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

Updated on February 21, 2019
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 was everyone's favorite "Rhinestone Cowboy."
Glen Campbell was everyone's favorite "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. The pair began traveling and performing in clubs in Texas, Wyoming, and other states when Glen was just fourteen.

Enjoying some moderate success, Glen then headed for Albuquerque, New Mexico where he joined a second uncle, Dick Bills who had a band called "Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys." Bills was married to Glen's father's sister. The band was good enough that they were regular performers on KOB, a local television and radio station.

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 and Uncle Dick, Glen was off and running!

The Song Everyone Loved!

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In 1967, Glen Campbell recorded one of his most beloved songs, "Gentle on My Mind"
In 1967, Glen Campbell recorded one of his most beloved songs, "Gentle on My Mind"

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

Glen Campbell played guitar and sang with The Beach Boys for a short period of time in the mid-1960s after Brian Wilson began suffering from some mental health problems.
Glen Campbell played guitar and sang with The Beach Boys for a short period of time in the mid-1960s after Brian Wilson began suffering from some mental health problems.

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 soon began topping the charts!

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."

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 sell 40 million records, and receive 12 gold albums.

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 Wayne's Oscar-winning movie, True Grit.
Glen Campbell and John Wayne in Wayne's Oscar-winning movie, 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.

"'True Grit' was fun to do, but I wasn't cut out to be an actor. I made John Wayne look so good, he won his only Oscar."

— Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell and John Wayne in True Grit

Glen Campbell Movies

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8. God and Glen

Glen Campbell belonged to three different religions during 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."

Glen Campbell and country singing star Tanya Tucker had a hot and heavy relationship in the early 1980s.
Glen Campbell and country singing star Tanya Tucker had a hot and heavy relationship in the early 1980s.

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 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's Resting Place

delight, arkansas:
Delight, AR 71940, USA

get directions

Glen Campbell is buried in Delight, Arkansas about 20 miles north of the small town of Hope where U.S. President Bill Clinton was born in 1946.

Glen Campbell's Life on Biography

Questions & Answers

  • Did Glen Campbell ever play with Chet Atkins?

    Yes. And according to Campbell, Atkins had a big influence on him over the years.

  • Could Glen Campbell read music?

    No. Glen never learned how to read music, and yet his guitar and music instrument playing skills were exceptional.

© 2016 Tim Anderson


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    • Timothy Anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Anderson 

      16 months ago from Utah

      Thanks back to YOU, Patty! I learned a lot about Glen when I was researching his life, and like you, I loved his music growing up. One of our generation's great talents for sure!

    • profile image

      Patty Russell 

      16 months ago

      Once again Tim a job well done. I was madly in love with Glen in the late sixties and probably wore out his Galveston album. You touched on all the areas of interest with class. Thank you

    • profile image

      CJ Keely 

      2 years ago

      I was sad when he passed

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      4 years ago from PNW

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


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