Now Subbing For Elvis Presley… Glen Campbell

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Little known fact: From 1964 to 1968—in between recording sessions with the incomparable group of L.A. studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, touring with the Beach Boys, and recording his own albums—Glen Campbell was recruited to record songs for Elvis Presley, an artist he’d long admired. A full dozen of those songs, all written by the team of Ben Weisman and Sid Wayne, were ultimately recorded by the King.

And then, for decades, Campbell’s recordings of the songs were lost. The backstory:

Campbell and Presley had first met in 1956, when Elvis performed in Albuquerque. Campbell had recently moved there to join his uncle’s band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys. “I saw him in the rough,” Campbell later said. “He was so electrifying.”

In 1960, Campbell headed to Los Angeles to find work as a session musician and took a regular gig at a club called the Crossbow, where Elvis and his friends would sometimes watch from a small private room upstairs. As a member of the Wrecking Crew, Campbell appeared on dozens of hits, from “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” to “Strangers in the Night.” In 1963 alone, he added his guitar to almost 600 sessions, including his one and only recording with Elvis, for the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack.

By 1967, Campbell’s own career was taking off, yet he continued to knock out songs for Weisman and Wayne in whatever spare time he had. The pair had turned to Campbell who had perfect pitch and an uncanny ability to match Elvis’s key and even mimic his delivery, to record fully fleshed out studio versions that they could present to Elvis for his recording consideration.

Related: Glen Campbell’s early sessions recalled

At one point during this period, Campbell almost took a different career route: When Elvis was assembling his TCB band in 1969, his two finalists for the lead guitar chair were Campbell and James Burton. But Campbell was riding high as a solo artist following the hits “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman,” and he passed on the gig. Burton was available since his previous boss, Ricky Nelson, had recently broken up his backing band. He went to work for Campbell.

Campbell never did get to work directly with Elvis, but he can certainly be credited with contributing to the legend, as the Weisman-Wayne songs Campbell recorded in demo form included “Clambake,” “Spinout” and “Easy Come, Easy Go,” all made famous as title tracks for Presley movies.  (Trivia note: Weisman is significant for having written more songs recorded by Elvis than any other songwriter. )

Campbell recorded the songwriting demos on reel-to-reel tapes, which were then placed in a storage space by Weisman, where they remained, forgotten, for half a century. They were later were discovered by Stephen Auerbach, who executive-produced a 2018 album for Capitol/UMe, Glen Campbell Sings for the King, containing 18 of the demo recordings. In all, 29 recordings were rescued. Twelve of those songs went on to be recorded and released by Elvis.

Watch the lyric video for “Easy Come, Easy Go,” from Sings for the King

Listen to the King’s recorded version

Listen to Campbell’s demo of “Do the Clam”

Watch Elvis perform it in the film, Girl Happy

Listen to Campbell, and then the King, sing “Cross My Heart and Hope To Die”

Listen to Campbell and Presley duet on “We Call On Him”

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. Gimme Shelter
    #1 Gimme Shelter 29 October, 2023, 06:01

    GC was a consumate singer/guitarist/writer. His style was singular and he worked non stop. Great guy too…

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