The news hit me hard.
As a child of the '80s, Gen X all the way, one might not think the passing of legendary country singer Glen Campbell would be so emotional for me. You have to go back to when I was about 4 years old to understand why.
“Rhinestone Cowboy” was a huge hit across the globe. It reached No. 1 on Billboard's Country and Hot 100 lists, but it was an even bigger hit in my family's living room.
It started, my mom said, while my dad was in the Army on those road trips back to Indiana from Fort Knox, Kentucky. I would stand in the back seat of our car – yes, stand (it was 1975, remember) – and go nuts singing along whenever the song came on the car radio.
At family gatherings on my mother's side, I would take my fake microphone, stand on my great-grandfather's ottoman and start the show asking everyone to sing along. But I would often stop midway, mom said, because my great-grandfather wasn't singing along. Lionel Richeson was the quiet sort and would just sit with his pipe in his mouth, taking it all in. But after I stopped the show a couple of times, even he would join in with my parents, other grandparents, aunts and uncles singing Campbell's smash hit.
Great Grandma and Grandpa Richeson loved the act so much, they bought me a nifty, bright-red cowboy outfit with faux black vest adorned with white steers' heads stitched on in red thread – basically the perfect costume for my performances. Great Grandma Agnes Gingrich bought the boots to match. I already had a matching red cowboy hat and toy guitar.
In my teenage years, I moved on to other forms of music that were far from Campbell-esque. I was really into heavy metal, but I still had a place in my heart for the country sounds and, of course, Campbell.
Being the son of a farm boy who spent a lot of time on the family farm as a youth, country music was the standard. I would fall asleep in the old farmhouse to classic tunes by singers like Ray Price and Merle Haggard – may they, too, rest in peace – and my first coliseum concert ever as a pre-teen was The Statler Brothers and Brenda Lee. So, no, country never went away.
And neither did Campbell.
I can still sing “Rhinestone Cowboy,” from start to finish and will sing along happily to “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”
Now that he has left us, one of my biggest regrets is not venturing over to Wabash back in 2012 to see Campbell shortly after it was made public that he was fighting Alzheimer's. It is a chance I will never get again.
Why didn't I go? I literally could not convince my wife or any of my close friends to go with me and didn't want to go alone.
They didn't have the memories or love of Campbell that I had.
And I know none of them had a nifty red cowboy suit, either.
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette.