Sideman ensures Campbell’s ‘Adios’ a fit farewell

Friday, July 7, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 27

Carl Jackson, Kim and Glen Campbell, backstage at the Ryman Auditorium in 2012.

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Carl Jackson

Carl Jackson, who owes much of his musical success to Glen Campbell, wants to make sure people know the man and the music …. Even if the Alzheimer’s-stricken star knows neither who he is nor what he’s accomplished.

That’s why Carl, a 63-year-old multiple-Grammy winning Nashville singer-songwriter, guitarist, banjo player and producer, is pushing hard to make sure people find out about and purchase “Adios,” an album of songs long-imprinted in Glen’s brain that he could summon one last time before disappearing into that damnable disease.

“He had lost his ability to remember lyrics, but he had not lost his melodic memory,” says Carl, who in addition to being the guy who coaxed one last album out of Glen before he left us with only recollections, is one of Nashville’s most engaging and kind musicians.

“Glen gave me a job when I was 18 years old. He made me feel like family instantly,” Carl adds, noting he was in the singer’s band for a dozen years, settling in Nashville when the lure of the road turned into a dusty blur in the rear-view mirror.

“Glen is very special and precious to me. But getting the honor of doing his very last studio album is ….” His voice halts, victim of emotion and impending loss.

“I worked hard to make sure it was all things Glen would be proud of.”

By all accounts Glen, the 81-year-old former member of L.A.’s legendary Wrecking Crew – the fraternity of West Coast musicians who gave harmony and musical texture to The Beach Boys, Dean Martin, The Byrds, Sinatra and countless others – still enjoys singing.

“He has perfect pitch,” says Glen’s proud, though stressed wife Kim Campbell, adding that what her beloved sings stopped making sense long ago.

“He sings a lot. It’s gibberish. It’s not any known melodies, but it’s really sweet,” says this attractive and loving woman, who for years has sat at his bedside and watched her husband slowly disappear into a void, into himself.

The “Gentle on My Mind” singer, known throughout his stellar career for vocal purity and guitar expertise, has no idea what he’s singing these days. It’s not in any recognizable language.

But it sure sounds good, according to his wife of 35 years. “He’s in tune,” Kim points out.

“It is very depressing and sad” to see him disappear gradually, she says of her husband, who first was diagnosed in 2009 with “mild cognitive impairment.”

By 2011, that impairment diagnosis was replaced by Alzheimer’s. And Glen – with the support of his wife – decided to use his dimming life to shed public light on that disease by going on the concert trail for “The Goodbye Tour.”

This new album, “Adios,” was recorded soon after he’d made his final bow. Before he disappeared.

During that final tour, Glen used a teleprompter to put together lyrics that long ago became part of his signature songbook. And, as he knew he was saying “so long” to his fans, he didn’t publicly mourn his own loss. Rather he tried to leave his audiences with lasting memories as his own vanished.

His story and that of his family and friends also is detailed in the heart-breaking film, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” – with the Oscar-nominated and Grammy-winning song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” – in which he allows us to witness his decline when he knew he was losing himself.

Kim – Carl introduced her to Glen decades ago – quickly adds that she and her husband always enjoyed each other’s company … and that hasn’t changed. “I love being with my husband….” Even though he doesn’t know she’s a constant fixture at his bedside in a Nashville facility that specializes in nurturing memory-loss patients and their families.

The Glen Campbell Band around 1980, which includes, from left,  T.J. Kuenster, Steve Turner, Craig Fall, Bill McCubbin, Campbell, Steve Hardin and Carl Jackson. Jackson, now 63 , began working for Campbell at age 18.

-- Photographs Courtesy Of Carl Jackson

Her voice smiles softly. “He’s my husband, and I love him.”

For his fans smart enough to pick up “Adios,” his final studio album, joy likely will waltz – or perhaps Texas two-step – with melancholy while listening to Glen singing at a time when he knew he was going away forever, as memories of love, accomplishment and friendship vanish.

When Glen was on that precipice before retreating completely within himself, Carl – his sideman and friend and producer of “Adios” – says his dear mentor, best known for such staples as “Wichita Lineman,” “made fun of himself when he forgot things.” Onstage, he purposely coaxed the audience to laughter when he flubbed lyrics or melody.

“There may have been a small percentage who said ‘What is Glen doing out there singing?’” Carl adds, quickly dismissing those critics. “Well, he was so happy. He just loved being out there.”

That Goodbye Tour was in 2012-13, with the “Adios” album recorded shortly thereafter. Now the great showman spends days and nights in the memory-care facility, surrounded by his wife and kids, by Carl, by other longtime friends from the music business.

“He is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s,” says Kim, who joined her husband in trying to illuminate this disease for the world. Since his full descent into darkness, she has used her experience and her husband’s tale to help people on both sides of the hospital bed rail.

“He’s physically healthy and cheerful. He has some aphasia,” Kim notes. “He can’t understand language. He can’t process it. It’s gradual, but now it’s pretty severe for him.

“He communicates with smiles and hugs and kisses. I’m happy to report he is very cheerful and happy, which is all I can hope for.”

Carl Jackson playing along with Glen Campbell, around 1972 or 73.

-- Courtesy Of Carl Jackson

Kim has become a guiding light for families of those suffering this illness. Many of these she meets while visiting her husband. Others she reaches through personal appearances and her website and blog.

“Our family has joined a memory-care community. It’s our community, because Alzheimer’s hits the whole family.

“I became friends with a lot of other women, wives of Glen’s neighbors (in the medical facility). We formed a support group. We are so depressed by losing our loved ones – minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.”

She thanks Carl, who on “Adios” preserves, for one last time, Glen’s voice, even as his memories of his life as a hit-maker and show biz golden boy vanish.

This new album “Adios” – appropriately titled because that Jimmy Webb song is the finale – is almost magical to Kim.

“All of Glen’s albums are important to me,” she adds. “But this one, there’s a wisdom in his voice, even with Alzheimer’s. That wisdom comes with age. His voice is so beautiful and pure.

“These songs come from such a place that’s deep within his memories and deep in his heart.”

Carl took on a literally monumental task of love when producing the album. “I worked hard to make sure it was all things Glen would be proud of,” says the producer, co-conspirator and – for a final time – sideman and harmonist for this man he loves.

The singer, Carl and Kim worked diligently on the song selection. “Everybody’s Talkin,’” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “She Thinks I Still Care” and the rest all are songs the singer and guitarist played and sang for fun in the old days. But he’d never captured them in the studio.

“These are things he wanted to record for many, many years,” recalls Carl, who is godfather to Glen and Kim’s banjo/guitar wizard daughter, Ashley.

“He’s the best singer I ever heard in my life,” Carl continues. “I learned so much from Glen. He gave me so many treasures over the course of my life.”

Carl – who left his Mississippi home at 14 to become a professional picker for Jim & Jesse McReynolds, basically commuting to and from his high school to the road and the studio – has worked with many great musicians.

Jackson and Campbel are joined by Jimmy Webb at the ASCAP awards in 2006.

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Carl Jackson

But he fatefully encountered his lifelong hero at a long-ago Ohio State Fair. Carl was there as a member of The Country Store, a musical group that included doomed country classicist and good guy Keith Whitley, Jimmy Gaudreau and Bill Rawlins.

He left the fair as a star member of state fair headliner Glen’s band. “He featured me on every stage show. He put me on the marquee in Vegas and Tahoe. He was so gracious.

“Talk about what a great man he is.”

He uses present tense “is” rather than past tense “was” when talking about his pal and hero.

“By the grace of God, he’s still here,” says Carl, who visits Glen and Kim at the facility as often as possible. “And he’s healthy. He hasn’t forgotten how to eat,” generally a death blow for Alzheimer’s patients.

“Yes, there is sadness. But I’m thankful I can see him. He’s still got that smile on his face. I can’t know what’s going on in there. Maybe it’s not as jumbled inside Glen’s head as it comes out.”

Kim explains this album – destined to become a country music classic and a sonic blast of hope for people dealing with dementia among their loved ones – came about almost by accident.

“We didn’t set out to make a record,” she says. “We were just trying to help Glen record songs he’d always wanted to record, but didn’t have a chance.

“We were crossing those off his ‘Bucket List.’”

Carl Jackson and Glen Campbell’s daughter, Ashley, backstage at the Ryman Auditorium in 2012.

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Carl Jackson

She said that in December 2013, right after the Goodbye Tour, she and Carl and Glen all knew if ever this project was going to be done, it had a rapidly approaching deadline.

“We had to choose songs that were deeply ingrained in Glen’s memory. These were the songs he sang when he would pick up a guitar,” Kim remembers. “These were his ‘go-to’ songs.”

For producer, guitar accompanist and harmony singer Carl, it was a melancholy labor of love, as he already was beginning to miss the quick-witted man he’d idolized.

Carl says that in his senior yearbook from his high school in Louisville, Mississippi, “four or five of the kids I graduated with knew I was working with Jim & Jesse, and they wrote ‘See you on ‘Glen Campbell’ someday.’”

While Carl did not make it as a sideman until after the 1969-72 “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” TV series folded, he is proud of his dozen years in the singer’s band.

And he is especially proud of the personal joy he shared with his old friend while making “Adios.”

“We went to tunes that he was so familiar with …. It was divine intervention. It was ‘These are the songs you are supposed to do.’”

Kim stood by her husband to offer support and encouragement even as he struggled with these once-familiar songs.

“He had lost his ability to remember lyrics, but he had not lost any of his melodic memory. He had perfect pitch,” Carl says.

Jackson at Station Inn

Carl Jackson plays guitar, banjo and sings at 9 p.m. very Monday night at The Station Inn. His “New Monday” band mates include Larry Cordle (guitar and vocals), Val Storey (vocals) , Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Larry Atamanuik (drums), Mike Bub (bass), Catherine Marx (keyboards) and Doug Jernigan (steel guitar).  Friends, including Ashley Campbell, often drop in.

Melancholy love flavors Carl’s voice as he recalls the exhausting-but-rewarding recording sessions.

Carl helped guide Glen by demo-recording himself singing with the melodies, doing the best he could to give the singer a vocal road map.

“I was very aware of Glen’s phrasing,” explains Carl, who put that knowledge to good use while he recorded the demo songs.

“Sometimes we had to do a line at a time, but because of Glen’s God-given vocal ability and all my love for Glen… If we had to do a line over again, we did. I knew when we had it and I marked what we had.

“It wasn’t as painstaking as everybody might think,” he says. “It wasn’t easy. But it was nothing but complete joy. Glen was in his element. We had a great time. I treasure it.

“Glen approached the whole Alzheimer’s thing differently than other people do. Glen laughed when he forgot things. He’d make a joke out of it. It is pretty amazing.”

It was only in the last six months or so that Carl took those rough sessions and worked them into a cohesive collection of songs to remind people of “what a great artist Glen Campbell is.”

Ashley Campbell put down all the banjo parts for the album, and she praises her godfather’s commitment. “You can tell just from one hearing that any music Carl Jackson has ever created is made with love. He’s just the best, a beyond-talented musician, and I’m blessed to have him in my life.” She, along with siblings Shannon and Cal, also took care of some of the backing vocals.

In recent months, a pair of Glen’s biggest friends and admirers joined the project, as did one of his long-dead running buddies.

Ashley Campbell joins Carl Jackson onstage at the Station Inn in 2015.

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Carl Jackson

Willie Nelson added his voice to his classic “Funny How Time Slips Away.”

“Am I Alone (Or is It Only Me)” is dressed up with a raw introduction by its author, the late, great wordsmith Roger Miller, among Glen’s best friends. It was recorded at Roger’s house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, more than 30 years ago, when the “King of the Road” star first played the song for his friend. Kim, who recorded it back then, kept the cassette all these years. (Roger died in 1992).

Carl took that cassette and transferred it onto this album as an introduction to Glen’s new version, that has country’s MVP nice guy (who’s now taking it easy as a temporary member of The Eagles) Vince Gill, singing harmony.

“Vince had never gotten to sing with Glen before. He told me it was something he’d always wanted to do and hadn’t gotten a chance,” Carl says. “It was good to fulfill a dream for him, too, since he’s such a friend of mine.”

The rest of the songs come from the Jimmy Webb, Fred Neil, Jerry Reed, Dickey Lee/Steve Duffy and Bob Dylan songbooks.

Webb, who provided so many of Glen’s classics during his career, has four songs on the record: “Just Like Always,” “It Won’t Bring Her Back,” “Postcard from Paris” … as well as “Adios,” the closing song.

It is heart-breaking to hear Glen’s magical voice powerfully soar the word “adios” as the album’s coda.

Hearing “Arkansas Farmboy,” written 30 years ago by Carl about Campbell and for Campbell, is another of the joys of this recording and the divine inspiration to which Carl attributes this album’s existence.

Carl wrote that song in third-person, but on this album he has that former farmboy-turned-superstar do it as autobiography.

“I found it chilling to hear him sing it in first person. It’s a true story. I’m so proud of it. It’s such an incredible memory for me,” Carl says.

“He had told me that story about his granddaddy teaching him to play ‘In the Pines’ on a $5 Sears & Roebuck guitar. It (the sessions with grandpa) led to a fortune he’d have given back to go back to those days. It takes on a new meaning now. To hear him sing it now is very powerful.”

“This album is the ultimate,” adds Carl, who has recorded countless titles in his long career. “It’s the one I treasure most.

“Glen is family, and I love him with all my heart. He deserves to go out on a super-high note.”