Glen Campbell—9 Surprising Facts About America's Rhinestone Cowboy

Updated on February 18, 2018
Timothy Anderson profile image

Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide and others.

Glen Campbell - Guitar Player

A list of most peoples' favorite Glen Campbell songs will typically include "Wichita Lineman," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," and of course, "Rhinestone Cowboy."
A list of most peoples' favorite Glen Campbell songs will typically include "Wichita Lineman," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," and of course, "Rhinestone Cowboy."

1. Me and You and an Uncle Named Boo

One of twelve kids, Glen Campbell was born in 1936 in a small Arkansas town.

As a young boy he became interested in playing the guitar, and his Uncle Boo began giving him lessons.

Uncle Boo eventually left Arkansas and headed for Albuquerque, New Mexico where he formed a band called "Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys." While still a teenager, Glen was good enough with a guitar that he was able to move to Albuquerque to not only join his uncle's band, but also appear on KOB television and play on his uncle's local radio show.

But playing for his uncle wasn't enough and in 1958 the promising guitar player formed his first band, the Western Wranglers. It would be the first of many bands Glen would be involved with.

So thanks to Uncle Boo, Glen was off and running!

The Song Everyone Loved!

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2. Name That Band!

The Western Wranglers was Glen's first band, but it didn't last long. In 1960 he packed up and headed west to Los Angeles where he found plenty of work as a session musician, playing in different bands backing up various performers.

Once in Los Angeles, he joined another loosely bound "band" known as The Champs, and later a bunch of studio musicians who called themselves The Wrecking Crew.

As his L.A. connections grew, Glen formed still another band, the Gee Cees with former band members from The Champs, and the Gee Cees got in some money-paying playing time with regular gigs at The Crossbow Inn in the L.A. area.

The Original Beach Boys - Minus Glen Campbell

3. Glen the Beach Boy

In the 1960s Beach Boys songs were topping the charts and they were the most popular band in America.

The California-based surfer-themed group of five musicians were made up of three brothers, a cousin, and a friend.

However, in early 1965 Brian Wilson began suffering from an anxiety disorder, and Glen filled in during concert performances, playing bass and singing high harmony. The Arkansas boy meshed so well with his new surfer buddies, he was invited to play guitar on the Beach Boys' most successful album, Pet Sounds.

Ultimately, as Glen's career began to flourish, he left the group and Bruce Johnston took his place. However, one could make a credible argument that at one time Glen Campbell was an official Beach Boy.

The Hondells & Glen Campbell Playing Guitar

4. Guitar Player for Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Others

Once he'd settled in Los Angeles and found occasional studio work or gigs with various fellow musicians, his Wrecking Crew studio musician friends were regularly tasked with playing background music for Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra, The Monkees, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Jan and Dean and others.

One of his first jobs doing celebrity back-up was playing rhythm guitar on "Johnny Angel," the Shelley Fabares song which hit Number #1 on the 1961 pop charts. Glen played rhythm guitar on Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night," and in 1964 he played guitar on Elvis Presley's movie soundtrack, Viva Las Vegas.

And here's some fun Glen Campbell trivia: that same year, Glen was asked to join a group of studio musicians to record a song called "Little Honda." The "band" on the record label was named The Hondells, but in fact, at the time there was no group, and the men who eventually were known as The Hondells" were actually various musicians and singers put together for a promotional tour. Not a single one of them had been involved in the original recording.

But Glen would do some touring of his own: Ricky Nelson liked his style, and in 1966 Nelson invited Glen to accompany him on a Far East tour, this time playing bass.

With so many celebrity contacts, and the fact his guitar playing and singing skills were improving as he mingled with so many other great musical talents, it was only a matter of time before the Arkansas boy became a star of his own, and Glen Campbell songs would be topping the charts!

5. The "Overnight" Success Story

Having moved to Los Angeles in 1960 after some six years in Albuquerque, Campbell would spend another six or seven years in southern California working as a musician and singer, trying to become a success in his own right.

He'd cut some singles for Capitol Records, but none of them really took off -- until he recorded "Gentle of My Mind" in 1967. His years of hard work suddenly paid off, and his next record was an even bigger hit: "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," which was then followed by "Wichita Lineman" in 1968.

The list of Glen Campbell songs would continue to grow and he'll eventually win four Grammy Awards.

Suddenly he was an "overnight" success!

Glen's "Special Version" of Gentle on My Mind

6. Goodtime Glen

Did Glen Campbell ever have his own TV show? Yes! In the summer of 1968, Glen agreed to do a summer replacement show for the Smother's Brothers and network brass were sufficiently impressed to offer him his own TV variety show.

And so in January 1969, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour debuted, and he would welcome many of the great singers of the era to his show, including Anne Murray, Linda Ronstadt, the Monkees, Johnny Cash and many others.

The show would end in the summer of 1972, but by then Campbell had established himself as a major music superstar.

Glen Campbell and John Wayne in True Grit

7. Elvis Presley - Texas Ranger

If "Colonel" Tom Parker had had his way, it would have been Elvis Presley playing the role of Texas Ranger La Boeuf in the 1969 movie True Grit, and not Glen Campbell. Elvis' manager, Parker insisted on Elvis getting top billing over John Wayne.

No one got top billing over John Wayne, but Wayne took a liking to Glen Campbell and personally picked him for the part.

It was the only one of the many John Wayne movies made that brought him a coveted Oscar, and some wags whispered that acting next to Glen Campbell made any actor look good. In fact, Campbell was signed, not just for his acting skills, but to sing the title song which will later be nominated for an Academy Award.

And while the film's director Henry Hathaway would later say Campbell's performance was "wooden," Campbell was actually nominated for the Golden Globe's "Most Promising Newcomer" award.

By now Campbell's music career was hitting an all-time, competing with any more Glen Campbell movies, and he wisely chose to concentrate on his singing.

Glen Campbell Movies

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8. God and Glen

Glen Campbell has belonged to three different religions in his lifetime.

As a child growing up in Arkansas, he worshipped with his family at the local Church of Christ.

In the 1980s, Campbell and wife Kim had converted to the Baptist faith and were regularly attending church in Phoenix where they were living at the time.

But not long after that, he and Kimberly began to practice Messianic Judaism and after moving to Malibu, they worshipped every Saturday in the local synagogue, and celebrated Passover and other Jewish holidays.

Tanya Tucker - Glen's "Dream Lover."

9. Glen and his Women

The woman most often associated with Glen Campbell is country music star Tanya Tucker, who was never his wife. He and Tucker made headlines more than once with their tumultuous relationship which began in early 1980. And even though the couple is remembered for their beautiful duet, "Dream Lover," in fact their relationship was anything but a dream, and the headline-making pair would soon go their separate ways.

Campbell stepped up to the alter on four occasions, his first wife Diane Kirk was married to the singer from 1955 to 1959. After their divorce, Glen married his second wife, Billie Jean Nunley the same year he divorced Diane, and this second marriage would last until 1976. Glen's third wife was Sarah Barg, an ex-wife of fellow country singer Mac Davis, and his fourth and current wife is a former "Rockette" dancer, Kim Woollen, who married the singer in 1982 after the couple had met on a blind date.

All-in-all, Glen Campbell has five sons and three daughters from his marriages. The Campbell children have largely stayed out of the public eye.

Campbell suffering from Alzheimer's Disease passed away in August 2017.

Glen Campbell's Life on Biography

© 2016 Tim Anderson


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    • profile image

      CJ Keely 2 months ago

      I was sad when he passed

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 23 months ago from Auburn, WA

      Extraordinary artist. A sad end. But I admire his fight. And I did not know that Rhinestone Cowboy was his bestselling song. Thx. Shared.