Carl Jackson & Kim Campbell Discuss How Glen Campbell's Final Album 'Adios' Was a 'Labor of Love'
Carl Jackson produced the country star's upcoming release, which is due June 9.
“One night I was in Columbus with Keith Whitley fronting a little bluegrass band,” Jackson recalls to Billboard. “Keith and I see that Glen is going to be at the Ohio State Fair, so we go see him. We ran into Larry McNeely after the show, and the next thing I know, Larry is inviting me to pick some with him. Then he asks me, ‘Do you want this job?’ I said ‘Yeah?’ He takes me to meet Glen, who hires me on the spot. I was still eighteen, and to suddenly be on the road with your hero, working with this guy, and he’s asking me to play certain things, like Jerry Reed’s ‘The Claw.’ He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff together, and you’re hired.'”
That evening changed the life of Jackson. All told, he spent twelve years in Campbell’s band, maintaining a close personal relationship with the singer for many years thereafter. But, that bond goes beyond a professional one -- that’s the way that Glen’s wife, Kim, sees it.
“Carl is the reason that Glen and I got married and had three children,” she says. “He and my best friend started dating, and had fixed us up on a blind date in New York. I was dancing at Radio City Music Hall. He’s Godfather to Ashley, so we’ve had a long relationship."
When the couple decided during Glen’s farewell tour back in 2011-12 that they would enter the studio for what could be a final time due to his ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s, Kim says there was no debate as to who she would seek to produce the sessions: Carl Jackson. “He harmonizes with Glen so beautifully. He knows him. Glen was still able to help with things such as tempo, so he really was a contributor. He knows how to sing a phrase, and those things still were there.” That album, Adios -- Glen’s sixty-fourth studio project -- hits stores June 9.
Jackson says there was definitely a sense of urgency as they went to work on the project. “It was at a time where he was obviously having difficulties, even at the end of the tour. He had to read his lyrics with teleprompters. But, he was still capable of holding melodies really well. I cut some tracks myself -- I did the vocals, and let Glen live with them for a while and get familiar with them. Then, I took him into the studio, stood there with him, and did line by line. He could not remember the lyrics. Some of them, he might remember part of a verse, or maybe on some of them, he might remember a whole verse. It was a lot of work, but it was a labor of love. I think there was so much love in the room between me and him and Kim -- Glen gave me a job with him when I was eighteen years old. I traveled on the road with him for twelve years, and he’s family. So, I feel like I was able to get things out of him that maybe at that point, couldn't have been done. He and I are so close. He didn't get frustrated but maybe once,” Jackson allowed. “He hung in there and did a wonderful job. I’m so proud of this record.”
Adios contains four songs from the lyrical fountain of Jimmy Webb, who has provided Campbell with some of his biggest hits over the years, including the beautiful “Postcard From Paris,” which features vocal harmonies from three of Glen’s children, daughter Ashley and sons Shannon and Cal. “It’s another great Jimmy Webb song. Having the kids sing on it brings chills to me whenever I hear it.”
When asked why Webb's lyrics always managed to make an emotional connection with Campbell, his wife said, “He said it’s the way he marries poetry to chord progression. It’s the heart and soul of the lyrics of what he’s saying. Glen never wanted to record a song that didn't say something profound. Jimmy knows how to do it better than anybody.”
What does Kim think when she hears Adios? “I miss my husband,” she offers. “It’s really sad. He’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. It’s so beautiful to me to hear him communicate with music. We’ll have that forever. It brings a tear to my eye. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s sweet, but it’s also bitter.”
Jackson praised the work that the Campbell family has done to help raise awareness of the disease since Glen’s diagnosis. “I think they have done so many good things to help other people going through the same situation. They have shown people that there’s no good way to handle it. Glen continued to tour and did the things that he was most familiar with. He was still at home on stage, even having to read the lyrics and everything. That’s where he felt most comfortable -- singing. I think that allowing him to do that rather than saying ‘Oh, he’s got Alzheimer’s. He can’t do anything anymore’ was a much better thing to do. I think it extended Glen’s life and made it better than it would have been otherwise. They have just been champions,” and Jackson said that forthright manner comes from Campbell himself. “He spoke openly about it. He kidded about it when he would forget things. He just went with it, and made the best of it. He continued to live the best way he could.”
The instrumental side of Campbell’s talent stayed the strongest over time, though Jackson sadly noted that by the end of the recording process, it had deteriorated to the point where Jackson took on those duties. “I hated that, in a sense, because he is known as such a great guitar player, but it did hold on past the lyrics. It was hard to keep him focused on playing a whole track -- there were a couple of things we cut that we weren't able to finish. But, I don’t want to dwell on that because it’s heartbreaking. He’s one of the greatest guitar players that ever lived. He was such a great jazz player, which a lot of people didn't realize. Merle Haggard, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra’s 'Strangers In The Night’…..That’s all Glen,” Jackson asserts. “He was amazing.”
One special track for Jackson on Adios is the biographical “Arkansas Farmboy,” which he wrote for Glen years earlier. “He had told me a story about his granddaddy teaching him to play 'In The Pines' on a five-dollar guitar. That stuck out to me. I remember we were on a flight overseas, I think going to Australia, and it started popping in my mind, so I wrote it and played it for Glen. He always loved the song, which I was proud of, because it was about him. It means the world for me to hear him sing these lyrics. I really believe it describes him. He’s the Arkansas Farmboy. He was comfortable in being that, but also meeting kings, queens, and presidents. Wherever he was, he was just Glen Campbell. He stayed the wonderful man he always was, and the best singer in the world. Doing this record means the world with me. To be able to work with him, and to do something for him that he couldn’t do on his own right now means a lot.”
One artist that will echo Jackson’s sentiments is Vince Gill, who lends his harmonies to “Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me).” Gill said that contributing to the project was special -- because of both men involved.
“In Carl Jackson’s hands, you know whatever you’re working on is going to be great," Gill says. "You can always count on Carl for doing things right. Looking back, I never had the opportunity to record with Glen. For that to happen at the end of his career, and life, with his illness -- those are the things that you can’t even begin to describe how amazing they feel. He is one of the greatest singers and greatest people. He is one of the guys that I can say that I emulated when I was a kid. I loved that he could sing, play, and was a session guy... all the things that I aspired to be. He’s very much one of my heroes, and it meant the world to me to hear our voices together.”
Kim says that she hopes that the fans who have supported Glen -- and their family -- will like what they hear. “I think they will be pleased. I think they will hear the same beautiful phrasing and interpretation that Glen is known for. I think it’s a gift to the fans, and also to future generations. I’m just so pleased that we were able to do it.”