Glen Campbell’s daughter says he still loves to play

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Ashley Campbell, daughter of singer Glen Campbell, plays her banjo the afternoon before a performance in her father's Goodbye Tour in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

When Glen Campbell and his family announced in June 2011 that the country/pop legend had Alzheimer’s disease, the clock began to count down on his time as a beloved performer and respected guitarist.

Shortly after the announcement, Campbell released his final album of new material, Ghost on the Canvas, produced by Rick Rubin and featuring songwriting and musical contributions from famous fans, including Jakob Dylan, Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, Brian Setzer, Keith Urban and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan.

In late 2011, Campbell and his band — which features three of his eight children: drummer Cal, 29; guitarist Shannon, 28; and his “baby girl” Ashley, 26, on banjo — hit the road for the “Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour.” They scheduled a slate of shows, including a stop at the Kent Stage in January, and trips to Europe and Australia (the latter of which they had to cancel because flying now agitates and exhausts him).

The family announced the diagnosis to let fans know why Campbell, now 76, has seemed confused on recent tours (the memory loss was noticeable as far back as 2008), and to help remove the stigma of the degenerative, debilitating disease, which robs sufferers of their memories and eventually their ability to function.

“I think with this disease, it’s getting exponentially bigger and many more people are being affected by it and coming out about it than they ever did before,” Ashley Campbell said from her parents’ Los Angeles-area home, where she lives and helps her mother, Kim, take care of her father.

“And I think it’s very important for people to know that they’re not alone, and it’s not a death sentence right away. A lot of people get diagnosed and they go ‘my life is over’ and they’ll hide away. But my dad didn’t want to do that, and there’s no reason you can’t still live a full life as long as you’re not ashamed of what you have,” she said.

Campbell occasionally forgets lyrics and his bandmates’ names onstage, but he can still rip it on the guitar as he did during his days with the Wrecking Crew, the collective of studio musicians who played on many famous records by folks such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys throughout the 1960s.

Campbell and his family wanted to keep doing what he loved, and now the “Goodbye Tour” will roll back into Kent on Saturday, one of the last shows in Campbell’s tour and career, drawing to a close at the end of the month.

“I haven’t really felt the pull of the end, yet,’’ Ashley said.

‘‘It’s a one day at a time. We still got a whole month, so I got to stay in work mode until then.”

Ashley, who has a band with her brother Shannon called Victoria Ghost that opens the show, said that being in “work mode” — the routine of playing the show and doing what he loves — is one of the things that has kept Glen going and in good spirits.

On this tour, when Campbell gets confused and forgets the lyrics to one of his songs, the crowd often will join in and loudly sing along.

“The fans have been just great. Really supportive and very vocally supportive. Onstage he can really feel the love coming from them,” Ashley said.

The tour has spanned more than 100 dates in famous venues such as Carnegie Hall and numerous concert halls, casinos and theaters that usually become a blur of backstage areas for performers. But Ashley retains fond memories of the group’s earlier stop at the Kent Stage.

“Yes! Kent, Ohio. I remember that day very well; it was very cold outside. The ground was frozen and there was ice outside the bus, and it was really fun trying to get to the bus from the stage door and back,” the native Californian said chuckling.

“The theater was really cool. I loved all the people there and all the beers on draft in the lobby, and they made homemade desserts from a farm nearby,’’ Ashley said.

‘‘It was just a very cool vibe at the theater and there was homemade knitwork for sale, like hats, in the lobby. It was really cool. I like playing the more intimate venues, so I’m looking forward to being there again.”

Multiple roles

Ashley isn’t just one of her father’s primary caregivers at home; she doubles as a caregiver on tour and onstage, as well as being the person who talks to the media.

If her father forgets where he is during the show, it’s Ashley he turns to for a gentle nudge back into the safety of the set list, which is filled with Campbell’s decades-spanning hits such as Galveston and Rhinestone Cowboy as well as a few cuts from Ghost on the Canvas.

One of the highlights of the show, evidence of Campbell’s continuing ability to play, is the duet he and Ashley share on the classic phalanges-twisting instrumental Dueling Banjos.

“He still calls me his baby girl, so I’ll always be his daughter and I think it’s comforting for him to have me onstage,” she said.

Ashley’s personal favorite to perform with him is True Grit, from the film of the same name in which her father co-starred alongside John Wayne.

“That’s one of my favorite songs that my dad sings, and he just kicks ass on the solo with his acoustic guitar, so I love playing that song,” she said.

Putting dreams on hold

Though Ashley is at an age when most folks are figuring out who they are and experiencing many adult firsts (first apartment, first real job, first child), Ashley has mostly put her dreams on hold.

“Of course, I went through — and I still go through it sometimes — [the thought] of ‘it’s my 20s, it should be about me, I should be out there doing my own thing.’ But when your dad needs you, and your mom needs you in that kind of way, you kind of just take things into perspective and say, ‘You know what? That’s not what life’s about,’ ” she said.

“Life’s really about family and sticking together and helping each other, and I just think it’s the right thing to do and plus with this disease, I should spend as much time with my dad before it’s too late. I’ll have plenty of time to do my own thing,” Ashley said, noting that getting to open the show with Victoria Ghost also helps her and her brother.

Their father is an unabashed fan.

After the final show Nov. 30 at the Upton Theatre in Napa, Calif., Glen Campbell will begin the next phase of his life, which Ashley said will involve “golf and Christmas and family, because it’ll be December.”

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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