On April 22nd, 1936, the tiny Billstown community near Delight, Arkansas, was the birthplace of a man who would become one of the most successful pop and country musicians of all time. Just one day later, 332 miles from Billstown as the crow flies, the town of Vernon, Texas, would witness the birth of a rock & roll pioneer whose singing style has influenced artists for decades. Today, Glen Campbell turns 80, and Saturday marks what would have been the 80th birthday of the legendary Roy Orbison.
The two iconic performers forged extraordinary paths throughout their individual careers, but Orbison was already an established superstar — thanks to hits like “In Dreams,” “Only the Lonely” and “Crying” — by the time Campbell was breaking through with his mid-Sixties hits, including “Gentle on My Mind,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Campbell’s 1967 LP Gentle on My Mind featured that John Hartford tune as well as songs from Harry Nilsson, Donovan, and poet-songwriter Rod McKuen. The album closes with Campbell applying his spectacularly clear tenor to a faithful rendition of Orbison’s “Crying,” that soars into otherworldly territory with a chilling falsetto that’s reverent without being an outright copy of the original.
As a member of the house band on the ABC music series Shindig! in 1965, Campbell would put down his guitar to mine the “Big O” catalog, crooning hits like “Dream Baby.” In 1968, he recorded Orbison’s “It’s Over” for the Hey Little One album and four years later cut “Running Scared.” Throughout his performing career Campbell incorporated at least one Orbison cover into many of his live shows, with “Crying” at the top of the list.
In 1987, Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, he suffered a fatal heart attack in December 1988, just as his career was beginning to take off again. Orbison was 52. In December of last year, his entire MGM Records output was collected for a boxed set. In celebration of his birthday, his previously unreleased 1969 LP One of the Lonely Ones makes its debut on streaming services today.
For two days in early March 2003, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium was the setting for a taping of a two-part TNN (Nashville Network) special billed as a “country homecoming” concert event. Nearly two dozen legends of country, including Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, Chet Atkins, Kris Kristofferson, Lynn Anderson, Porter Wagoner, Crystal Gayle and more gathered to sing classic songs and swap stories. During the taping, Campbell performed a once-in-a-lifetime take on “Crying.” Among the enthusiastic background singers seen in the above clip are Willie Nelson, Gene Watson (seated behind Campbell) and Janie Fricke, whose backing vocals were featured on numerous Merle Haggard hits in the Eighties. Once Campbell effortlessly hits his falsetto, all of the singers are smiling and crooning along. The collective mood might not match the emotions captured in Orbison’s dramatic original but it’s a spine-tingling historical moment that will never be repeated.
In celebration of Campbell’s birthday, on May 3rd, songwriter Jimmy Webb will present a special edition of his national touring show, “Jimmy Webb: The Glen Campbell Years,” at Nashville’s City Winery. The multi-media concert includes virtual duets and stories of how such iconic songs as “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman” were created, and will include a one-time special appearance from three of Campbell’s children, Ashley, Shannon and Cal.