BILOXI, Miss. >> Glen Campbell leaned over his blue electric guitar, plucked a few strings and made a sour face.
“Dadgum it,” he said.
Campbell, 75, fiddled a few seconds longer while standing backstage Friday night at the IP Casino and finally found a perfect D chord.
“There it is,” he said, before turning on his heel and marching into the spotlight. He launched into “Gentle on my Mind” and — without so much as clearing his throat — nailed it.
“That first one is a doozey, ain’t it?” Campbell asked the crowd.
It was classic Glen Campbell. Alzheimer’s disease may have changed a lot of things in the Country Music Hall of Famer’s life, but his ability to create sounds that still resonate in our shared memory with his blue G&L Comanche on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or his Hamer 12-string on “Southern Nights” is virtually untouched.
In the night’s finest moment, Campbell brought the crowd to its feet after nailing the delicate runs in the middle of his classic “Wichita Lineman.”
Campbell’s first performance since announcing he has Alzheimer’s, the degenerative brain disease that’s slowly robbing him of his memories and abilities, was largely a triumph. His family and road crew were worried he might be rusty after a long layoff since his last performance. Except for a few flubbed lyrics, quickly corrected with the help of teleprompters, Campbell and his band powered through a tight 22-song set interspersed with self-deprecating jokes.
“I tell you I’m happy to be here,” Campbell said. “At my age I’m happy to be anywhere. It seems like I’ve been doing this since Hitler was a corporal.”
Fronting a band that includes four of his children and close friends, Campbell played favorites like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Galveston” and finished the evening with two songs from his new album, “Ghost on the Canvas,” out Aug. 30 on Surfdog Records.
The album, which features guest appearances and song contributions from Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan, Keith Urban, Billy Corgan, Brian Setzer, Rick Nielsen and Dick Dale, is Campbell’s last studio album. He plans a goodbye tour as well. Friday’s show was a one-off, an excuse to gather his family around him and have a little fun.
“When I get tired of playing golf I do one of these,” Campbell joked in an interview earlier in the day.
Campbell was loose and easy-going all day, joking his way through rehearsal and posing for pictures with fans before and after the show. Two drove six hours and showed up with homemade shirts that read “Glen Campbell Fan.” A couple flew in from Seattle. Another fan noted he keeps Campbell’s music in heavy rotation on his iPod. “It’s wonderful to meet someone with taste!” Campbell said with a laugh.
Tour manager Bill Maclay said the good mood is due to the presence of Campbell’s family. His wife, Kim, began coming on the road with him three years ago. And his band includes his oldest daughter, Debby Campbell-Cloyd, who sings harmony, and his three youngest children: sons Cal on drums and Shannon on guitar, and daughter Ashley on banjo and keys.
All those familiar faces make Campbell feel comfortable.
“The road is home right now,” Maclay said.
As much as Campbell enjoyed being on stage, the few moments he spent in the wings while watching Debby and Ashley sing a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” may have been his favorite.
“I like to hear sister harmonies,” he said in a whisper. “I don’t know what it is. They’re amazing. I’m really blessed. It’s awesome.”