In an alternate world, had Glen Campbell not connected so forcefully with the record buying public with the back to back “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” singles during the summer of 1967, he very well could have been destined to be Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist in the TCB Band.
Seeking recruitments for his stage ensemble in July 1969, Elvis’ top two choices were Campbell and Telecaster maestro James Burton. The latter got the job, since Rick Nelson had disbanded his original team of backing cats a year earlier (Burton played on all of the original teen idol’s hits dating back to 1957).
However, nearly every time a mainstream news outlet examines Elvis and Campbell’s relationship, a glaring error emerges: Glen Campbell supposedly played lead guitar on the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s “Viva Las Vegas.”
According to Elvis music archivist-Sony Music Entertainment reissue producer Ernst Jorgensen, who has the session contracts, masters, and penned the supreme Elvis sessions book (i.e. Elvis Presley: A Life In Music), Campbell played guitar on only one Elvis studio recording—a frenetic, albeit slightly watered down cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say ” for the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack.
Recorded on Aug. 30, 1963 during a hastily arranged final soundtrack session at Radio Recorders in Hollywood when Campbell was a member of the illustrious Wrecking Crew backing musicians and not yet a successful solo artist, “What’d I Say” was released as a single with “Viva Las Vegas ” relegated to the B-side and stalled just shy of the Top 20 at No. 21. Guitarists Billy Strange and Alton Hendrickson were also present on the session, so it’s difficult to determine exactly what part Campbell is supplying.
That’s noted session guitar ace Billy Strange supplying the cool riffs on “Viva Las Vegas,” not Campbell as claimed by numerous “official” accounts and even the artist’s own publicity materials supplied to journalists. Independent Elvis session experts Joseph Tunzi and Keith Flynn confirm Jorgensen’s findings.
Obviously, Elvis admired his Southern brother’s musical catalog. Elvis’ rendition of “Gentle on My Mind ,” an album cut recorded in January 1969 for the return-to-form From Elvis in Memphis, is utterly outstanding and arguably the best cover of Campbell’s definitive single.
Another close contender is Dean Martin’s lovely version , recorded seven months before Elvis waxed his take to vinyl. Dino—or perhaps more accurately Reprise Records—fortuitously released it as an A-side. The John Hartford-penned composition ultimately rose to an astonishing No. 2 on the UK pop charts and became the major Elvis influence’s final hit.
There are also various live recordings where Elvis introduces the “Rhinestone Cowboy” balladeer sitting in the audience of the Las Vegas International Hotel, plus you can find the extremely cool images of the duo posing together on Dec. 5, 1970 at Memphis mafia-radio deejay George Klein’s wedding—where Elvis sports long hair, black velvet jacket, cigar dangling from his mouth, TCB sunglasses, and an out of place, elongated black police flashlight!
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! As charter members of L.A. studio wizards the Wrecking Crew, the Master of Telecaster, James Burton, was probably Glen Campbell’s most significant guitar compadre in the recording studio. Burton has supported a who’s who list of preeminent movers and shakers in a nearly 60-year career—notably Elvis, John Denver, the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Merle Haggard, and Brad Paisley. Burton joined Rick Nelson in late 1957 for the classic “Stood Up” b/w “Waitin’ in School” driving rockabilly single, actually rooming with the Nelson family and ultimately forging an 11-year friendship with the handsome singer. To read a revealing in-depth feature with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer commemorating his fascinating journey with Nelson [“Six String Brothers: James Burton Champions the Timeless Allure of Rick Nelson”], simply click on the highlighted link.
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Further Reading: When singer Bobbie Gentry burst onto the pop music landscape in 1967 during the Summer of Love with “Ode to Billie Joe”, who could have imagined the massive success awaiting her? The following year, Gentry recorded a duet album with Glen Campbell that featured the single “Let It Be Me” [their cover of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream” became an even bigger hit in the UK, but it was left off the LP]. To read about her enduring significance and exactly why she abandoned her career for anonymity, visit the following two-part article: “Ode to Bobbie G: The music and mystery of a Mississippi Delta Queen.”
Further Reading No. 2: Elvis Presley and Johnny Carson were two kings in their respective fields who admired each other’s work immensely. However, Elvis swore off watching The Tonight Show on the evening of his 40th birthday after Carson supposedly uttered a “fat and forty” joke in his nightly monologue. Subsequent retellings of the episode by members of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia have painted Carson in a negative light. But did the King of Late Night actually say those words 40 years ago? A viewing of the original televised clip and accompanying Tonight Show transcript presents stone cold evidence that will lay the claim to rest. Investigate “What Johnny Carson Really Said About Elvis” for the lowdown.
Exclusive Interview: Trailblazer Tommy Edwards was the first deejay in Cleveland to actively promote Elvis Presley. His bold efforts ultimately broke Elvis north of the Mason-Dixon Line, virtually a racial divider during the 1950s. The deejay also had a prominent role in the highly sought after but still lost concert film, The Pied Piper of Cleveland, which documented the first time Elvis was filmed by a professional camera. To read about the King of Rock and Roll’s meteoric rise to worldwide fame, why one prominent authority controversially believes “Mystery Train” was the singer’s last honest recording, and a surprising defense of the actor’s widely panned film, Tickle Me, visit the following link: [“Recognizing the Incendiary Deejay Who Broke Elvis North of the Mason-Dixon Line”].
- Exclusive Interview No. 2: In modern times the Jordanaires appeared as very special guests on hundreds of concerts headlined by natural-born raconteur and all-around Nashville entertainer Ronnie McDowell, who scored 27 Top 40 country singles between 1977 & 1990. Remember “The King Is Gone,” “Wandering Eyes,” “Older Women,” “Watchin’ Girls Go By,” “Step Back,” “You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation,” “You Made a Wanted Man of Me,” and his duet with Conway Twitty on “It’s Only Make Believe?” When “The King Is Gone” sold six million copies in late 1977, McDowell had a potentially life-altering choice—should he don a jumpsuit and become another Elvis tribute artist, or should he strike out on his own merit as a country singer? In “Still Keepin’ the Fires Burning: A Step Forward with Entertainer Ronnie McDowell,” the consummate crooner leaves no stone unturned as he recalls a 40-year career in front of the limelight.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: “‘Heartbreak Hotel’ categorically knocked Mark Lindsay flat on the ground. The ferocious former lead singer of ’60s garage rockers Paul Revere and the Raiders left home at the tender age of 15 to pursue a rockabilly career in southern Idaho. Lying about his age so he could play seedy nightclubs, Lindsay ultimately met the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll during the filming of the iconic ’68 Comeback Special and during one of the entertainer’s final engagements at the Las Vegas Hilton. He even went so far as to persuade the TCB Band to back him on a studio rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” Interested in the complete juicy enchilada? Then click here.
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