In the 24 hours since news of Glen Campbell’s death broke on Tuesday afternoon, tributes have poured in for the legendary singer, whose career spanned five decades and saw him sell more than 45 million records. But while the Country Music Hall of Fame member was best known for country and crossover hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Galveston,” Campbell was in his earlier years an in-demand studio musician as a member of the fabled group known as the Wrecking Crew. He even, for a brief time, was a member of the Beach Boys.
Campbell relived his time with the Beach Boys in the above video clip from one of his performances in the early Eighties. Born in Arkansas, Campbell, a self-taught guitarist who couldn’t read music, moved to Los Angeles in 1960 at the age of 23 and soon became a member of the Wrecking Crew. He recorded songs for everyone from the Byrds to Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra, but with the Beach Boys, Campbell nearly had a full-time gig.
“In 1965, I’ll tell you what I did: I was a Beach Boy. I loved it. Played bass with the group,” Campbell says in the video, in which he performs a medley of the band’s hits that he cut with them. He had originally recorded with the group the year before, but when band leader Brian Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown in December 1964, Campbell was hired to take his place on tour, playing bass and singing harmonies. “I was in heaven then — hog heaven!” Campbell told Rolling Stone in 2011.
Campbell’s tenure with the band lasted four months and allegedly included an offer to become a full-time touring member of the band. (The gig ultimately went to Bruce Johnston.) Campbell, who was signed to Capitol Records – the same label as the Beach Boys – and had already released three solo albums, passed on the opportunity, although he did later appear on the band’s masterpiece, 1966’s Pet Sounds. The following year, he scored his first major hit with “Gentle on My Mind,” and in 1968 he topped even the Beatles in record sales.
That Campbell was too gifted and charismatic to be relegated to a sideman is evident in this Beach Boys medley. Decked out in a white suit with a 12-piece backing band, he jumps from baritone to the highest register — “It served a purpose, though, as everything in life does, friends,” he quips. “I got letters from Anita Bryant with that one” — with ease from “Good Vibrations” to “California Girls,” then rips off a scorching guitar solo on “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Also in the medley are “I Get Around,” the Beach Boys’ first Number One single, its B-side, “Don’t Worry Baby,” and “Surfin’ USA.”
“He fit right in,” Wilson later said of Campbell’s stint with the Beach Boys. “His main forte is he’s a great guitar player, but he’s even a better singer than all the rest. He could sing higher than I could!”
Campbell’s death at 81 came after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Earlier this year, he released his farewell album, Adiós, which he had recorded after the 2011 diagnosis and his final concert tour, the Goodbye Tour.