One of the last singers we would expect to hear in a ritzy Park Avenue nightclub is Glen Campbell. But for five days (May 16-20), the country legend will be center-stage at Feinstein's at The Regency. Cabaret star and nightclub impresario Michael Feinstein promised that his club would offer a variety of shows not always seen in cabaret rooms, and he wasn't kidding. This is such an unusual New York City booking, we felt we had to seek out Campbell and find out how it came about.
First, we asked Campbell to recall the last time he played a room that held about 150 customers. He laughed. "It had to be in the '60s," he said, "in Van Nuys, California." Campbell didn't remember the name of the club, but he knew it was long before anyone knew his name. So, why do something like this now? "Jimmy Webb asked me to," he said simply, referring to the composer of many of his biggest hits. "I said, 'Great.'" And there was one other reason that he agreed: "My wife wanted to go to New York." Laughing, he added, "It definitely wasn't for the money. Jimmy and I wanted to do it to see how it works out."
Campbell's show at Feinstein's will be markedly different from his concerts. "It'll just be Jimmy and me; just a piano and a guitar." Campbell often sings with symphony orchestras, and especially enjoys performing ballads with full orchestral backing. "Doing 'MacArthur Park' with a symphony is just flabbergasting," he said. Nonetheless, he can't wait to experience a cabaret setting because, he noted, "I get to sit down with Jimmy. It's been a long time since we did that. Jimmy's as good a writer as there has ever been. I just want to try some of his new songs and see how they go over. He's got some incredible songs that have never been recorded. We're gonna do two of them. You know I might do an album of his stuff," he suddenly confided. "I'm going to record 'Wish You Were Here,' and Jimmy doesn't even know it yet."
During his 40-year career, Campbell has been a recording and concert star, a TV star, and a movie star. He had 27 top-10 hits, and he was the first recording star to win a Grammy for both country ("Gentle on My Mind") and pop ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix") in the same year (1967). Among all of his songs, we wondered which were his favorites. "For a ballad, 'Wichita Lineman,'" he answered. "For up-tempo, my favorite is 'Rhinestone Cowboy.'" Music was always the mainstay of his career, even on television when he headlined the top-rated variety show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. The one area of show business he did not cotton to was the movies. "I didn't like acting at all," he admitted. "It just didn't suit me. It's hard for me to play-act." Then he laughed and said, "But when I got a chance to go out and ride a horse with John Wayne (in True Grit), I couldn't turn that down. I shoved him hard enough to get him his first Oscar, so I guess I did a good job." Campbell was far more comfortable singing the movie's Oscar-nominated title song that year (1969) on TV. "That was really a kick."
Campbell always had a well-earned reputation as one of the best guitarists of his time. If you're wondering whether he can pick as well as he did in his youth, he has this to say on the subject: "I still play at a really high level, but I don't practice enough. I can't sustain it like I used to, but I can do about a two-minute solo before my hands tire." That should be plenty long enough for the folks at Feinstein's. Entirely separate from his own performance, Campbell hopes New York audiences will appreciate "Jimmy's dynamic chord structures and his great melodies." He also hopes people will leave the club feeling that "they've seen a couple of artists. Not Rembrandts," he joked, "but maybe a couple of Van Goghs."