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Glen Campbell: Pebble Beach Cowboy

Glen Campbell: Pebble Beach Cowboy

©iStock.com/Meinzahn

First printed in 'The Monterey County Herald' on Feb. 2, 2003

Glen Campbell’s voice is clearly God-sent and polished to a warm glow after 66 years. "I haven’t got all the chords down yet," he says on the phone, live from his Phoenix home. Then he melts into a song about an evening in Paris, on the Champs Elysees, with a longtime partner whose wrinkles he doesn’t see.

What middle-aged wife wouldn’t love to hear more of these songs? Will he surprise us with a brand new album? "It would have to be something I really like." And he sings on..."aging love never dies..."

The Rhinestone Cowboy may be a senior citizen now, but his effervescent, joking nature is still intact: "If you go into the bathroom, an American, and go out, an American, what are you when you’re in there?" Pause. "European! Ha-ha-ha! My wife just loves that one."

Will he write a sequel to his 9-year-old tell-all autobiography, "Rhinestone Cowboy?" "Yeah," he kids, "It'll be called 'Humility and How I Got Over it.'"     

Don’t believe it. He’s as sincere now — maybe more — than when he penned the book about a life of cocaine, philandering and finally finding God. Not to mention, Kim, the wife of 22 years, who he says saved his life. "My wife is a dear. I wouldn’t trade her for the world." 

He doesn’t proselytize during the interview, but makes it clear that God is his driver even when he swings a driver. In addition, he sticks with sober golfers. "You don’t run with the coyotes or wolfpack and do what they do."      

Pebble Beach AT&T National Pro-am fans can see Campbell’s cheeky grin on the greens again — "I've been coming up the longest of any player," says the guitar guru. However, only volunteers have been lucky enough to hear his twang and yodel close-up when he’s performed at their exclusive party.

Q: When did you stop being a whipping boy for the tabloid press?
A: I guess they got tired of whipping on me. I told them what they could do with what they had in their hand. I said I know what is true and good.

Q: You’re generous with fans and the media, but when do we irk you?
A: (chuckles) Really, you don’t. Well, when you start asking silly questions like, "I’ve heard that such and such... or, Is it true?... or, Are you a homosexual?" (laughs) Nothing really irks me. I have a very up attitude. I’ve always had a pretty good idea of where I stood. Of course, with drugs you don’t have that. 

Q: Ever feel like a has-been?
A: No. I felt like I’ve been had a couple times. I’ve been voted number one by the American and world public once, and I don’t think I have anything to prove.

Q: What flak have you gotten from your book and how different would a sequel be?
A: I would have written it from a different angle. He (co-author Tom Carter) doesn’t say it in the book exactly the way I would have, but everything in it is pretty right on.

Q: Where are your Peninsula hangouts?
A: I’ve got lots of hangouts. Dad gum! It ain’t bad right there at Pebble Beach. There are so many great restaurants here.  But I’m no connoisseur. I grew up without electricity and we ate what we shot. I was one of 12 children, a sharecropper’s son.

Q: What’s new in your life?
A: Working with Andy Williams is something that turned out to be such a pleasure. He can sing lead and any harmony.  We were brought up the same way. We were the younger siblings brought up with brothers, so we had to sing whatever it was. We were the fourth or fifth singers, never the first. When we’re singing it’s just amazing how we can work in and out of each other.  It’s been two years now and I sure have a lot of respect for him. Singing alone was like getting up and going plowing every day. (laughs) Grandpa Campbell gave me a nickel once and said, "My granddaddy told me if I met anyone any lazier than he was, to give him that nickel." (ha, ha, ha — then, out of mid-air, another joke) "I may be schizo, but I’ll always have each other."

Q: What do you think about on the golf course?
A: I go around the golf course and I start thinking about humor and humility, and how I achieved them.

Q: Do you write your songs?
A: I’ve written a couple songs. The first one I wrote I got cheated out of my half. (Jimmy Webb penned most of his hits, such as "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston.")

Q: Talk about the yearning in your songs, are you lonely?
A: Yes, I was at times. When I listen to "Phoenix" now, tears come out of my eyes because I remember how I hadn’t been home in three years.

Q: You talk of lonely hotel rooms?
A: Yes, but my daughter, Debby, travels and sings with me now. It’s really nice.

Q: How have you maintained sobriety?
A: I haven’t had cocaine in 20 years. But you can get trapped into drinking, subconsciously. I’ve fallen off the wagon a couple times. The wagon keeps looking taller and taller. But it wasn’t like before; I prayed and prayed. I said, "This is it. I will probably not drink anymore. Period." You can have a nice water just as easy as a rum and coke.

Q: Describe the high of a performance and the low afterward?
A: It takes awhile to come down. When I’m on, and singing good and playing good, that’s when I’m probably the happiest. Playing good golf, or when you do anything well, you’re happy. But when you’re out there struggling and hitting sideways. Last year, I was hitting it low at Spyglass. I was totally missing the ball with every shot. It was so low and inconsistent, the ball would just go into the hole every time (roars).

Q: Using acrostic poetry form, what does g-o-l-f mean to you?
A: I’ve played this before. (whistles happily as he searches for a pen and paper). OK, I’ve got it: Good, Old, Long, Funny laugh!

Q: What does it feel like to hit the sweet spot: in golf, in your voice, on your strings?
A: Ecstasy. That’s as good as it gets. And I’ve hit some of them. And I miss them. I had a couple yesterday. It’s heaven when you really nail an entire record. For instance, "Wichita Lineman," when I sang every note right on the button and in tune, that’s the biggest thrill and blessing I’ve ever received.

Q: Where do you perform now?
A:  I play a lot of casinos where people have usually had a few whizzes down their necks and have money to spend. It’s a lot of fun. Also, I just spent three days with the Houston Symphony. I’ve decided to take some time off, until March 29 when I’m with the Phoenix Symphony, where I’ll do some classical stuff.

Q: What is your mission?
A: Actually, just to be as good a person as I can be, and help others less fortunate.   

Q: You’ve acted, had a TV show, played for Frank Sinatra, etc.  Have you fully used your gifts?
A: My creative side in the studio, I haven’t used that. I’ve got a studio in the house now and I may create a new album.

Q: Where is your heart leading you now?
A: More toward good; and to do something that would be real pleasing to me. I know if I please myself, with God’s blessing, God will like it.

Q: What song sums up your essence?
A: "Gentle On My Mind" (his 1967 Grammy winner).

Susan Cantrell

Susan Cantrell's award-winning journalistic career spans more than three-decades.

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