Glen Campbell's voice raised Webb's words to literature, loaded with mystery, longing and romance. Campbell's working man reaches mythical heroism. The lush orchestration somehow works with the portrait of American rural loneliness.
Campbell's solo on the guitar's bass strings, augmented by Wrecking Crew colleague Carol Kaye's bass riffs and fellow guitar wizard James Burton's backing, is a masterpiece.
When Campbell sings "The Wichita lineman is still on the line," his voice hits a higher octave, a moment that makes the song a great poem.
Campbell died Tuesday at age 81 after a heroic and public battle with Alzheimer's, which didn't stop his music until the very end. For future generations, the Wichita lineman will remain on the line forever.
What a wonderful and courageous American life he led, overcoming crushing rural poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and a debilitating disease.
In thrall to songwriting acts like Dylan, the Beatles, the Band and the Stones, I was among those who didn't appreciate Campbell until much too late. Campbell was too wholesome and middle American. He was a throwback to an earlier generation when singers like Frank Sinatra interpreted other people's songs. In an age of protest and social change, Campbell stood for old-fashioned values, although he like Elvis succumbed to rock star temptations.
Following the path of Elvis, who also didn't write songs, Campbell transformed country into urban music, along with Webb. Obituaries call Campbell's music a pop-country hybrid, but he was his own genre.
Smoother and softer than Elvis, Campbell also found success in television and the movies. Unlike Elvis, Campbell was a virtuouso guitarist, more exacting and inventive than countercultural guitar gods who received more acclaim.
His interpretations of Webb's songs form the core of his career, but his rendition of John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind" is a landmark, combining his singing with a guitar solo that matches the best jazz performances. He also showed the popularity of Allen Toussaint's "Southern Nights," leading Toussaint to reclaim the song as an anthem of Southern black culture. Campbell's late recordings are a brilliant final act to his career.
Campbell was a great, great talent, an American original.