It’s that voice—it’s unforgettable; the moment we hear those golden tones delivering a jaunty “Galveston” or a mournful “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” there’s no mistaking that we’re listening to Glen Campbell. Thanks to producer Carl Jackson, working closely with Campbell’s family, we have the chance to hear that memorable voice, as well as some special guitar playing, one last time on his farewell album Adiós. Just after his farewell tour in 2012, Campbell’s wife, Kim, long-time family friend Jackson, and Campbell’s family decided that it was a perfect time to get Campbell, who was then rapidly declining in his struggle with Alzheimer’s, back into the studio to sing some of his favorite songs. “I was sitting around with Glen’s family, and we were talking about the songs he has always loved and played but that he’s never had recorded before. These are songs he’ll sit down and play on his guitar in his living room; they’re some of his favorites, and we just thought it would be great if he had a chance to get them on a record,” says Jackson, who joined Campbell’s band at 18 as a banjo player. The spirit in the studio is palpable, and the deep love filling these songs flows out of the speakers. Our sorrow over the loss of Campbell’s presence and his voice overwhelms us, but the poignant joy dwelling in these songs enliven us with joy and love.
The album kicks off with a jaunty take on Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” a tune that Campbell played in 1973 on the The Sonny and Cher Comedy Show, but never recorded himself. Harry Nilsson’s version that appears in the movie Midnight Cowboy lacks the light-hearted energy of Campbell’s take on the tune. Campbell’s daughter Ashley propels the song with her brisk and lively banjo playing, turning it into a breezy bluegrass tune; Campbell takes the song to another plane with his vocal modulations in the second chorus, making the song his own.
Campbell has always been a master of the plaintive love song, words filled with sweet regret, of hopes dashed, of moments not consummated. He fills Jimmy Webb’s “Just Like Always” with that mournful tone, but he handles the vocals in a lilting jazz style that disguise the loss he’s feeling. When Campbell sings “Maybe someday I really will forget/I’ll really learn to live again, I’ll live without regret/Funny, isn’t it? This man ain’t laughing yet/Does love really last forever?/Does the ocean love the sunset every time?/I pass your street, I look both ways, so incomplete/And I think that I might see you but of course, I don’t” we sink into the sorrow the singer can’t shake.
“Arkansas Farmboy” tells the story of Campbell’s life. Jackson, who also sings harmony on this tune, recalls: “I wrote it on a flight in the mid-late 1970s on an overseas flight. Glen had told me the story of his granddaddy buying him his first guitar for $5 at Sears & Roebuck. He learned how to play ‘In the Pines’ on it, and the rest is history, of course. The title just popped into my head; that’s what he was, just an Arkansas farm boy.” In moment of songwriting genius, Jackson opens with the lead riff from “In the Pines,” a motif that then flows beneath the entire song.
The two most beautiful songs on the album—“Postcards from Paris” and the title track—not only capture the exalted tones of Campbell’s voice, but they also express a deep longing for a closeness that distance can never overcome. Jimmy Webb’s “Postcards from Paris,” which Campbell’s daughter Ashley describes as “one of my dad’s favorite Jimmy Webb songs,” opens with Catherine Marx’s cascading piano and Campbell’s spare vocals that express his loneliness. The song builds to a crescendo with a heavenly chorus of Campbell’s children Ashley, Cal, and Shannon singing “I wish you were here.” The singer promises that “I’ll never leave you alone again/I’m coming home/but until then/I wish you were here.” “Adiós,” another Jimmy Webb song, fittingly closes the album; a fluid little Spanish-guitar-inflected tune, the song bids farewell to dreams while also reveling in the glories of a deeply lived life. The closing lines of the song—“Our dreams of endless summers/Were just too grandiose/Adiós, adios/And I’ll miss the blood red sunset/But I’ll miss you the most/Adiós, adiós Adiós, adiós Adiós, adios”—will bring a few tears to anyone’s eyes.
Adiós might be a farewell album, but it’s a celebratory, joyous, and fond reminder that Glen Campbell lives on in our hearts in song.
I chatted with Carl Jackson by phone recently about the making of the album and about his long-time friendship with Glen Campbell.
Tell me a about the making of the album.
Carl Jackson: I went in ahead of time and cut the tracks, just with my vocals and guitar. I let Glen live with them for a while and then we went into the studio. He couldn’t recall the lyrics, so I typed them in large print on a piece of paper and showed him one verse at a time. You know, though, sometimes he could remember an entire chorus for a song, but other times, I’d have to show him one line at a time. Some of these songs also reflect me showing Glen this or that, as well as Glen taking liberties with the music in his vocals. Glen is the ultimate singer, though. He still has perfect pitch.
What was the spirit in the studio?
Jackson: We’d find whatever smiles could be found. We’d tell stories, and we laughed so much. It was a joyous time, and I wouldn’t take anything for it.
When did you first meet Glen Campbell?
Jackson: First time I met Glen was at the Ohio State Fair. Keith Whitley and I went to see him play, and after the show we were walking to our car. I happened to see Glen’s banjo player, Larry McNeely, near the backstage entrance. I went over to say hello to him, and he recognized me because he knew my playing with Jim & Jesse. He told me to come back the next afternoon and he’d introduce me to Glen. I can still see Glen sitting there in that dressing room. He said, “So, you play banjo?” I told him I did, and he asked me to play all these songs for him, like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Rocky Top,” Little Rock Getaway.” After I finished, Glen asked me if I played guitar, too, and asked me if I could play “The Claw,” by Jerry Reed. After I finished, he asked, “How much you want to make?” I told him, “A million bucks!” What I realized later was that Larry McNeely was wanting to leave the road, and that Glen was auditioning me. (laughs)
What are Glen’s most memorable traits?
Jackson: His professionalism, his vocal ability; he’s a good, honest, and sincere person. He was instantly family; Ashley is my goddaughter. He gave me his guitar the first night I went with him: “you like that guitar? It’s yours.” He gave me a 1957 T-Bird that I have to this day. How humble he was. I would see him sign autographs until the last person left. He would try to be good to his fans because they wanted to be good to him.
What are your favorite memories of Glen?
Jackson: He is completely natural and unlimited in his ability to sing. He had no limits on his vocal ability or on his range. One of the greatest improvisers on the guitar. He’s totally fearless in his solos. He loved Django Reinhardt. I saw him play once with George Benson; Benson thought he had played a solo—and I’m not taking anything away from him—but when Glen played his solo he left Benson in the dust.
What’s the greatest lesson you learned from Glen?
Jackson: Oh, there are so many. (laughs) There were some things he taught me not to do (laughs). He helped me to be a better person, musician, and singer. He had the greatest impact on my vocal abilities; he taught me about harmony. Singing with Glen gave me a lot of confidence. Nobody is better than this guy, and he’s asking me to sing harmony with him. He also showed me how to do things right before you go out and do them, whether on stage or in the studio.
What is Glen Campbell’s legacy, and how do you think this album contributes to it?
Jackson: He’s the Golden Boy of Country Music. I wanted Glen to go out on a high note. This album is classic Glen Campbell that I know he would be proud of.
1. Everybody’s Talkin’
2. Just Like Always
3. Funny (How Time Slips Away) (feat. Willie Nelson)
4. Arkansas Farmboy
5. Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me) (intro by Roger Miller)
6. Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me) (feat. Vince Gill)
7. It Won’t Bring Her Back
8. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
9. She Thinks I Still Care
10. Postcard From Paris
11. A Thing Called Love