Got to Be More to His “Galveston” Than That Glen Campbell Sings It by
you know singer Glen Campbell’s real relationship with the island, you can’t help
but wonder if there isn’t more to the story than that a songwriter named Jimmy
Webb wrote these words and tune, and that Glen sang them:
oh Galveston. I still hear your sea winds blowin’
I still see her dark eyes
She was 21 when I left Galveston.
oh Galveston. I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she’s crying
I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston..
Campbell was born in rural Arkansas and was one of 12 children. Somehow his dad
scraped up enough money to buy him a Sears Roebuck guitar. By the time Glen was
16, he had dropped out of school and had left home for big city lights where he
was sure he would be able to play gigs full-time.
That was 1953. And that
was when he hitched-hiked his way to the chase lights and neon of Galveston,
with the hopes of being able to sign on with one of the big bands or a famous
act that was playing there at the Balinese
Room, the Studio Lounge or the Pleasure Pier’s Marine Ballroom. A lot of unknown
talent took that chance back then. And sometimes it worked. It did for wonderful
jazz pianist, Johnny Garcia, whose music and personality Galvestonians still miss.
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
But for most,
just like Glen found, all that was available was to play for tips at Louise Bird’s
Pirate Club, a second rate nightclub, or at a Postoffice or Market Street cathouse,
and to save enough money to move on to the next Town of Dreams with the hope that
Mother Fate, this time, would shine her light on them.
It was at Miss
Jesse’s Postoffice Street cathouse where Glenn played.
1961, Glen Campbell had left Galveston
and had zig zagged his way to Los Angeles where he found a market for his extraordinary
talent as a guitar player. As a studio musician he played in the record sessions
of artists like Sinatra, Elvis, the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Dean Martin and Nat
“King” Cole. By 1968, he was hosting his own TV show, “Glen Campbell’s Goodtime
Hour.” It was the following year, 1969, when “Galveston” was born and become another
of his extraordinary hits.
mayor, Eddie Schreiber and his wife, Sue, flew to Los Angles and were in the audience
when Glen sang it on his show. Then Glen came into the audience and introduced
the Schreibers, and they stood and waved to the audience and the millions watching
What an extraordinary boost from an entertainer whose only
gig in that city had been in one of its cathouses.
| Awhile back, executive
director Maureen Patton brought Glen Campbell to the Grand 1894 Opera House to
play what she had told him is a beautiful place on “the right side of Postoffice
Street.” He packed the theater Saturday and Sunday, and, as you can imagine, brought
the house down when he sang “Galveston.” This time Mayor Schreiber’s son, Dr.
Melvyn Schreiber, was in the audience, and Maureen introduced him from the stage,
and then she told the story of Dr. Schreiber’s dad and mom’s adventure to Los
Angeles 35 years before.
Nowadays, the most requested Glen Campbell song
is not one of his famous hits like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or “Galveston.”
Instead, it’s a tune written by Jerry Reed, “Today Is Mine.” My friend, himself
a Galveston afficionado, well-known Houston radio personality, Scott Arthur, told
me that for years that lovely ballad has been one of the most asked for songs
by radio audiences. I noticed that as is with the case of “Galveston,” the words
could easily be autobiographical.
the sun came up this morning, I took the time to watch it rise
And as its
beauty struck the darkness from the sky
I thought how small and unimportant
all of my troubles seem to be
And how lucky another day belongs to me.....
Like most men I’ve cursed the present to avoid the peace of mind
raised my thoughts beyond tomorrow and visioned there more peace of mind
as I view this day around me, I can see the fool I’ve been
For today is the
only garden we can tend
Today is mine.
you listen to the lyrics of “Galveston,” it’s hard not to know in your gut there’s
a story that has not been fully revealed to us, about a 16-year old from rural
Arkansas, who came to the big lights of Galveston,
played in a cathouse where he saw illegitimate love for the first time, and tried
to make sense of it all. Every Galveston
teenage boy of that era wrestled with that. The common thread? “Maybe I can rescue
her from that life.”
| And then there is
the final paradox of this story. Scott Arthur also had a business called “High
Spirit Tours.” It took Galveston
visitors on narrated trips to the island’s haunted places. Wouldn’t you know that
one of those reported-to-be haunted buildings was Miss Jesse’s Postoffice Street
cathouse, the place where old Glen played for tips more than 50 years ago.
2009 -William S. Cherry