The Story Behind The Wichita Lineman
Monday at 7:25 pm
Glen Campbell was an outstanding musician respected for his proficiency as a first-class guitarist and member of the WRECKING CREW(WC). If you’re not familiar with the WC, you are probably familiar with the music they made.
The WC was made up of some of America’s greatest studio musicians who helped craft great tunes produced during the ’60s and the ’70s. Like Campbell, they played on hits cut by Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, the Monkeys, the Mamas & the Papas, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions, and numerous other mega-star recording artists who wanted nothing but the best on their 45’s and LP’s. As a drummer, I admired from afar the great Hal Blaine, a key member of the WC, whose drum parts were integral to a song’s character like his opening bass drum riff that kicked off Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass rendition of A Taste of Honey– which initially was nothing more than a way to count off so that the musicians all started together in time. The producer was so enamored by the riff that he decided to keep it in and one can’t even imagine now A Taste of Honey without it.
During my career at NBC, I had a chance to spend a day with Mr. Campbell. NBC was the sponsor/presenter of a free concert featuring GC on a holiday in 1981 that took place in Chicago at the Grant Park Park Bandshell. The man was a prince. He was sensitive to the fact that I was spending the holiday with him and his band rather than with my family, who could not make the concert due to previous family commitments.
The song that closed out the concert, the one that drew without question the loudest applause was what GC’s wife (of 34 years upon his death) called his signature tune, The Wichita Lineman. It’s a story featuring a telephone lineman who can literally hear the lines he works on singing in the wind. While working on the line he overhears a conversation featuring a previous lover now sharing sweet nothings with her new beau. The heart-rending lyrics accompanied by a rich melody resonated with the men and women of America who made it a hit.
I heard today that The Wichita Lineman was selected to be included in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, which will ensure that the song can and will be heard by generations to come. The Wichita Lineman was written by Jimmy Webb, a colleague turned close friend to Glenn after Campbell asked him to write a follow-up hit for him following a GC smash called By The Time I Get To Phoenix, also written by Webb. After numerous calls by GC asking, “Is it done yet?” Webb delivered via messenger to GC what he considered an incomplete song but material worthy of consideration and more importantly – should Webb finish the tune. Webb didn’t hear a word from GC and assumed that Glenn didn’t like the material. Some six weeks later when the two men ran into each other, Webb began to apologize that his effort wasn’t up to par only to hear GC note that the tune was cooked and recorded.
At the bottom of this blog, you will find dear reader a link (heard on the national radio program 1-A produced by WAMU) that provides a wonderful recap by individuals still alive and willing to tell the history of the classic, The Wichita Lineman.