Musician Jeff Dayton reflects on his years playing with Glen Campbell

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Long Lake native served as the country-music icon’s bandleader for 15 years

Jeff Dayton, left, performs in 1996 with Glen Campbell in Branson, Missouri. (Submitted photo)

The music world lost a legend Aug. 8 when Glen Campbell, whose career spanned six decades and produced 21 Top 40 hits, died of Alzheimer’s disease.

The 81-year-old Arkansas native became a household name with hit songs like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” and also worked as a top-level studio guitarist, television host and actor.

Late in his career, a few years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011, the country-music star embarked on a farewell tour, which was documented in the 2014 film, “I’ll Be Me.” Among the audience members for Campbell’s three final shows at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville was Jeff Dayton, a Long Lake native who spent 15 years as Campbell’s guitarist and bandleader.

Dayton, who lives and works in Nashville as a songwriter, producer and session guitarist, regularly returns to Minnesota to perform in and around his hometown.

Before a recent show in Nashville, Dayton took some time to speak with the Sun Sailor about his years working with the country music icon and the impact Campbell will leave behind.

Question: When did you first meet Glen Campbell?

Dayton: I was living in Phoenix in the ’80s and my band was playing all the time and doing really well in the post-Urban Cowboy country music boom. I had heard Glen lived in town, but I never ran into him until he showed up at one of the concerts we played, opening for Merle Haggard, who was an old pal of his. He really liked our set and came backstage to meet me. The very next night, there he was at a private event and I offered to let him sit in with us. He jumped right up with us and we did a 30-minute set for a surprised, delighted crowd. Nobody was more delighted than I was. He called me three days later and said, “you guys are great and I’d love to know if you’d be my bandleader and bring your boys on the road with me.”

Q: What did it mean for you as a musician to be asked by Campbell to lead his band?

Dayton: Especially since Glen’s passing, it’s so apparent that everyone who was part of his career knows how respected we became by association. We got gigs all like crazy after that, including a VIP trip to Maui to play for President George and Barbara Bush. … without Glen!

Q: Do you have any favorite memories from your time as his touring guitarist and band leader? 

Dayton: Just being on stage with one of the best all-around talents in history was amazing enough. We did about 4,000 shows together in those 15 years and I learned something every day, whether it was on guitar, singing, writing or entertaining.

Glen Campbell stands between Kenny Rogers and Jeff Dayton backstage in 1997 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Submitted photo)

Q: When was the last time you interacted with Campbell?

Dayton: My last visit with Glen was the inspiration for my song “Long Slow Train Out Of Town.” Check it out on YouTube or iTunes for the full narrative.

From left: Glen Campbell with fellow musicians Bryan White, Jeff Dayton and Derek George backstage in 1999 in Branson, Missouri. (Submitted photo)

Q: Can you explain the meaning behind the song and why you decided to write it?

Dayton: I knew Glen was trying to connect and he was having a hard time getting out from behind the cobwebs in his mind. The sad, puzzled look in his eyes, his failing guitar playing and general confusion was hard to witness after years of friendship. I wrote the song standing in the pool of my grandmother’s old house in Fountain Hills, Arizona about six months later. It was a spiritual experience.

Q: In April of last year, you performed two shows as a salute to Campbell in Chanhassen. How did those shows go over?

Dayton: We’ve done four sold-out shows in Chanhassen and we have more coming, plus we’ve done as many in Sedona, Arizona, and have a mini-tour going out west to play the Salute to Glen in Colorado and New Mexico next month. We also played St. Michael last winter at Le Musique.

Q: Do you have plans to do any future tribute shows?

Dayton: I have a Nashville show Aug. 19 called Remembering Glen and some great guys are coming to join me, including Chris Gantry who wrote “Dreams Of the Everyday Housewife.” I already know it’s going to be standing room only.

Q: Can you describe one Glen Campbell song that feels extra special to perform?

Dayton: One song? Maybe “The Highwayman,” or “Wichita Lineman”… maybe “A Better Place” or “Gentle On My Mind.” Any of those.

Q: Any parting thoughts?

Dayton: Glen was the perfect trifecta; the all-around pro; an amazing singer, guitarist and writer. Add entertainer to all that and it’s apparent that someone like Glen might never happen again. I’m forever grateful for the many wonderful years of adventures, fun, travel and learning I got to enjoy while I stood beside a true Hall of Fame icon. God bless ol’ Glen.


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