Songwriter Jimmy Webb Reflects On Glen Campbell, ‘America’s Beatle’

Jimmy Webb on his friend and musical partner.

By Leah ScarpelliOctober 6, 2017 1:12 pm

When songwriter Jimmy Webb heard in August that country singer Glen Campbell had passed away, he told a reporter that “the world had lost America’s Beatle.”

“He played on ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,’ he played on ‘Johnny Angel,’ ‘Viva Las Vegas’ with Elvis Presley, he played on ‘Something Stupid’ with Frank Sinatra,” Webb says. “He went on the road with the Beach Boys and sang Brian [Wilson’s] part. He was all over ‘Pet Sounds,’ all over it.”

So towering a figure was Campbell, Webb says, it’s easier to name the greats “that he didn’t record with” instead of the ones he did.

Before Campbell began suffering the effects of the Alzheimer’s disease that would eventually kill him, he and Webb enjoyed a lifelong musical partnership that gave the world songs like “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman.”

Webb still remembers the first time he heard Campbell’s voice. He was fourteen and driving a tractor in the Oklahoma Panhandle when the radio played ‘Turn Around, Look At Me.’

“I went absolutely nuts,” Webb said.

Their first meeting was somewhat inauspicious. Both had seen each other at the Grammys and had won awards separately, but they didn’t meet in a studio until they were coincidentally called in to record a song for General Motors. Webb recalls that the first thing Campbell said to him was, “When you gonna get a haircut?”

“We were unlikely compadres, but music was the great leveler for us. Somewhere along the way, the politics went into the shredder,” Webb said.

In later years, Campbell and Webb would perform together. Webb never lost his love of Campbell’s voice, or his vastly underrated guitar prowess. But one night, at a gig they played together in California about 15 years ago, Webb knew that something was wrong.

“[Campbell] forgot the words to several songs, and he was all over the place on the guitar,” Webb said. “He just wasn’t Glen.”

Then it happened again at the Regency Hotel in New York. Despite battling stage four Alzheimer’s, Campbell continued to perform, using teleprompters to remember song lyrics. Webb wasn’t sure the audience could even tell that the singer was sick.

“Glen was so much better than everybody else that he could have a bad night and do a great show,” Webb said.

After announcing that he was fighting Alzheimer’s, Campbell passed away on August 8, 2017. Webb will share the stories behind the music in “An Evening with Jimmy Webb” on October 6 in Dallas, and on October 7, he will travel to Galveston for a special performance of “The Glen Campbell Years.” Webb will also perform in Austin on October 26, and in San Antonio on October 27, 2017.