JF’s ‘Memory Time’ Machine
Goin’ back – Early Days
by John Firminger
I’ve always been interested in the early careers of various artists. As with many names, later success often brings recordings from their early days out of the woodwork, much to their chagrin.
Sometimes they’re not even credited as individuals, but are simply part of a group or under another name, probably a little more dynamic than their real name. For me, these factors certainly add further interest. Also the music the style of music can be quite different to that we’ve all become familiar with in later years, as they strive for success in whatever way they can. However, while the artists themselves may not favour their early efforts being brought out for the world to hear, I for one, always find them of interest and provide an insight to their careers.
Therefore, for a few forthcoming editions of Going Back, I’d like to look back at the early days of some artists that we’re all familiar with, while their early careers are not as well known. I hope they don’t mind.
In this first musical expose, we’ll look at the multi-talent that is Glen Campbell. I’m aware that Glen’s career has been covered in The Beat, but maybe not so much his early days, which I hope will still be of interest as we delve back.
As a singer, he has, of course, recorded some truly superb songs while, as a brilliant guitarist, I personally don’t think he’s still achieved the recognition he deserves. One acknowledgement of his musicianship is the fact that Glen is one of the reasons that Albert Lee always says why he wanted to move to California, having been a fan of his guitar-playing for many years.
After arriving in Hollywood, Glen cut a one-off single in 1961 under the little-known nom-de-plume of Billy Dolton. Whether it was due to some kind of contractual problem or he just wanted to hide his identity, Glen cut two tracks, Winkie Doll and Girls. They’re a couple of quite appealing lightweight rockers, spiced with some of Glen’s guitar playing, although I should imagine Glen hasn’t told too many people about them.
Finding work as a session musician, an early date was with his friend Jerry Naylor, who’d just been recruited as singer with the reformed Crickets. With Jerry, Glen sang harmony on a three-song session that would yield a chart hit with Don’t Ever Change.
An early big break for Glen came in 1962 when he joined vocal/instrumental combo The Champs of Tequila fame. Singing and playing lead guitar with the band on-stage and on record, Glen provided some electrifying speedy licks on tracks like Panic Button and Shades.
Another group that Glen was involved with briefly, albeit anonymously, during those early session days, was The Trophies. This was with fellow member of The Champs, Dave Burgess, singer and songwriter Jerry Fuller and teen idol Rick Nelson. Glen, Jerry and Dave had just replaced The Jordanaires on Rick’s recording sessions and as The Trophies, they decided to have fun and cut a bunch of doo-wop tracks.
They were all pretty versatile singers in their own right, as these rare tracks demonstrate. Jerry Fuller’s song Desire features Glen airing the full range of his vocal talents, from singing tenor to reaching up to a most impressive falsetto, while Rick provided the bass-vocals. The same group also cut some more fun tracks under the name of The Fleas, with Dave Burgess on lead vocals with Glen on guitar and backing vocals.
Signing with Crest Records Glen had his very first hit with Turn Around, Look At Me, credited to former Eddie Cochran manager, Jerry Capehart as writer, although there is some question about this. The B-side of the track was an uptempo country/pop item titled Brenda which featured a string arrangement typical of the time. On Crest, Glen also cut an early Champs-like instro under the collective name of The GC’s, entitled Buzz-Saw.
Glen would also sing and play on demo sessions around the various studios ranging from country to big ballad to up-tempo rockers. At Gold Star, he cut a number of tracks which ranged from songs tailored to fit artists like Orbison or Rick Nelson, plus rollicking country-rock instrumentals. Glen’s participation on various sessions provided the icing on top of the cake, although he probably lost count after about 500.
A number of tracks in my own record collection bear some Glen’s finest moments as a session man. These include his superb harmony vocals and stinging guitar solo on The Crickets 1962 B-side I’m Not A Bad Guy, more rapid-fire guitar work on The Everly Brothers’ recording of Gone, Gone, Gone, a wild solo on Bobby Darin’s If A Man Answers, while Elvis’s recording of Viva Las Vegas is also spiced up by some of Glen’s hot guitar playing. Also noted for his 12-string guitar playing, he can also be heard supplying the intro on Sinatra’s Strangers In The Night.
A regular performer on US TV, like Jack Good’s weekly non-stop rock extravaganza Shindig, and the country music production Star Route, Glen would perform whatever was required, whether it be a wild Little Richard rocker, a sentimental ballad, or a romping banjo hoe-down.
Glen coped with it all while, on occasion, also throwing in some dynamics of his own, like playing a wild guitar solo behind his head.
A year’s stint playing bass and singing with The Beach Boys gave Glen more exposure, and credits it with helping him to stretch out further vocally. Another tour of Japan, playing bass with Rick Nelson kept Glen busy while still recording various demo sessions for Sharon Sheeley and Jackie DeShannon’s Ridgetop publishing company. These included mid-tempo pop ballads Blue Dreams, Blue Ribbons and Dream Of The Year, while Guitar Child was demo’d by Glen twangin’ up a storm with Duane Eddy in mind who, in fact, cut the piece.
Signing with Capitol records in 1963, one of Glen’s first albums for the label reflected further talent with The Big Bluegrass Special, featuring Glen and The Green River Boys. In the all acoustic set, he is featured singing songs like Lonesome Jailhouse Blues, There’s More Pretty Girls Than One, Truck Drivin’ Man and Merle Travis’s Kentucky Means Paradise.
Pointing towards Glen’s later style were a couple more Capitol singles, the moody ballad Here I Am coupled with the morbid Long Black Limousine. These were followed by the teen-slanted Prima Donna and the country ballad Oh My Darling, both demonstrating Glen’s superb vocal ability.
Recording the instrumental album, called The Big Twelve String Guitar Of Glen Campbell, allowed him to display his prowess on the instrument. Indeed, with such talent and versatility, it was only a matter of time before he achieved the super-stardom he truly deserved. It is also very sad that, in 2012, Glen has had to bring his career to a halt because of his condition with Alzheimer’s disease. One consolation is the wealth of superb music withwhich he’s provided the world.