Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Singing is cathartic for me. I can’t imagine not singing. I do most of my singing while driving, listening to my favorite songs on my car stereo.

Grandma and Grandpa retired to a small lake, or rather a big pond, among the cornfields and hog farms in southwest Michigan. It was my favorite place in the world to go. Sitting in the gazebo overlooking the lake, staying up too late listening to stories of the Great Depression, and just running around here and there in Grandma’s big Chevy Blazer; it was a relaxed life. When we were out, we inevitably ended up at a bar for lunch. I guess in 1970s Michigan it wasn’t any big deal for children to go into bars, because I surely spent a lot of time in them.

We usually visited The Inn Between, a little joint on the highway at the end of their gravel road, “in between” two villages that highway linked. It was dim inside, with square tables with laminate woodgrain tops, brown padded stackable chairs, a wooden bar with a handful of stools, PBR and Budweiser signs on the walls, a jukebox in the corner. There was a menu, there was beer, there was probably whiskey but I didn’t know much about such things when I was that young.

Everybody at the Inn Between knew my grandparents. They’d walk up to say hello as we sat, calling them George and Kath-ern, which apparently is how Kathryn is pronounced in Michigan farm country. A fellow who must have run the place always came over to chat and take our order. My brother and I would order cheeseburgers, and I always got orange Crush, which in my earliest memories still had real orange pulp in it. The fellow would tease my brother and I a little, asking us if we’d like to try the frog legs instead. Our chorus of “ick, ew!” always made the fellow smile, at least until Grandma finally said, “You should try them. They’re delicious.” So we did, and they were, and we ate them often.

The Inn Between was on the same lake my grandparents lived on, so sometimes we’d motor over there for dinner on their little pontoon boat. We’d linger. Grandma and Grandpa would chat with the other customers, mostly neighbors, all friends. Grandma made sure our red plastic tumblers were always full of icy Coke, and fed us quarters for the jukebox.

In those days, country music was crossing over to the pop charts, and the jukebox was loaded with those songs. It’s where I first heard Olivia Newton-John and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. I played them all, but I liked Glen Campbell the best. I played “Galveston” and “Country Boy” but leaned extra heavy on “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Everybody drinking their beer at the Inn Between must have been glad when we left so they didn’t have to hear it again.

GlennCampbellWichitaLineman

But really, I have always favored the sad songs, and so my favorite Glen Campbell song is “Wichita Lineman.” And I have a bonus memory of my dad around this song. I couldn’t have been 10 yet. We sat in dad’s white Matador in the shopping-center parking lot waiting for Mom to come out of the store. The AM radio played the local music station. This song came on, and Dad sang the chorus low, mostly to himself. Dad can carry a tune. And I sing this song when my iPhone serves it up in my car, too, doing my best to channel Glenn Campbell. But I belt it right out, because it feels so good.

Click Play to listen to “Wichita Lineman.”

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19 thoughts on “Driving and singing: Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”

  1. Another song that I have not heard in a long time. It is funny to me that you identify this as a sad song, because I had no idea. It seems that most people focus on the words of a song, but what I hear is the music – tune, chords, instruments, and such. I have to listen purposely to learn lyrics. Songs like this that played a lot over the radio generally never commanded that kind of attention.
    It is those few bars of the bass solo that jump to the front of my brain when I think of this song, along with the soaring violins behind Campbell’s vocal. Other than a few random phrases, I know none of the lyrics, but the music is very nicely done.

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  2. Although it might surprise many people who know me, I have a real soft spot for Glen Campbell. It’s probably partly due to my Dad playing him when I was a lad, but also due to some of the wonderful Jimmy Webb songs that he sang. He’s also a very accomplished guitarist, which i think this clips demonstrates nicely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETkzK9pXMio.

    You might be interested to hear Ten Easy Pieces, Jim Webb singing his own songs and accompanying himself on piano:

    http://www.amazon.com/Ten-Easy-Pieces-Jimmy-Webb/dp/B000002UFV

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    • YouTube used to have a performance of Wichita Lineman Glenn did on TV at some point, during which he did a stunning guitar break midsong. It’s not there anymore; I wish it was. I’d’ve included it in this post.

      I’ve heard the Webb album. It’s interesting to hear the songwriter himself do his songs. But in his time, it really was going to take a Glenn Campbell and the polished, pop production values of those records for those songs to be hits.

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  3. Ward Fogelsanger says:

    Glad we went to see Glen on his farewell tour now that he has Alzheimer’s …remember when he plugged little old America West Airlines on Johnny Carson when he lived in Phoenix and went back and forth to LA. His oldest daughter is a flight attendant for America West (now American) and she would take time off to sing with her dad when he would be in Branson …

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  4. Andy Umbo says:

    I always liked the weirdest songs when I was a kid, not only the “British Invasion” stuff all my pals liked, but slow and maudlin “1001 Strings” type music, and Burt Bacharach stuff I used to hear on ‘Easy Listening’ stations. I really loved this cut, as well as Galveston, and finally a woman I was dating in Washington DC years later said: “Hey, that’s all Jimmy Webb stuff.” Sure enough, those hits, as well as MacArthur Park and I lot of other things I remember, he was responsible for. Get the CD “Ten Easy Pieces” to hear the masters work!

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  5. When Glen lived in Phoenix, he frequented a Mexican restaurant near 44th Street & Camelback. I loved the place and saw him there on several occasions. He once held the door open for my ex-wife and I as we were entering. Always very polite. I was told that he’d bring his guitar once in a while and break into some impromptu un-plugged performances after a cocktail or two.

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  6. I don’t know much about Glenn Campbell, but I remember “Rhinestone Cowboy” and I’ve heard this one on one of the infomercials, great song!!

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