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POP MUSIC

Fading with grace

Despite his Alzeimer's diagnosis, Glen Campbell is proud of his new album and is preparing for a farewell tour.

August 28, 2011|Randy Lewis

At Glen Campbell's house in Malibu, a large framed painting of the great Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt hangs over a baby grand piano in the living room.

Campbell is proud of the portrait of the musician who quite possibly is Campbell's biggest hero on the instrument with which both men came to fame, happily showing it off to a visitor on an overcast morning recently.

"I was walking down the street -- not this one...," he says, prompting his wife, Kim, to remind him: "Rodeo Drive."

"Rodeo Drive," he confirms, "and here's Django! I bought it for $225."

Kim, sitting next to him around the island amid their kitchen, calmly interjects, "Not on Rodeo you didn't!"

Campbell pauses, looks at her, reconsidering his remark. "How much was it?"

"I think it was more like $2,000."

He pauses again for a split second, then jokes, "Well, shoot, sell it back. I've seen it enough now."

Some of the facts of his 75 years may be getting a bit hazy as the five-time Grammy-winning singer of hits including "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Galveston," and "Rhinestone Cowboy" contends with the Alzheimer's disease he recently made public.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 08, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Glen Campbell: An Aug. 28 Arts & Books section article about singer-guitarist Glen Campbell said the musician's TV show, "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," ran from 1968 to 1972. It premiered Jan. 29, 1969. He did have a variety show on CBS in summer 1968, but it was called "The Summer Brothers Smothers Show," a replacement for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 11, 2011 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 3 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Glen Campbell: An Aug. 28 article about singer-guitarist Glen Campbell said the musician's TV show, "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," ran from 1968 to 1972. It premiered Jan. 29, 1969. He did have a variety show on CBS in summer 1968, but it was called "The Summer Brothers Smothers Show," a replacement for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."

But the quick country-boy wit, long a staple of his concerts and a big part of what made him a TV star four decades ago on "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," is intact, ever-ready to pounce on a good setup line.

To upend the adage, at Campbell's house lights may be starting to flicker, but he's still home and happy to be there.

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Hard at work

Campbell decided to share his condition because he wants to continue performing as long as he can, and he wants audiences to know the truth.

"Ghost on the Canvas," which he is describing as his final album, comes out Tuesday, and next year he plans to go full bore into his Goodbye Tour, envisioned as a string of performances in various countries that may stretch as long as two years, if Campbell's health holds out. He's starting it with a few shows in the U.S., including an Oct. 6 show at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, before fall dates in England, Ireland and Scotland.

He speaks of the new album with great zeal, but on this day as he struggles with some of the symptoms most commonly associated with Alzheimer's -- failing memory, occasional disorientation, difficulty completing conversations -- he often looks for help from Kim and from Julian Raymond, his cowriter and producer.

"It's your amazing grace," Campbell sings, delivering the title and key hook from one of the five new songs he and Raymond wrote for the collection. "That melody is so great. I've got that song in my head all the time." Indeed, he returns to it repeatedly throughout the hourlong interview. He's dressed in a comfortable T-shirt and jeans, his once perfectly coiffed ash blond hair short and unkempt for a midmorning visit.

That and the other Campbell-Raymond originals are interwoven with songs written for him by Jakob Dylan, Paul Westerberg and Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard, as well as half a dozen instrumental interludes representing periods across Campbell's life.

Describing the experience of working on a new album at 75, Campbell says: "I was surprised. It was so neat, everything just came together. The one that keeps going through my head is 'It's Your Amazing Grace,'" and he sings the phrase again. "I had to do that about 20 times. I finally got it."

Raymond shakes his head and smiles. "He did it twice." Turning to Campbell, he adds: "You've never done anything 20 times."

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Getting personal

"Ghost on the Canvas" may be the most movingly autobiographical work he's recorded, beyond even "Meet Glen Campbell," the 2008 set, also produced by Raymond, that revivified his career with covers of songs by Green Day, U2 and the Velvet Underground.

"A Better Place" opens the album with Campbell confessing, "I've tried and I have failed, Lord. I've won and I have lost." In "Any Trouble," one of two songs by Westerberg, Campbell seems to be addressing fans, his family or both as he sings, "Don't go to any trouble / You know I won't be here long."

"We all just wanted to make a modern version of what he did back in the day," says Raymond, who has produced records for the Dandy Warhols, Cheap Trick and Rosanne Cash, among others, and is now a staff producer at Warner Bros. Records.

"It's your ama-a-zing grace," Campbell sings again, this time jumping to a perfectly rendered falsetto note as he stretches the word "amazing" into three syllables. It's a play, of course, on the gospel standard "Amazing Grace," which Campbell identifies as the first song he learned to sing. It also is an allusion to the many ways grace has touched his life, from making his way from Arkansas to Los Angeles and quickly finding work as a guitarist to Tommy Smothers spotting him on Joey Bishop's TV show and offering Campbell the chance to host his own show.

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