len Campbell was eminently qualified to sing of "Southern Nights," as he lived them for all of his growing-up years.
Raised on a farm near Delight, Arkansas, he first learned to pick tunes on the family guitar. Then, when he was four years old, his parents gave him one of his own, a five-dollar model, bought from the Sears catalog. Since he couldn't read music, Glen learned whatever he could from wherever he could: first from his family and friends, and later from listening to the radio. He also practiced his singing in the local Church of Christ.
"I spent the early part of my life looking at the north end of a southbound mule," he said. "It didn't take long to figure out that a guitar was a lot lighter than a plow handle."
Campbell left Arkansas as a teenager in the early fifties, but stayed in the south, living in New Mexico and Houston, Texas. His first music jobs were with his uncle, Dick Bills, touring the southwest and playing in what Glen called "dancin' and fightin' clubs." Soon he formed his own band.
In the seventies, Glen concentrated on live appearances. He still made the charts every year, with songs like "It's Only Make Believe," "Rhinestone Cowboy," and "Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)."
Then, in 1977, Glen recorded "Southern Nights," a song written by New Orleans-born writer/producer/artist Allen Toussaint. He chose it because it reminded him of his rural roots -- his early days on the farm in Arkansas. "My dad told me when I was a kid, 'You're having the best time of your life, and you don't even know it.' Sure enough, he was right. Now I really feel the need to go back home, float down the Missouri River, and fish for bass and crappies. It's real peaceful, and remote from things like telephones. My head is still there."
"Southern Nights" was released in January 1977, and peaked at number one in April. It was Glen's twenty-eighth single to make the pop charts and his last Top 10 hit, in a pop career than spanned sixteen years. But he remains a strong presence on the country and gospel charts. He has spoken freely in recent interviews about his 1981 baptism, and a decade later launched a long-running tour that featured old buddies John Hartford, Jim Stafford, and the late Nicolette Larson. He tours approximately 200 days a year, frequently performing in Branson, Missouri. One of his guitars is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and a star bearing his name shines on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"There's an old saying," Glen once recalled. "It's easy to come, and easy to go. The hard thing is to remain."
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