Reports say that rockabilly singer Glen Glenn of Ontario died March 18 at age 87. I interviewed him in early 2005; as my column is no longer online, here’s the text below for posterity.
Elvis left Glenn all shook up
published Jan. 7, 2005
Glen Glenn is perched on a stool in his Ontario living room, his 1952 Martin guitar on his leg, doing a run-through of “Baby, Let’s Play House,” his favorite Elvis Presley song.
“Oh, baby, baby, baby, b-b-b-b-b-baby, baby, baby … come back, baby, I wanna play house with you.”
Elvis would have been 70 on Saturday — except for the little matter of his death in 1977, when he left the building permanently.
Glen Glenn is 70 and still breathing. And he’s the rockin’-est grandfather of two you’ll ever meet.
OK, so you’ve never heard of him. Until a couple of years ago, neither had I, and I’ve got a lot of ’50s records.
He’s got a good excuse: Days after recording his first single, he was drafted. Unlike Elvis, two years of military service ended his career.
Rediscovered in the 1980s, he’s basking in acclaim in his golden years — a gig opening for Bob Dylan, concerts in Europe, and lavish CD anthologies of his 1950s records.
More on that in a minute. First, let’s talk Elvis.
On April 4, 1956, Glenn and his buddy, Gary Lambert, made the drive from San Dimas to San Diego to see Elvis’ first West Coast concert.
They were accustomed to country singers who stood stock-still onstage. Elvis’ shtick was to shake like his body was crawling with spiders.
“People went crazy when he walked out there,” Glenn recalls of the San Diego show. “He came out and shook for about five minutes, while D.J. (Fontana) played the drums behind him.”
It sounds like a burlesque act. Then Elvis launched into his songs — although “you could barely hear him, the girls were screaming so loud,” Glenn notes.
Afterward, country singer Fred Maddox introduced him to Elvis, who was a captive audience — the building was surrounded by screaming women, so he couldn’t leave.
Glenn has photos of himself with hundreds of musicians, but Elvis is the one who rocked his world.
He forgot about being a country singer and went rock.
“I did it because of girls,” Glenn says with a laugh. “If you played country, girls might want your autograph. If you did this kind of music, girls freaked out.”
He was so excited to be in the business, he saved everything with his name on it, and didn’t even fuss when his record company changed Glen Troutman, his real name, to Glen Glenn.
He admits it’s a dorky name. But as he puts it: “I wanted on a record so bad, they could’ve called me Jack the Ripper.”
Recorded in the rockabilly style of early Elvis, his songs were “Laurie Ann,” “Everybody’s Movin”‘ and “One Cup of Coffee and a Cigarette.”
Stuck on an Army base in Hawaii, he watched helplessly as his records stiffed. An invitation from Dick Clark to appear on “American Bandstand” to sing “Laurie Ann” fell through when Glenn’s commanding officer refused to give him a weekend pass.
By the time he got out in 1960, music had passed him by.
So the Bonita High dropout hung up his guitar, got married, bought a home in Ontario and spent the next three decades in the stockroom of missile-makin’ General Dynamics. (Crazy, man, crazy.)
A rockabilly revival in the 1980s led by the Stray Cats resulted in his unlikely comeback.
An English record label put out an album of Glenn’s 1950s tracks. Fans wanted to find out more.
“I started getting calls from Europe,” Glenn marvels.
Aficionados hold him in high regard, perhaps not so much for his thin body of work as for what he represents: a link to Elvis-style rock. As he brags: “You could go on Google and type in “Glen Glenn’ and you’d be there all day.”
Dylan, a fan, chose him as opening act for a 1995 concert at the Hollywood Palladium. They met backstage.
“Dylan hugged me,” Glenn says.
When he was introduced to the Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer, Glenn says, “Setzer bowed to me. I said, “Why are you bowing to me? You’re bigger than I am.'”
On Saturday, Glenn will be onstage at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood as part of an Elvis tribute, an annual revue hosted by Art Fein. He’ll sing “Mean Woman Blues” and, of course, “Baby, Let’s Play House.”
Is it hard to perform at age 70?
As Mary, his wife of 43 years, likes to tease him: “Around the house you’re dead, but once you get onstage, you come alive.”
“When those lights come on,” Glenn adds, “it perks me up.”
David Allen, that hound dog, writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday.