There's always been a dark edge lurking behind the glittery pop and warm strings of Glen Campbell. Yet, it's taken an unexpected album, culled from a series of time-killing studio outtakes, to reveal this side of Campbell. See You There, coming August 6 on Surfdog Records, takes more than a handful of Campbell's best-loved hits and refashions them into soul-searching, gritty, raw, emotional, and evocative numbers.
"There's more resonance to the songs as he's aged," Kim Campbell, Glen's wife of more than 30 years said during a recent phone interview with Up on the Sun. "He wanted to re-sing them and do them a little more mellow and laid back."
The 77-year-old Campbell's voice has deepened over the years, but that only serves to give these stripped-down songs -- including "Galveston," "Gentle on My Mind," "True Grit," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Rhinestone Cowboy" -- more texture, heartfelt depth, and anguish. Brush away the pop trappings, and the longing and heartache that embodies these songs surfaces.
Campbell cut the new vocal tracks during the sessions for Ghost on the Canvas, his previous release. Between takes for that album, producer Julian Raymond asked Campbell to sing some of his hits, accompanying himself on guitar, and maybe with some other, limited instrumentation.
"Julian wanted to hear Glen sing some of his classic hits. It was more Julian's choice, what Julian was loving at that moment," she recalls. "But Glen loves all his stuff. He's never been one to record a song he didn't like. They were playing around."
But even playing around Campbell gave each song his full attention. The tracks proved powerful enough that Raymond eventually passed a disc of the recordings to Surfdog Records owner Dave Kaplan, who "melted" the instant he heard the opening vocals to "Hey Little One."
"I said, 'this needs to be heard,'" Kaplan tells Up on the Sun by phone from his Encinitas, California headquarters. "When I heard those three words, I thought, honestly, from my heart, this is an absolute no brainer."
"(Kaplan) was so excited that he asked if he could build around the tracks and try to make something special out of them," Campbell says. "We trust him, and we were excited to hear what he could do with them."
Kaplan enlisted longtime collaborator and co-producer Dave Darling and stripped the demos clean everything but Campbell and his guitar. The pair then supplied new instrumentation, including banjo, pedal steel, accordion, banjo and a little fuzz, in reconditioning the masterpieces to be "more artistic and minimalistic."
"When you first listen to them you're so used to the old versions that it takes a little bit to get used to," Campbell adds. "When we heard the finished pieces we were just really happy. Glen had a big smile on his face. He was very pleased."
Kaplan took a few minutes to discuss the process of making See You There (which also includes several holdover tracks from the Ghost on the Canvas sessions), beginning with his introduction to the demos, giving the songs proper respect, and the hair-raising moment he played the completed album for Glen and Kim Campbell.
Up on the Sun: So, Glen sang new vocals for a number of his songs during the Ghost on the Canvas sessions. How did you come to hear these recordings? Dave Kaplan: Julian (Raymond) just gave me a CD of the recordings. From what I understand, I wasn't in the room, it was like, "Hey Glen, let's do 'Wichita Lineman' with just a few people in the room." So it was a very basic arrangement and it never seemed there was a strategy, it was just something to do. After a couple years there was this collection of songs and he handed me this CD one day.
That must have been exciting. The first notes I heard was "Hey Little One," and that's why I opened the record with it, so listeners will get the same experience I did. I heard those three words and almost melted into my chair. I said, "this needs to be heard."
The first thing on my mind, like anyone else's, was why would you do these songs again, they are masterpieces? "Wichita Lineman," "Galveston," "Phoenix..." why would you do it? And, is the intention just to put out another Glen Campbell record because of the sad reality of his inability to keep doing this much longer. Of course, that was resonating: This better have supreme justification.
So when I heard those three words, I thought, honestly, from my heart, this is an absolute no brainer. It was stunningly otherworldly. It was that good. It was very emotional, haunting, uplifting, exciting and sad all at the same time because of what we know about Glen and the brilliance of that voice. I've been doing this a long time, almost 30 years, and I don't know what it is about a voice, it either speaks to your soul or not. And this is one of the one's in all recorded history that does it the best.
Glen's voice on these songs still sounds commanding and rich. I asked Julian if I could take this collection and do something that respects these vocals, almost trying to stay out of the way and not go near the original approaches -- you're not going to make them better.
How do we respect these vocals and make them deserved to be heard again; make it authentic and artistic, but not a commercial mission? Make it so that on the day I take these to Glen and Kim at their house there's a little hair rising on their arms, a little choke back tears, because it's such a moving record?
We took a year with many, many, many, many, many different approaches. I don't know how many times we tried "Rhinestone Cowboy" until we figured out to take everything away -- everything, and put a guitar in. When we heard that, it was, "Oh my God, that's it."
That song in particular it struck me as being so different from the original. The whole pop-hit aspect was gone and now we're getting the core of the song, which is really an aching, painful song on the inside. I'm glad you say that because, to be honest, I had no idea that's what we were going for. We just keep trying it and it kept sounding like exactly what I was not going to let happen. We weren't just going to put "Rhinestone Cowboy" on the record because it needs to be on the record. I wasn't going to do it.
This record was already mastered with a different version of the song, but I kept thinking, this ain't going to happen. In my gut it just wasn't right. I so frustrated my partner in this, David Darling, because it just couldn't go out like that. But when we tried (the current version) it shocked the crap out of me.
All of a sudden it was like there was a darkness to "Rhinestone Cowboy." Whoever thought you could make that statement? There was loneliness and darkness and you couldn't picture Glen on that beautiful horse; that good-looking guy in the cowboy hat with the white smile. That's not what it was about anymore.
And we can't help but know that behind the story there is a 77-year-old legend who was so bold and courageous to come out with a public illness and that's obviously a subtext to everything about Glen now, which makes us really sad. But when you have something like this, it honors the man.
And he liked it? One of the most nervous moments, and one of the best moments of my music career was the first 30 seconds of hitting play when we finally had this ready to present to Kim and Glen and seeing the smile on his face.
You started with vocal tracks Glen had previously recorded. Did Glen come in and touch anything up, and was everything else the work of other musicians brought in to play around the vocals? This had, I'm proud to say, nothing redone. A lot of the guitar is Glen's on there. There's some of the old Glen guitar because he sang as he played them in the studio. There's Glen guitar and Glen vocals, but ... I asked Julian if I could strip away everything that wasn't Glen, and put around it a more artistic and minimalistic approach from what he gave me.
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The first time I listened to the album, I was stunned and listened to it several times. It made me think of the Johnny Cash American Recordings, only rather an album of songs stripped bare and brutal, the fresh instrumentation balances the raw emotion enough that it really captures Glen's strength, but also the original essence of each classic song. It's meaningful for me to hear you say that. There's a lot of burden on the shoulders of that man and his whole family. If you look at all the things we've done (including the American Treasure box set), we try to honor him. I have no idea if this will go anywhere or get on the radio, but to get a (positive) reaction makes it all worthwhile. We hope it goes the right way; there's a big risk.
But I'm telling you, when I heard the words "Hey," "Little" and "One" come out of that man's voice, I was determined to make this record.
Glen Campbell - See You There Track Listing. (Listen to "Hey Little One.")
1. Hey Little One 2. Wichita Lineman 3. Gentle On My Mind 4. I Wish You Were Here 5. Waiting on the Comin' of My Lord 6. What I Wouldn't Give 7. Galveston 8. By the Time I Get to Phoenix 9. There's No Me...Without You 10. True Grit 11. Rhinestone Cowboy 12. Waiting on the Comin' of My Lord feat. Jose Hernandez & Mariachi Del Sol De Mexico