Report: Glen Campbell Live in Saratoga, CA

 

Surrounded by the people and the music he
loves, the legendary singer/guitarist says his goodbyes to adoring fans at the
Mountain Winery on June 20. (Go here to read Campbell’s BLURT interview, conducted shortly
before the release of final studio album
Ghost On The Canvas.)

 

By Jud Cost

 

An exotic
vibraphone-based melody settles over the 80 percent full house at the Mountain
Winery in Saratoga, Calif., sounding something like Brian
Wilson’s lush instrumental from Pet
Sounds
, “Let’s Go Away For Awhile.” As the latest stop in Glen
Campbell[‘s “Goodbye Tour” began to unfold, however, it became clear
that the famed singer/guitarist wouldn’t be coming back this way again. This
was it, one last hurrah in a storybook career before retirement.

 

Campbell, now 76, announced in June of 2011 that
he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He has pretty much been on the road
since then, supported by a terrific seven-piece backup combo, three of whom are
Glen’s adult children: daughter Ashley on banjo and sons Shannon on guitar and
Cal on drums.

 

Lit by the
twinkling of minute costume jewelry woven into the fabric of the violet-hued
sport coat worn by the beloved singer, the octet  struck up the familiar chords of “Gentle
On My Mind,” one of Glen’s earliest chart entries from 1967. A beautiful
arrangement of the John Hartford-penned tune featuring Ashley’s finger-picked
banjo, paved the way for Glen’s powerful vocals (“Though
the wheat fields and the clothes lines and the junkyards and the highways come
between us”).
“This is incredible!” he shouts at the standing ovation he receives
for the evening’s first step in a star-studded career retrospective.

 

The opening
juggernaut of hits continues with Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston,” a
heartbreaking 1969 ballad that doubles as a postcard sent from a soldier
fighting in Vietnam to his girlfriend back home in Texas (“I sit and clean
my gun/And dream of Galveston”). Like many songs tonight, a new layer of
meaning has been added in light of Glen’s illness. “I am so afraid of
dying” can now be taken in a larger context as Glen perfectly replicates
the recording’s Duane Eddy-like, big-surf guitar lead-break.

 

“I don’t
want to mess my hair. It makes my head itch. I’ll go back to Phoenix and see if it works there,”
laughs Glen as they ignite a smoky bonfire to roast another Webb chestnut,
“By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” A four-bar hole appears in the song
where Glen can’t come up with the lyrics. But, like his running stream of
commentary while singing (“People in Albuquerque,
ya gotta keep ’em workin'” he adds to “Phoenix”), it’s just the price you pay
today for watching a master craftsman at work. Something like the unsuppressed
grunts, 50 years ago, of brilliant Canadian classical pianist Glen Gould or
of  jazz keyboard wizard Thelonious Monk.
If this is what gets Glen Campbell through the night, these days, who cares?

 

“Try A
Little Kindness,” another 1969 pop smash, brought in backup vocal support
from the band to give Glen a little help. “Wow, that was gettin’
heavy,” he says to a stagehand who temporarily relieves him of his
electric guitar. “This is my son. What’s your name?” says Glen,
putting his arm around Shannon. “Where’s
The Playground Susie” sports a telling line (“The carousel stopped
this year”) whose added meaning was probably never envisioned by Webb when
he wrote it four decades ago.

 

“Good old
song,” says Glen in the middle of his vocals for yet another Webb number,
“Didn’t We?” When he gets confused about a song’s tuning, Shannon is right there to help. “Capo number three,
Dad,” he says. One song containing the lyrics “I’ve made up my
mind,” gives Glen a belly laugh. “First time I’ve made up my mind
this month,” he stage whispers. At times, he’ll cackle like the carved
head of Laughing Sal that used to front the fun house at San Francisco’s Playland At The Beach. And
then he’ll lean on Shannon for vocal support.
The guitar work of this onetime A-list Hollywood
session-player remains spotless tonight.

 

The 2005
inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame adds a new wrinkle to Hank
Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” by singing part of the melody in his
storied tenor, then shifting gears to an equally appealing baritone. Of all the
hallowed ground he covers tonight, Glen seems uncomfortable only with the title
song Elmer Bernstein composed for the 1969 film True Grit. But the one-time neophyte actor who played a Texas
Ranger named La Boeuf in the film opposite John Wayne’s U.S. Marshal Rooster
Cogburn, gets off the night’s best one-liner when he cracks: “John Wayne,
I gave him that push he needed.”

 

“Let’s do
some hot licks,” says Ashley as she steps to the front of the stage. Sparks fly when she
engages her Dad’s guitar in “Dueling Banjos,” whose Flatt &
Scruggs version appeared in the 1972 film Deliverance.
When Glen returns from a short break and gets lost in the stage-right
footlights, she’s there to direct him back to his mic.

 

Shannon introduces the band with a special bow
to Glen’s longtime keyboardist, T.J. Kuenster. “It’s his birthday today.
Is this really the day?” he asks. “We prank him at restaurants and
get some great stuff.” A loose-knit “Happy Birthday To You”
spontaneously bubbles up from the audience.

 

“Is it cold
out here or is it just me?” asks Glen. “I’m sweating. How’s that
work?” Then he gets off a great pun, straight out of Buck Owens’ tenure on
backwoods TV staple Hee Haw.
“It’s so cold, I saw a chicken with a cape on (capon).” He emits a
Donald Duck quack for those who didn’t get the joke.

 

“Rhinestone
Cowboy” adds a dramatic exclamation point to tonight’s set, kept to a tidy 90 minutes. As expected, there was to
be no reprise of “Universal Soldier,” Glen’s 1965 single version of a
haunting anti-war song by Buffy Sainte Marie. That might have been too much to
ask from a longtime Reagan Republican. Nevertheless, this was one of the most enjoyable
evenings of the year, filled with a universal heartfelt love for one of the
20th century’s most admired artists. As a side-effect, it might be some of the
best holistic medicine available to Glen Campbell, a brave man facing an
uncertain future, surrounded by the people and the music he loves.

 

What could be
better for him…and for us!

 

 

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