`Time I Get To Phoenix' is over, so Campbell gladly moves on

Country legend puts Arizona behind him in life of many stages

Music

July 31, 2005|By Monica Eng | Monica Eng,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

At his Malibu, Calif., home, it's a day of celebration for Glen Campbell. It's the day he gets to remove the Intoxalock from his car.

"Whoever invented that thing should be hit upside the head with a crowbar -- or at least a cane or a pool cue," the country icon growls over the phone, referring to the Breathalyzer-type device linked to a car's ignition system that he had to blow into to start his car. "You know it's not even technically legal, but they do a lot of things differently there in Arizona."

Campbell had the Intoxalock installed in his car as part of a deal he struck with an Arizona court last year. He pleaded guilty to extreme drunken driving (blood alcohol level of more than .15) and leaving the scene of an accident. He got 10 days in jail with two years of probation.

But the 69-year-old great-grandfather would like to put the incident behind him, along with the Intoxalock and even Arizona. After living there for more than two decades, last month he and his wife, Kim, moved to Malibu. Campbell says they were looking for "cooler weather and we wanted to be closer to our youngest daughter, who's going to Pepperdine [University]" in the fall.

Closing in on his 70th birthday, Campbell has outlived many of his contemporaries and continues to record and tour. Last month, he joined Jimmy Webb (who wrote Campbell's hit "By the Time I Get to Phoenix") for a five-night stand of cabaret shows in New York -- and they may put out a new record this year. But ordinarily the singer has been sticking to casino gigs, "where I've got a built-in audience and I can play to a room of 300 or 1,000 people a night and it's different at every shot."

Born in rural Arkansas, the country veteran got his first guitar when he was 4 and started playing in his uncle's band while still a teen. In his early 20s, he moved to Los Angeles, where his guitar chops earned him session work with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees and Dean Martin. He even served as a Beach Boy in 1965, when Brian Wilson was ill.

Although he's considered a virtuoso guitarist, Campbell never studied music formally and says he still doesn't read music. "But I just can't remember a time when I didn't sing and play," he says. "It's just like walking and talking to me."

Taking off in a hurry

By 1967, the singer had broken through as a solo artist with "Gentle On My Mind" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," which together earned him five Grammy Awards that year.

From there he churned out a stream of pop and country hits including "I Wanna Live," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston." And by the time he got to 1969, Campbell had become one of the nation's top entertainers, co-starring with John Wayne in True Grit, serving as host of CBS' popular Glen Campbell Good Time Hour, and selling more records than the Beatles.

The early '70s saw Campbell fall into a slump, but by 1975, he had sprung back to the top with "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Southern Nights." Throughout the tumultuous '80s, the singer dedicated and rededicated himself to God while battling drug and alcohol addictions and working through a string of troubled relationships.

The '90s were marked by a more relaxed touring schedule, Campbell's tell-all autobiography, Rhinestone Cowboy (which he says "I wish I hadn't written") and the opening of his Goodtime Theater in kitschy Branson, Mo. Many of the stories written about him at the beginning of this decade focused on his 80-song boxed set, The Legacy (1961-2002), and reformed life as a devoted Phoenix dad, husband and golfer who had beat his addictions and faithfully attended the Beth Simchat HaMashiach temple (a synagogue for people who worship Jesus) near his home.

But then came the DUI arrest in November 2003. And the headlines. And the now-infamous mug shot.

"I'd never been arrested in my life," Campbell says, "but they threw the book at me."

Still, it may not have been all bad.

"I don't think the DUI thing really impacted him," says John Howell, a DJ for the nationally syndicated radio show Country Gold. "It's almost like a celebrity badge of honor to have a nasty mug shot, and his was one of the nastiest. It's still the No. 1 mug shot at our station. And I know he is highly embarrassed by the incident, but it probably helps more than it hurts him in a purely ... show biz sense because it raised awareness of him in the general public."

Guitar master

What the general public should be more aware of, Howell says, is Campbell's guitar genius. He's "an extraordinarily gifted guitarist not only in country music, but he's also a bebopper extraordinare ... and a Django Reinhart freak."

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