Friends and colleagues of the late and great Glen Campbell have been reminiscing about his artistic legacy in general, and his particular expertise as both a singer and guitarist on the demo recordings he made for Elvis Presley. The tracks he cut from 1964-68, for Elvis’ consideration to record himself, have been unearthed and assembled on the album Glen Campbell Sings For The King.
Offering their thoughts about the much-missed Campbell are Stan Schneider, initially his accountant and then his manager from 1975 until his death; Steven Auerbach, who unearthed the demo recordings and whose wife’s uncle was Ben Weisman, who wrote the material on the album with Sid Wayne; singer-composer-producer Jerry Fuller, who was a close and longtime friend of the star; and world-renowned drummer Hal Blaine, Campbell’s fellow-member of the session A-listers known as The Wrecking Crew.
United in songs, and then in superstardom
Schneider met Glen Campbell when the former was Gene Autry’s accountant, and Glen was doing demos for Autry’s publishing company and looking for an accountant himself. “Working with Glen was very easy,” he says. “He was very laidback, just like you saw him on TV. He took advice and direction very well, and he became one of my closest friends for many years.”
Recalling his early impressions of the hugely sought-after session guitarist in the early 60s, before Campbell’s own breakthrough as a singing star and television personality, Schneider says: “I’m thinking, How can this guy work so much? But he worked morning, noon and night doing those sessions because he was in big demand. By that time, he had been established as probably the go-to guitar player in [Los Angeles].
“He could play any genre of music”
“It seemed like he could play any genre of music. He could do The Mamas And The Papas and he could do Andy Williams or Frank Sinatra. It was easy, he could learn a song in two seconds. He didn’t read music, but he would hear it and then, boom, he would start out.”
Some of the performances on Sings For The King showcase Campbell’s talents not only as a vocalist and guitarist, but as a mimic: he offers an accurate impersonation of Presley’s singing style. “He did a lot of sessions all the time because he could sing like anybody,” says Schneider. “If he did a Johnny Mathis song he’d sing like Johnny. If he did a Johnny Cash song he’d sing like Johnny. He was just that versatile. Just like his guitar playing, he could do anybody.”
Campbell and Presley first met in 1956, when the new figurehead of rock’n’roll played a show in Albuquerque; Glen had recently moved there to join his uncle’s band, Dick Bills And The Sandia Mountain Boys. In later years, they became firm friends.
“Glen was absolutely a tremendous fan of Elvis,” says his former manager. “Sinatra and Elvis were his favourite singers. Elvis wasn’t that much older, but Elvis was a star by the time Glen was doing sessions. Those were the two that he thought were the two best singers that there ever were, and he got to work with both of them.
“The artists that he always mentioned [were] working with Elvis on the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack and working with Frank on ‘Strangers In The Night’. Whenever he talked about his sessions, he always talked about those two.” By the time Campbell was a solo star, his working schedule brought him even closer to Presley.
“We would play the same hotel, the International Hotel [in Las Vegas],” Schneider recalls, “and I remember one time, Glen closed and Elvis opened the next day. Elvis came to Glen’s show and Glen went to Elvis’ show, and they visited after each show up in the room.”
“As he opened that mouth, I thought, This guy is going to go a long way”
When Campbell was living and working in Albuquerque, he went to see The Champs (most famous for their 1958 instrumental hit, ‘Tequila’), even going backstage to get their autographs. Their touring band included Jerry Fuller, who gave Campbell the encouragement he needed to further his career. “When I heard that voice, he played a few things on guitar and I was knocked out by that, of course, but as soon as he opened that mouth and music came out I thought, This guy is going to go a long way.
“I thought he was going to be a star immediately, he just had to get out of Albuquerque,” Fuller remembers. “So I talked to him and I said, ‘You’re gonna die on the vine down here.’ I gave him my phone number and address, and I said, ‘Look me up in Los Angeles, because you’re wasting away down here and you’re going to do big things.’”
Campbell took Fuller up on his offer, showing up at his door some four months later, soon finding his own apartment in Los Angeles and bringing his family out. With his friend’s help, he auditioned for The Champs and landed the gig.
“Dave Burgess was the owner and leader of The Champs and he had seen Glen too in Albuquerque. He’d said, ‘Do you know “Train To Nowhere”?’ and Glen would play it. Obscure things on their albums and of course ‘Tequila’, and everything he asked for Glen knew it and he played it for him. Fuller remembers Burgess telling Campbell, “Well I’ve got a slightly untailored suit that you can wear.”
“They had to wear uniforms in those days, so he brought out this red suit for Glen to wear. He said, ‘Here take this and get it fixed.’ We thanked Glen and went back to the car and I remember Glen waiting, he rolled the windows up so nobody could hear him and he said, ‘I’m a Champ!’”
Fuller and Campbell began working on demos together, helping Fuller to gain an artist contract with Challenge Records. Word was soon spreading about Glen, too, and before long, he joined the hallowed ranks of The Wrecking Crew. The pair also played in many clubs, including The Crossbow, where a certain Elvis would visit whenever he was in town. “They had a little balcony to keep Elvis’ group out of the crowd down below,” says Fuller. “He invited the two of us up to say hello.”
The two musicians both went on to work with Ricky Nelson, and indeed Fuller wrote several of the pop idol’s hits, including ‘Travelin’ Man’. “At one point, [Elvis] used to have football games in his front yard. We were on Ricky’s team and Elvis had a team. It got pretty rough. It was supposed to be flag football but… people wound up with black eyes and things like that. We were just having a good time. I think that’s one of the places where Glen might have hooked up early with Elvis.”
“We were making so much money it was almost against the law”
Drummer Hal Blaine is another contemporary of Campbell’s who knew him when each of them “had absolutely nothing but our instruments”, as he puts it. “Everybody knew Glen, [he] was a terrific guy. He came along and he used to do the most – what musicians refer to as – off-the-wall solos. He could do anything. The point was, he sang. He could sound like anybody… like these various artists who were always looking for the new hit record.
“He was one of those musicians who came along, didn’t read a note of music, grew up in a very musical family but they were not school-taught musicians,” notes the drummer. “He played by ear. He could do some of the wildest solos known to man. It was incredible. And Glen just absolutely fell right in with us.”
Of the years in which they played together in The Wrecking Crew, Blaine adds: “We were doing literally two, three, four sessions a day. We’d play one three-hour session and during a break, somebody would run across and say, ‘We need a guitar solo, bring that guitar guy in that plays those solos. Put him on this record of ours, we need a hit. Bring the drummer; can you come in and do tambourine for us?’ We were making so much money it was ridiculous. It was almost against the law.”
The detective work that led to ‘Sings For The King’
Steven Auerbach learned of the very existence of Campbell’s Presley demos from Ben Weisman, his wife’s uncle, who wrote 57 songs that The King recorded – more than any other composer. “A big part about getting to know my uncle was learning about his career with Elvis,” Auerbach says. “He offhandedly mentioned that Glen would sing demos for him and I’d be like, ‘No way,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, before he was really Glen Campbell, he would sing demos.’
“Ben passed away in 2007 and I went into his storage space and literally there was about six shelves of reel-to-reel tapes,” recounts Auerbach. From one wall to the other, there must have been over a thousand tapes in there. Everyone was like, ‘What do we do with these?’ Someone actually said, ‘We trash them.’ Literally. ‘I can’t trash them, I don’t know what’s in them!’ Each box kind of represented a mystery of what would be in it.”
That mystery unfolded as Auerbach painstakingly went through the tapes. “It would say on the box the name of the song, that’s all it would say,” he explains. “And I thought, Well, maybe these Glen Campbell songs are in here. I thought the world would like to hear these songs. Slowly but surely, I went through the boxes.
“I had a little bit of a detective’s cap on. If there was anything written on a box that was anything associated with Elvis, I’d put that in a different pile from the ones that just seemed like random demos that never got recorded by artists. So now I had all these boxes and tapes and didn’t know what to do with them.”
Auerbach was then able to listen to the material with the help of Len Horowitz at History Of Recorded Sound in Culver City, Los Angeles. “We started listening to them. We heard a couple songs and were like, ‘I don’t know what this is, I don’t know who this is,’ and after about an hour and a half he put one tape in, and the tapes would fall apart as we would play them.
“We have Glen Campbell guitar work that nobody has ever heard before”
“The tape is 55 years old, so the adhesive is worn off. So in order just to hear a song it took a lot of effort to just keep resplicing it until we could listen to a stretch of it. After about an hour and a half we were like, ‘I think that’s Glen Campbell.’ And this started the process of going through boxes, putting tapes on his reel-to-reel player and listening. ‘Is that Glen? No. Is that Glen? Yes…’
“That revelation was understandably exciting. It was an incredible experience to hear the music and to hear Glen’s voice come alive like that,” Auerbach continues. “For me it was very thrilling because I knew Glen was singing in a genre that he really hadn’t sung much in. It was real rock’n’roll that Elvis’ writers were writing for him.”
The 18 tracks on Sings For The King include 12 that Presley did go on to record himself, such as the title songs from his movies Spinout, Clambake and Easy Come, Easy Go. “A lot of the song that you’ll hear… came from the movies,” says Auerbach. “You’ll hear every genre. You’ll hear a very bluesy song like ‘Any Old Time’… there’s just a great cross section of music from the gospel song that [kicks] off the album, ‘We Call On Him’, which is a very poignant song.
“There’s some rockabilly-type stuff, there’s some full-steam-ahead rock’n’roll songs on here, there’s some great country tunes and there’s some great ballads. There’s a little mixture of every kind of genre, and Elvis liked that too. Elvis would jump from genre to genre and I think this album represents what Elvis’ musical interests were, which Ben and Glen were trying to capture on the way to presenting material to The King.
“We have Glen Campbell guitar work that nobody has ever heard before,” notes Auerbach. “It’s kind of a surreal experience to have this coming to life, and I really hope that people understand the spirit in which these recordings were made and what they were intended for.”
“Glen was an icon,” says Hal Blaine affectionately. “He just [went] from zero to a million. He was one in a million.”
Concludes Schneider: “I think that Glen would be proud to know that… demos that he did for Elvis Presley would be released as an album [on which] he’s saluting the King.”
Glen Campbell Sings For The King is out now and can be bought here.