Talent manager TK Kimbrell befriended Glen Campbell in the early 1980s and took him on as a client in the final years of the singer-songwriter’s life. He remembers the good times.
To quote Merle Haggard: “If the good Lord put too much talent in one human being’s body, that would be Glen Campbell.” He is a true musical genius. He got a guitar at 4 and was immediately able to play it. At 8 years old, he saved his change to buy a Django Reinhardt album and learned it. I used to tell him all the time, "Glen, you were put on earth to play music." There are only a handful of singers in his league and even fewer guitar players. He had a photographic memory for music. Once he heard it, he could pull it back. It’s so strange that it was his memory that let him down.
He was a country boy that came from the most humble beginnings – the seventh son of a sharecropper -- but he had an aura about him. Having been in the business for so long, I've been around a lot of big stars – Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and other truly great people. When they walked into a room, you knew it. Glen had that effect over everyday people, but also his peers. Because of his talent, his personality and good looks, when he walked into a room, the whole room changed. So it was no accident that he sang those great songs. And it was no accident that when The Smothers Brothers put him on their summer replacement show in 1968, the whole world was smitten.
One morning in 2011, he and I were playing golf at the Malibu Country Club. Afterward, we were going to meet our wives and daughters at a little Italian joint nearby. Glen played golf really well and really fast. If a normal round was four hours, he would play it in two. So, when we got to the restaurant, it was so early that it hadn't opened yet. There was a John Varvatos store next door, so went there to kill some time.
In the middle of the store, John had re-created the living room of his flat in Paris. There was a rare D'Angelico guitar sitting there and probably 50 pictures of artists on the walls. Glen pointed at one of the pictures. “Who’s that?” he asked the saleswoman behind the counter. “Are you kidding?" she said. "That’s Bruce Springsteen.” “I know him,” Glen said. And she just looked at him skeptically and said, "Yeah, right." I should tell you that it was cold that morning, and, over his golf clothes, Glen was wearing a hoodie pulled up over his ball cap. And there were ketchup and mustard stains on the hoodie because he’d eaten a hot dog at the club's halfway house. He pointed to another picture. "Who's that?" "That's Bob Seger," the woman replied. "I know him." Again, she says, "Yeah."
Then Glen turned around, saw the guitar and picked it up. The woman said, "Sir, you can't play that guitar." At this point, he was well into the mid-to-late stages of Alzheimer's, and he didn't even hear her. She told him again, "Sir, you can't play that guitar." And I said, "Actually, he can."
Glen sat on the arm of a chair there, tuned the guitar really quick and started playing boogie-woogie and wailing these amazing lead guitar breaks. Then just as quickly as he picked it up, he put the guitar down and walked away.
The woman said, "Wow! I've seen all kinds of big stars play that guitar, but I've never heard anyone play like that. Are you in a band?" As you know, Glen's career goes back to the '60s and that's where his memory often was. He replied, "Yes, The Wrecking Crew." She had never heard of them. I said, "You should Google it." Then she asked, "Is that the only band you've played in?" "The Beach Boys," Glen told her. To which, she said, "My God, who are you?"
And just like on his TV show, he smiled and said, “I’m Glen Campbell!”
As told to Frank DiGiacomo.
An edited version of this story appears in the Aug. 19 issue of Billboard