As a vital member of L.A.’s Wrecking Crew, the group of ace studio musicians who backed countless recordings in the Sixties and Seventies, guitarist Glen Campbell was heard on songs that ran the gamut from the sunshine pop of the Partridge Family to the gritty R&B of Ike and Tina Turner. Campbell would move from session work to worldwide superstardom with 1967’s “Gentle on My Mind,” which was followed closely that year by “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Those two songs would serve as the title tracks of the singer’s first pair of chart-topping LPs.
While his studio work for others was prolific, his own recorded output was even more dizzying. In 1968, Campbell released five albums, including a Christmas record and a collaborative LP with labelmate Bobbie Gentry. The fifth album issued that year would also feature a Number One single as its title cut. The brooding “Wichita Lineman,” was, like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” before it and “Galveston” after, penned by songwriter Jimmy Webb, and with Campbell’s clear tenor at its core, turned Webb’s words to gold — literally. Fifty years ago today, on January 22nd, 1969, “Wichita Lineman” became Campbell’s first single to reach gold-record status, having sold more than 500,000 copies. The accompanying album would eventually sell more than two million copies.
Campbell’s way with hits, guitar playing and infectious personality — as witnessed each week on CBS’s Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour — inspired many a country guitarslinger, including Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, but his influence outside the genre could be surprising.
In 2001, Campbell’s son Cal, who toured with him as part of his band later in life, introduced his dad to the music of grunge-rockers Stone Temple Pilots. The group’s singer, Scott Weiland, had produced some tracks for the younger Campbell’s rock band, and STP’s bassist and songwriter Robert DeLeo was a longtime fan of Campbell’s. After one of Campbell’s L.A. shows, the group met him backstage. The mutual admiration led to Campbell inviting DeLeo and his fellow bandmates, his guitarist brother Dean and drummer Eric Kretz, to record versions of some of Campbell’s classic tunes. They also worked on additional new material for Campbell and the band to record together, but by all accounts their version of “Wichita Lineman” was the sole collaboration that was completed.
In this clip from a bonus DVD from Stone Temple Pilots’ 2003 album Thank You, Campbell is seen playing guitar and singing on “Wichita Lineman,” backed by STP, save for singer Weiland.
“Stone Temple Pilots don’t write the kind of music that Glen would usually listen to,” Campbell’s manager told MTV at the time. “But he admires good musicians, and the band definitely fits that bill.”
In 2008, Campbell teamed with producer Julian Raymond for Meet Glen Campbell, an LP on which the Arkansas-born country-pop icon recorded songs by Green Day, Tom Petty, Velvet Underground, U2 and Foo Fighters
To date, “Wichita Lineman” has been covered by some 200 artists, including Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Ray Charles, R.E.M. and Dwight Yoakam.