On April 22nd, 1936, Glen Travis Campbell was born in the tiny Billstown community near Delight, Arkansas. Although he began his career as a bluegrass musician, he would go on, thanks to such crossover successes as “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” to become one of the most successful country-pop superstars of the last half of the 20th century.
In the late Sixties, Campbell combined his genuine aw-shucks demeanor and considerable singing and guitar-playing talents (not to mention his gleaming smile and perfect hair) to beam into America’s living rooms for four seasons with his Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS. A longer-running network success than its “rural” contemporary, Hee Haw, which was axed after two seasons on CBS but thrived for decades in syndication, the Goodtime Hour began in 1968 as a summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. A variety series that capitalized on Campbell’s considerable likability, the Goodtime Hour also drew on his vast appeal to music lovers of all kinds. And even though Campbell retired from performing and recording after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011, his legacy, and the legacy of the Goodtime Hour remain vibrant today. His official online store even offers a belt buckle that emulates the sunburst logo seen each week on the show’s set.
As a versatile and prolific session musician, Campbell took his experience playing on countless sessions for a wide array of rock, pop and country performers and parlayed that into an opportunity to give TV viewers the same kind of diverse experience week after week. The same episode, for instance, that featured a performance by Liza Minelli would also spotlight Waylon Jennings, and Italian guitarist Caterina Valente would appear alongside Roger Miller.
Sketch comedy, much of it written by future comedy (and banjo) legend Steve Martin, was also an integral element of the series, but it was the series’ musical segments that framed the show, with Campbell sharing screen time with a number of his contemporaries in both country and pop music. One such performer, who was already a huge star throughout the world, was Johnny Cash. Cash himself would go on to host his own variety series for ABC shortly after he appeared on the Goodtime Hour. His show, which, unlike Campbell’s, emanated from Nashville instead of Los Angeles, would also eschew most of the comic elements and focus on even more musical diversity and experimentation. But it’s safe to say that without the success of the Goodtime Hour, Cash’s foray into series television might have merely been just a pipe dream.
One of the show’s most electrifying moments was Campbell’s duet with Cash on the Man in Black’s enormously popular “Folsom Prison Blues.” Strumming acoustic guitars and harmonizing beautifully on the classic railroad-prison tune, the two superstars are flanked by a casual-looking crowd, giving the whole thing a very laid-back vibe. But Campbell’s lightning-quick guitar and Cash’s cry of “soo-ey” inject their performance with spine-tingling energy. Campbell, who routinely reacted with high-pitched exclamations (as he does at the end of the above clip), even manages to also hit the song’s low note at the end of the line, “and that’s what tortures me.”
Earlier this year, Campbell’s final recorded song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which was featured in the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me earned an Academy Award nomination for Campbell and the song’s co-writer, producer Julian Raymond.