By 1968, smash singles like Gentle on My Mind and By the Time I Get to Phoenix propelled Glen Campbell into Country Entertainer of the Year, four Grammys, a CBS series and $3 million per. But when friends fretted that the trappings of superstardom might entrap the glossy-cheeked ex-cotton-chopper from Delight (pop. 439), Ark., Glen shrugged, “I don’t know. Ask me in eight years.”
Time’s up, but the answer may yet be up for grabs. Campbell has swung a long way from the days when he had to supplement his income hustling matches at bowling alleys and married for the first time when he was only 17. Now his sport is more chic—he has a private tennis court and his own golf tourney, the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open. But he still walks the course in cleated cowboy boots and is approaching his upcoming third marriage, to the estranged wife of singer Mac Davis, with all the bourgeois niceties. Even Glen’s latest hits hymn his ambivalence. Rhinestone Cowboy confesses, There’s been a load of compromisin’/On the road to my horizon. And Country Boy notes, You got your feet in L.A./But your mind’s on Tennessee./They tell you that you’re gonna go far/But in the back of my mind,/I hear it time after time:/Is that who you really are?
Just possibly, it is not so much Glen Campbell that has compromised and come around but America. Who he really is may be the quintessential music man of the Southern Rim, an apolitical Jimmy Carter of Tin Pan Alley. Certainly, at 39, Glen has personally just come back into his own. Rhinestone Cowboy, which was nominated for three Grammys and won two American Music Awards, was his first record gusher after five dry years.
Domestically, he feels reborn, too, after living four months with Sarah Davis. Actually, reports Campbell, his second wife, Billie Jean, asked him to leave her (and their three kids, aged 14, 10 and 7) after 16 years. He complains that she arbitrarily and unfoundedly put down his choice of music, including Rhinestone Cowboy (“She would say ‘That song’s no good’ instead of ‘That isn’t the kind of song I like,’ ” he recalls). “But if she hadn’t asked me to go,” sighs Glen, “I’d probably still be there.” (Explaining his immediate attraction for Sarah Davis, Campbell says, “I can’t be alone,” and adds, “We’re going to get married as soon as all the papers are in.”)
The lurid stories about him as housebreaker infuriate Campbell. “Mac was my friend,” he says, “and still is as far as I’m concerned, although I can understand how he might be bitter. I don’t go off with other people’s wives and don’t care for people who do. After Billie had filed for divorce, I went with a date to Mac and Sarah’s for dinner. Then Sarah left Mac, which I found out when I called him to play golf. I don’t know what their problem was and don’t want to know, but that marriage was over.”
Right now, Glen and Sarah, 24, rent a house that once belonged to Dick Powell and June Allyson, having decided against a million-dollar Beverly Hills estate built for Charles Boyer and later inhabited by Howard Hughes. The only hilly terrain in their past (Sarah is from Wichita, Kans.) was the Arkansas Ozarks. Glen, the seventh son in a family of eight boys and four girls, had to share a bed with three brothers. Camp bell’s dad bought him a $5 mail-order guitar when he was 4—but there was no electricity for him to plug into. Glen sang in the local Church of Christ where his grandaddy was preacher. Then, at 14, he left school “because they didn’t teach me what I wanted to know, which was pickin’ and grinnin’.” Self-taught on the music of Hank Williams and Frank Sinatra and by eavesdropping outside local gospel services, Campbell hit the road for Albuquerque with his Uncle Boo’s band, playing in “dancin’ and fightin’ clubs.”
Diane Kirk was 15 when Campbell married her “because I believed in taking responsibility.” They divorced, amicably, three years later and their daughter, Debbie, now 19, is an aspiring singer in California with a group called the Sky People. Within nine months, Campbell was remarried to beautician Billie Jean Nunley, and a year later they rode west to California where Glen established himself as a masterful triple threat in studio work—picking guitar and banjo, and performing melody and harmony vocals. By the mid-’60s he was earning into the six figures, and worked with such diverse stars as Presley, Sinatra and Haggard. In one year Glen claimed 500 separate recordings, and for six months in 1965, he stood in for Brian Wilson on a Beach Boys tour. His only career setback was as a movie actor opposite his hero John Wayne in True Grit (one critic called him “the ideal cowboy to chase a wooden Indian”).
After a guest spot on Joey Bishop’s TV show, he was signed as the Smothers Brothers summer replacement in 1968, and his natural Nielsen appeal filled up the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour for four years. Off-camera and onstage in Vegas, Campbell cottons to gently off-color jokes. A sample: “Why don’t Baptists make love standing up? They’re afraid people will think they’re dancing.” But he never cut off from his heritage. “With the first money I got, I built my parents a house back home, gave them a string of credit cards and said ‘Go.’ ” His mom and dad, 70 and 73, still join him on the road several times a year, to add their down-home humor and music to his act. But when they have earned $1,200 apiece in any given year, they stop—so as not to louse up their eligibility for Social Security.
Ideally, he’d like to join them back in Arkansas. “Now I really feel the need,” he says, “to go back home, float down the Missouri River and fish for bass and crappies. It’s real peaceful and remote from things like telephones. I’m a take-me-as-l-am person, and all the rest is water under the bridge. You can’t change yesterday any more than you can predict what’s gonna happen tomorrow,” says Campbell. “What I try to do is live with myself and please me. If I can’t do that, I can’t please anybody else or live with anybody else.”