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Glen Campbell, with Alzheimer's and a 'final' album, looks back

August 23, 2011 |  6:30 am

Glen Campbell-Alzheimers-Glen Campbell
Before Glen Campbell became a TV star with “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on CBS in the late '60s and early '70s and before he was charting his own hits, such as “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Gentle on My Mind,” he was part of the elite Los Angeles-based studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew.

They got the nickname from their ability to knock out hit after hit, day after day, year after year for artists of nearly all stripes: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Beach Boys, the Monkees and countless others.

Campbell, the subject of a full profile coming this weekend, said the reason he found his way into that influential and lucrative gig boiled down to one thing: “Capo, capo, capo,” he said recently at his home in Malibu.

It seems the guitar he learned to play on, an acoustic model his father purchased for $7.50 from Sears & Roebuck when he was growing up on the farm in rural Arkansas with his sharecropper parents, wasn’t the highest-quality instrument in the world.

“The strings were too high off the neck,” he said, “so I always used a capo,” the device that allows guitar players to shift chords easily into different keys. Campbell liked it because it brought the strings on his guitar closer to the neck, making it more comfortable to play, but it also raised the pitch and gave his instrument a brighter sound.

“That got me into the session work,” he said. “People didn’t care what notes I played, they just wanted that high, raw sound. I thought, ‘Man, this is made for me.’ ”

From his studio work, he wound up being recruited into the Beach Boys to take over for group leader Brian Wilson when Wilson decided to retire from touring so he could focus on studio work.

“It was really fun,” Campbell said. “I was very happy to be playing with the Beach Boys. The only thing I didn’t like was that I had to play bass,” which had been Wilson’s instrument.

“Those bass strings can grind your little pinkies down real quick,” he said with a laugh.

Campbell will release what he’s calling his “final” album next week, “Ghost On the Canvas,” because he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The album includes several songs he has written with the album’s producer, Julian Raymond, and others written expressly for him by Jakob Dylan, Paul Westerberg and Robert Pollard.

He'll also be doing a farewell tour, which will include an Oct. 6 stop at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on the way to Europe in the fall and what's planned as a broad swath of shows across the U.S. and elsewhere in the world next year and beyond.

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— Randy Lewis

Photo: Glen Campbell at his home in Malibu. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times.

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