Country music legend Glen Campbell

The iconic singer-songwriter discusses his new CD, “Ghost on the Canvas,” and, with his wife Kimberly, shares what life is like with his recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

In 50+ years in the business, Glen Campbell has released more than 70 albums, had numerous hits, including "Rhinestone Cowboy” and "Wichita Lineman"—named one of the 20th century’s greatest songs­—and hosted a TV variety show. The Country Music Hall of Famer made Grammy history by winning in both the country and pop categories in ‘67 and has inspired a number of artists. In June, he announced his diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease and his intention to release his final CD, "Ghost on the Canvas," and launch a farewell tour before retiring from the industry.


Tavis: So honored to welcome Glen Campbell and his lovely wife, Kim, to this program. Despite a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s earlier this year, in fact, Glen Campbell has just released a much-talked-about new CD called “Ghost on the Canvas,” which will be followed by a major tour this year as well. Before we get to all that, here, though, now, some of the video for the song, “A Better Place.”


Tavis: The thing I’ve always loved about country-western music is that the storytelling is the best there is. You can’t do better than the stories that are told. You can’t do better than the lyrical content. The moment that song started to play, Glen Campbell, I heard him whisper to Kim, “What a great song.” It really is a great song.

Glen Campbell: Oh, thank you, yeah.

Tavis: It’s a great song.

Campbell: It is; I love it.

Tavis: I’m sitting here trying to juxtapose, trying to square that line in the song we just heard, that the world’s been good to me. How does Glen Campbell say that the world’s been good to me when you just got diagnosed this year with Alzheimer’s?

Campbell: Well, I’ve had so many blessings, what came out of that. It seemed like everything just fell into place and I haven’t been anything – I don’t have – (unintelligible) about what this is. I don’t even know what it is, what that they say I’ve got, but I haven’t noticed it.

Tavis: Kim, have you noticed it?

Kim Woollen: Yes, he’s forgetful.

Campbell: Well, everybody’s forgetful, yeah. (Laughter)

Woollen: Yeah, I’m forgetful.

Campbell: I do that on purpose.

Tavis: Yeah, if that’s a symptom I think we’re all kind of guilty.

Campbell: It worked, it worked.

Woollen: It kind of ebbs and flows, and he’ll have good days and bad days, and or be just maybe a bad hour where he’ll ask the same question over and over and over and over.

Campbell: Oh, I just do that –

Woollen: Just kind of get in a loop or something.

Campbell: I just do that to bug you.

Woollen: I would believe that, yeah. (Laughter)

Tavis: But I assume – you tell me if I’m right or wrong here, Glen – I assume, though, that the Alzheimer’s challenge notwithstanding, it sounds to me like looking at your stuff, that when you’re singing, the stuff still comes to you.

Campbell: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: You can still do the singing part, obviously.

Campbell: Oh, yeah, that’s fun. I don’t remember not singing. I started when I was, I don’t know how – what, two years old, or a year old or something like that.

Tavis: You started really young, but how did you develop that fast fingerpicking thing that you do? How did you develop that?

Campbell: My Uncle Boo.

Tavis: Uncle Boo.

Campbell: My dad’s brother.

Tavis: Uncle Boo.

Campbell: My Uncle Boo, B-O-O.

Tavis: All right. (Laughter)

Campbell: He taught me how to play guitar, and in fact, I think it might have hit this one here. He said if I didn’t use my little finger, he said – he’d make me go (makes noise) and he’d make me use my little finger.

He said, “If you ain’t going to use that finger, I’ll just cut it off,” and I said, “Oh, no, don’t cut it off.” (Laughter) But that’s the way it was, and I just started playing the calisthenics and everything I do, go (makes noise) I make sure that I use this little finger. It has worked. It sure got me a lot of studio work.

Tavis: A lot of studio work, and speaking of studio work, I was blown away – I knew this in my head, but I hadn’t really concentrated or focused on it until I started preparing and doing my research for this conversation. Some of the songs that started jumping out at me that featured your playing and the range – “Strangers in the Night,” Frank Sinatra, that’s you playing?

Campbell: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: “Viva Las Vegas,” that fast thing that Elvis does, that’s you playing?

Campbell: Yeah.

Tavis: You have had a lot of studio work.

Campbell: Oh, boy, it was fun, let me tell you. I’ve never seen that much money. (Laughter)

Tavis: From Frank Sinatra to Elvis, it doesn’t get much better than that, Glen Campbell.

Campbell: Oh, I know, it doesn’t. Isn’t that something? Old Elvis, he was something else, boy. He would go into Vegas for a month and I’d go behind him for a month, or vice-versa, because we did it for years – seemed like it’s been years, anyway. I really enjoyed the whole shooting match with – just this world has. It’s a better place, and it sure gave it to me, man.

Tavis: When did you know – I’m going to ask you to set your humility aside for just a second. You’ve played with all these greats, and obviously you are great, you’re an icon yourself. When did you know that you had made it, not as a studio musician? When did you know that you, Glen Campbell, had made it as an artist himself?

Campbell: When Ray Charles told me, “That’s good, son.” (Laughter) My hair’s standing up now. Nobody’s ever asked me that.

Tavis: What was it – I think I get it, but what was it about the validation of Ray Charles, what was it about Ray Charles telling you that that let you know that you were pretty good?

Campbell: Oh, he was the best singer, best – just incredible. He was an incredible human being, and just – he played piano. Man, I got to do his albums with him. I got to play rhythm guitar on those things, and I just treasure those, man. I guess you got to take them out of – I’ve got to get those out again, because I forgot them. (Laughter)

Woollen: Okay.

Tavis: I got the pun. Did you get that? You picked up on that, Kim?

Woollen: I got it.

Campbell: She’s got to remember me now.

Tavis: We’re on a TV set, obviously, and this is no strange place to you. You’ve spent years on TV sets. Let me ask you to take me back to the days of doing your own TV show and how much you enjoyed that and what you recall about that period of your life, doing your own TV show.

Campbell: Oh, it was a lot of fun. I could get people that I really liked, like the Ray Charleses. I got every good singer.

Tavis: Stevie Wonder.

Campbell: Yeah. I got them all on the TV show, because I wanted to show something in every (unintelligible) some stuff you hear on the radio or on the TV. But I’d get the best singers, and I thought the best players that I thought, and I’d have them come on the “Good Time” show.

Tavis: Kim, I’m sitting here looking at Glen Campbell, and we all know the (stammers) degenerative nature – I can’t even say the word – the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s. We know that over time, with all that can be done and is being done at the moment, it’s going to wane over time.

He’s obviously in good spirits today; he looks good, sounds good. I would not know, but for the fact that somebody told me that Glen Campbell has Alzheimer’s –

Campbell: I know, I didn’t, either. (Laughter)

Tavis: See? He doesn’t know either. How do you process what the years ahead are going to be like?

Woollen: Well, I don’t really think about it a lot. Just try to take each day as it comes and make the most out of every day and enjoy life together, and just trust God that he’s going to provide what we need during those hard years that are probably ahead.

Tavis: Not that these past 30 years you’ve been together have not been special, but when you get a diagnosis like this, because there’s so many Americans who are dealing with this and others who will be in obviously the coming months and years, when you get a diagnosis like this, what’s it do for the relationship, if I can ask that?

Woollen: It makes you more understanding.

Campbell: Boy, that’s great. (Laughter)

Woollen: I think there were times when I was – yeah. I can get away with a lot more now, too, so that’s good.

Campbell: Yeah, you can. You never got (unintelligible).

Woollen: He’s mad at me, “Ah, he’ll forget about it in a few minutes.” (Laughter) I don’t have to worry.

Campbell: Yeah, yeah.

Woollen: I just act like I don’t know what he’s talking about.

Tavis: I assume, though, it makes the moments now even all that more special.

Woollen: They are. They are. We’re really enjoying traveling together and doing shows, and our kids have a band called Instant People and they back him up. So we travel with our three children.

Tavis: So it really is a family affair.

Woollen: Yeah.

Tavis: Wow.

Woollen: Yeah, they’re good musicians and singers.

Campbell: Grew me a bunch of them and they’re right there, man.

Tavis: And put them to work in the band.

Campbell: Put them to work.

Woollen: Yeah.

Campbell: They just love it. The kids – my kids, my drummer, he could play drums before he could walk.

Tavis: Is it fair to say that this is the last Glen Campbell we’re going to see? Is this the big farewell tour?

Campbell: Not if she keeps blowing money like she has. (Laughter)

Woollen: So we’ll keep playing as long as we can.

Tavis: Kim, for our sake, please keep blowing money. Please keep – you spend that money, Kim, so Glen will have to stay on tour and have to do the works.

Glen, tell me about this new album, “Ghost on the Canvas.” I assume you like it?

Campbell: Yeah, I really do. I sat over there with Julian and – Julian, that’s his name.

Woollen: Julian Raymond, your producer.

Campbell: I have to sing “Happy Birthday to Me” four times before I even knew who I am now. (Laughter) (Singing) “Happy birthday to me.” Julian, the guy that produced it; and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

Tavis: Wow.

Campbell: He really did – boy, I just said that (unintelligible). Whatever I could put some little top on, it was – I’m really, really pleased with it.

Tavis: Of all the stuff that you’ve done and all the hits you’ve had and all the great stuff you’ve done, how do you label this the best you’ve ever done? You’ve got a lot of good stuff behind you now.

Campbell: Oh, yes, I know. Well, the best today. (Laughter)

Tavis: The best today – I’ll take that.

Campbell: I do, I try to – from bar one, I always – from doing studio work, we had a group of guys there that could just – when they’d play we’d get it done like that. I’ll never forget he was doing like a Sinatra album – who’s the other guy? Oh, God, he was so funny?

Woollen: Dean Martin?

Campbell: Dean Martin. He was incredible. But I really enjoyed that, probably more than anything in my career.

Tavis: The studio stuff.

Campbell: Yeah, the studio stuff, because I got to play with the best musicians in the world and I got to hear the best in the world sing.

Tavis: Glen Campbell’s a modest guy, because there are a whole bunch of folk, I can assure you, who would say the same thing about him, about the honor it was for them to have spent time with him on his TV show, on the road, in the studio.

He is an icon. That’s a word that’s, I think, overused in our society these days. Everybody who gets called an icon ain’t really an icon, but Glen Campbell is iconic in the world of music. He has a new project out. It’s called “Glen Campbell: Ghost on the Canvas.” It’s a great piece of work.

Glen Campbell, I am honored to meet you; I’m honored to have you on this program. Thank you, sir.

Campbell: Well, thank you, man.

Tavis: It’s my pleasure. And Kim, an honor to meet you.

Woollen: Thank you so much for having us.

Tavis: All the best in the coming months and years.

Woollen: Thank you.

Campbell: Thank you, appreciate it.

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Last modified: September 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm