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Wichita a special place for Glen Campbell

  • Published Sunday, April 29, 2012, at 8:48 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, May 2, 2012, at 4:39 p.m.

Shannon Campbell, son of legendary “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell, is particularly looking forward to their sold-out Wichita stop Sunday night at the Orpheum Theatre during his father’s Goodbye Tour.

“I’m excited by the idea of actually playing ‘Wichita Lineman’ in Wichita,” said the 27-year-old Campbell, who plays guitar in the band behind his famous father along with his brother, 29-year-old Cal, on drums, and 24-year-old sister Ashley on banjo and keyboards.

It doesn’t matter to Shannon Campbell that “Wichita Lineman” isn’t really about Kansas’ largest city: Songwriter Jimmy Webb was inspired by the seeming isolation of a solitary telephone lineman atop a pole on an endless stretch of empty highway in Washita County, Okla.

But Webb’s lyrics showcased “Wichita” instead of “Washita” because Glen Campbell noted that “Wichita sings better.” Campbell recorded the song in 1968, and it became one of his biggest hits, along with “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” of course, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which became his signature song and the title of his 1990s biography.

But most people assumed “Lineman” to be about a lonely Kansas telephone lineman agonizing over a lost love that he can still hear “singing in the wire,” and after nearly five decades, that’s good enough for Shannon Campbell.

Glen Campbell, who turned 76 on April 22, launched his self-proclaimed goodbye tour last fall after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few months earlier. His popularity in Wichita is such that the 1,300-seat Orpheum sold out in less than a week, Orpheum spokesman Adam Hartke said.

During a phone conversation from a stop in Nashville, Shannon Campbell said he and his siblings are providing interviews about the tour to help ease pressure on their father, who rarely does press himself anymore for obvious reasons.

“When he can’t communicate like he wants, we step in,” the younger Campbell said. “Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease, so you never know what can happen. He can go downhill quickly, even in a couple of days, so we’re still getting used to dealing with it. As long as he wants to sing and play, we’ll support him and take care of him.”

Shannon says that his father, who complained for years about short-term memory loss before his official diagnosis, recognizes problems in performance but has a positive attitude toward them.

“The music is still all there, but he occasionally messes up a lyric. When that happens, he stops, talks to the audience and then starts again. He told one audience that ‘If I did it perfect every time, there’d be no surprise.’ ”

On this tour, Glen Campbell performs for about an hour. Before that, his opening act is “Instant People,” a five-member Los Angeles-based group that includes Shannon, Cal and Ashley along with two other members of the Glen Campbell band. Their sound is more pop/rock than country, Shannon said.

“Our musical taste is different than Dad’s, but we all like good music,” he said.

Shannon also confesses to some guilty pleasures in music.

“What I like to play and what I listen to are sometimes pretty different,” he said. “I listen to a lot of heavy metal and rap, but I’m not really into them to perform. I’ve tried rapping because I like the complexity of the rhymes, but I don’t do it in public except as a joke.”

Shannon, Cal and Ashley are children of Glen Campbell’s fourth marriage, to former Radio City Rockette Kimberly Woollen. The two will have been together 30 years this October 25, and the elder Campbell has publicly lauded Kim for finally giving him stability in his life after three divorces, five additional children, bouts with alcohol and drugs during a disappointing period in his career and a notoriously messy fling with country singer Tanya Tucker. By the time Shannon and his siblings came along, Glen Campbell’s wild days were behind him.

“I always knew he was a celebrity when I was growing up,” Shannon said. “But I also knew him as Dad. To us, he was just another guy at home. We knew him as both Dad and a celebrity, but we always saw his casual side.”

Shannon says he and his siblings first appeared on stage with their dad when Glen Campbell had his own theater in Branson, Mo.

“We were in his Christmas shows, but we didn’t perform. We were just his kids. I knew I was always going to be a musician, but I didn’t get serious about it until I picked up a guitar at 14. Dad didn’t push us, but he was supportive and encouraging. I didn’t actually do music with Glen until I was an adult.”

Shannon says he calls his father both “Dad” and “Glen,” depending on the circumstances. “He doesn’t always answer to ‘Dad,’ particularly if there are other fathers in the room, so I say ‘Glen’ to be clear. That’s just the way he is.”

When they return home to Malibu in Southern California, Shannon says his father plans to play a lot of golf and occasionally play music as long as he feels up to it. So, how does he want his father to be remembered?

“Glen is going to be remembered as the best entertainer and the best musician — all in one person. Nobody else has had such success in both areas. It’s quite a legacy.”

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