who’s voice do I hear coming through the airwaves? Yes, you’ve guessed, it’s Glen Campbell. He’s on a winner with another Jimmy Webb song, Wichita Lineman. Although he won many top accolades as a country singer, I never really thought of him as a country singer: his music transcended categorisation. I remember someone telling me that that he didn’t like country music, and I said but you like Glen Campbell, to which he replied that he never realized that was what he was. Glen just sang great songs in a way that crossed all kinds of barriers.

Spring of that year and Galveston, another Jimmy Webb creation, saw Glen at the top of his game. Some thought it was an anti Vietnam War song, others saw it as a message for a faraway loved one, while some just regarded it as a powerful story, beautifully interpreted by a gentle giant of the music industry.

 I recall reading something around the time about the song being popular with serviceman serving in Vietnam, often being requested for a wife, girlfriend or loved one back home.  Personally, when I think of the song, I’m always reminded of a good friend of mine who while serving in the Merchant Navy in the mid-Sixties met and fell in love with a girl in Galveston. Sadly, though, nothing came of it.

Just a few months down the line and fast coming to an end was the frantic, freewheeling decade that changed so much in our lives. Gone but certainly not forgotten.

LIGHTS across the wide Thames estuary twinkle in the darkening sky, while the world’s longest pier looms shadowy in the near distance. This vista through the tall windows in the theatre bar is in contrast to the brightness within and the sharp anticipation of something special about to happen…

Opening with Gentle On My Mind, and then two more songs into his set on the Southend-on-Sea leg of his final tour of Britain, Glen Campbell shields his eyes from the spotlights and looks out on the cheering audience: ‘I wondered where all that loud applause was coming from. Well, at least now I know I’m still around’, he chuckles, and the auditorium explodes again in thunderous appreciation.

Glen, sadly diagnosed earlier this year with Alzheimer’s, overcomes the odds and belies his 75 years. His stage presence is awesome, his connection with his fans strong and genuine. There are poignant moments when he falters occasionally with his speech, but when he sings and wields his axe, there’s magic in the air.

He performs several numbers from his final studio album, Ghost On The Canvas, including the title song and the movingly beautiful A Better Place, capturing the ups and downs of his life in a mere two minutes of superb storytelling.

The whole evening is very special. Like the bright lights across the water, Glen shines like a star in the night sky, still just as magical as he was in the Sixties. Simply, quite magnificent.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.




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