Mama's family visited 'kin' without a care

Friday, September 6, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 36

Cousin Glen is coming to Nashville! Mama would be so envious.

Cousin Glen is Glen Campbell, and he’s not exactly coming to Nashville, having moved on from this earthly plain a little more than two years ago. He’s also not, strictly speaking, my cousin. Or, so far as I know, related to me in any way. But I did meet his parents.

More on that later.

Meanwhile: As you may have heard, the Glen Campbell Museum and Rhinestone Stage is expected to open downtown early next year.

It is to feature “more than 4,000 square feet of never-before-seen artifacts from his early years on the farm in Arkansas through his climb to super-stardom, including many of Glen’s legendary guitars and instruments, his extensive collection of golf paraphernalia, and intimate family photos as well as stage worn clothing and much more,” according to a news release announcing the plans.

Rolling Stone notes that Campbell will “join other iconic stars including Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline with a museum and performance venue celebrating his legacy in downtown Nashville.”

That’s pretty impressive company.

A confession: I have not been to either of those two venues. Nor to George Jones’s, whom I would have thought also worthy of a Rolling Stone mention.

The website for the Campbell museum-to-be shows its location at Second and Broad, above Rock Bottom. A virtual tour has silhouetted visitors wandering among assorted exhibits of stage clothing, gold and platinum records, Grammys and other awards, T-shirts for sale, a singalong booth, guitars, a pool table (I have no idea why), pictures, portraits and sundry else.

“Greatest guitarist to ever play” proclaims one exhibit. Well. He was a doozy.

It’s all accompanied by his rendition of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which certainly makes for a pretty compelling soundtrack. As would “Wichita Lineman,” among others, for that matter. I’m a fan.

As for that cousin thing …

Mama developed two musical heroes in the 1960s: Glen Campbell and Tom Jones. It’s not hard to imagine why a woman of her age would have had a crush on Jones, but her affection for Campbell had an extra dimension:

Rendering of the Glen Campbell museum to open in downtown Nashville.

-- Glencampbellmuseum.Com

She began to suspect they were kin.

It wasn’t a totally implausible notion. Her mother, my maternal grandmother, was a Campbell. She was born in Oklahoma, but had Arkansas connections. And Glen was famously from Delight, Arkansas. (Pronounced, of course, DEE-light.)

Sharing a last name isn’t enough to establish a kinship. But Mama also decided there was a family resemblance, and I confess: Glen’s jawline is not at all unlike the one Grandma carried throughout her life. And Grandma was musical: She played and taught piano.

And if that weren’t enough, Mama had a bona fide first cousin in the music business: Chuck Kelly, who sang with a group on “The Red Skelton Hour” and “The Danny Kaye Show” back in the day and Mama knew as “Charles.”

Did I mention that Mama sang soprano in the church choir?

A less enthusiastic fan might still have considered all that “evidence” inconclusive. But Mama was not the type of person to let go of an idea once she got ahold of it.

And so it came to pass one summer in my teenage years – let’s call it 1969, since everything else seems to have happened that summer – that after visiting my grandparents in Mena, Arkansas, we managed on the return trip to pass through Delight.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t Daddy’s idea. Also pretty sure it wasn’t his idea to somehow find out where Glen’s parents lived. Or to go there.

Which we did.

Both parents were home, as it happened, and despite having never laid eyes on our six-member troupe from Mississippi, they invited us right in. We spent an hour or more in which the Campbells amiably listened to Mama’s tales of fandom, offered advice on child-rearing (get one of those boys a guitar), posed for assorted pictures with us and, in general, treated us like old friends.

Like family, even.

So: Welcome to Nashville, Cousin Glen.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. His email is jrogink@gmail.com