In The Spotlight

Q&A With Carl Jackson

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Original hometown: Louisville, Miss.

Hometown now: Nashville, Tenn.

Q:Tell us about your first performance.

A: My Dad and my two uncles had a small bluegrass band in my Mississippi hometown. My first performance would have had to be with them sometime when I was around 8 or 9 years old. They had a local radio show on WLSM, and more than likely, I made my first appearance as a performer playing banjo on that show.

Q: Favorite performance and why.

A: In a professional career that spans well over 40 years, that’s an almost impossible question to answer. My first times on “The Tonight Show” and “Merv Griffin” were awesome experiences. Many dream to play Carnegie Hall, and I’ve had the honor of performing there with both Jim & Jesse as well as Glen Campbell.

Being a member of The Angel Band with Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill and Emory Gordy Jr., recording Dolly Parton’s live album in Pigeon Forge, duets with both Merle Haggard and Linda Ronstadt on the Louvin Brothers tribute project, “Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’, on and on and on … The list is simply too long and the blessings too great to pick just one.

Q: How did you get your first big break?

A: My Dad took me to see Jim & Jesse perform live at a small schoolhouse in Mississippi around 1964-65. After the show, he walked me backstage and asked them if they would listen to me play. After they did, he then told them that if they were ever in need of a banjo player that he and my Mom would consider letting me go do the job. Jim McReynolds called not long after I turned 14 years old and offered the position to me … a huge break that I will never forget.

Q: You’re a musician, singer, songwriter, producer and publisher and hold two Grammys. Can you tell us a bit about that? Any other awards you’re especially proud of? Are you still wearing all those hats? Is there a favorite?

A: The first Grammy in 1991 for Best Bluegrass Album particularly comes to mind. It was for a project called “Spring Training” with John Starling, and it’s simply impossible to describe the feeling of receiving that honor from your peers. The second Grammy in 2003 also stands out, and in fact, there is a certificate for a third even though I do not have the “hardware” for the third one.

I produced a song called “How’s The World Treating You” on James Taylor and Alison Krauss as a part of the Louvin Brothers project I mentioned earlier. Along with the entire project winning Country Album of the Year, that song individually won for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.

There have been many others … ASCAP Awards, the SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America) Hall of Greats, two SPBGMA Songwriter of the Year Awards, a Dove Award, the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame, the Governor’s Award for excellence in music from the state of Mississippi, an official Country Music Trail Marker from the state of Mississippi placed in my hometown. They all are my “favorites,” but as I told someone before … I think it just means I’m getting old!!!!

Q: Is there life outside music for you? What do you do to relax?

A: I’m a collector and a “picker” in more ways than just on guitars and banjos. One of my favorite TV shows is “American Pickers,” and I could actually see myself doing that and having a blast. I’m a huge sports memorabilia and baseball card collector. I love antique “quarter sawn oak” furniture. I enjoy the game of golf tremendously. I can spend all day fishing on my Dad’s pond in Mississippi, and I absolutely love to metal detect, especially around old homes for coins and relics from our past. Relaxing, when I can find the time, is not a problem!!!

Q: Can you comment on your muse?

A: There will always be one above all others, but let’s just say I think Picasso was on to something.

Q: Your career sounds like fiction. You’ve worked with or your songs have been performed by such a wide range of entertainers from Jim & Jesse, Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton, EmmyLou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Hank Williams Jr., Tammy Wynette, Martina McBride, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley, James Taylor, Linda Rondstadt and even Clint Eastwood. Is there a particular story that you can tell us about your experience working with any of these other performers or something that touched you?

A: Working with Sheryl Crow was a great experience. Brad Paisley had asked Sheryl and I to sing harmony on his cut of “Life’s Railway To Heaven” on his most recent album. We had not even met before, even though there had been some contact when I was producing the Louvin project back in 1992. I wanted her to take part in that, and she wanted to be a part of it but schedules and circumstances beyond our control prevented that from happening. So, here we were finally getting to meet and sing together. After we finished, Brad mentioned the Mark Twain project I was currently working on and wanted to know if I had finally gotten Alison Krauss to sing “Beautiful Dreamer.” Much like the scheduling problems I had faced with Sheryl in 1992, I was going through the same thing with Alison. Even though she had agreed and wanted to be a part of the project, she was in the middle of recording her “Paper Airplane” album and just completely swamped. I also was up against a deadline and had waited basically as long as I could to get her vocal. When Brad asked me that question, the light bulb pretty much went off over his and my head at the same time. Our eyes quickly turned to Sheryl and I asked, “Sheryl, would you consider singing “Beautiful Dreamer” for me and be a part of the Mark Twain project?” Her reply was, “Carl, I’d love to sing it for you.”  We got the complete lyrics off the Internet. She went in and sang it beautifully for me right on the spot and as they say, “the rest is history.”

Q: Jerry Salley and Val Storey will be joining you for your Fayetteville performance. How long have you been working with them, and what can we expect from the show?

A: I’ve known them both for a very long time, and they are two of the best friends I have in this world. From Jerry Salley you can expect to hear one of the best songwriters in Nashville, and no one sings better than Val Storey … period.

Q: We hear that you’ve been to Fayetteville before. What do you think of our town, and do you have Fayetteville connections?

A: I have several very good friends from the area and have been there quite a few times, always a pleasure.

Q: How many live performances do you do in a year?

A: Not that many. I make my living mainly as a songwriter and producer but always enjoy doing a certain amount of live performance, especially when it’s with wonderful folks like Jerry and Val or my other great song writing pal, Larry Cordle.

Q: Back stage ritual?

A: I don’t think I can point to any one thing in particular … maybe walking the floor. I’m always a bit anxious when waiting to go on.

Q: Funniest or strangest thing that ever happened during a performance?

A: Last year while performing the song “Comet Ride” in Hannibal, Mo., right in front of Mark Twain’s boyhood home, two meteors streaked across the sky. I noticed the crowd pointing to something, but didn’t know what was going on until after we had finished the set. Since I wrote the song about Samuel Clemens both coming into this world and going out with Halley’s Comet, I must admit, it seemed a little more than coincidental.

Q: Plans?

A: To continue to be a part of music with integrity, music I can be proud of and that will, hopefully, make a difference in what we all get to listen to.

Q: New projects?

A: We’re close to having a new Bradley Walker project completed. There are two or three more things I’m so excited about but don’t have the liberty to speak about at the moment.

Q: Last CD purchased?

A: I’m honestly not sure. There are plenty I’m sure I would purchase, if I ever can get through listening to all the ones that are given to me!!! LOL

Q: Most played song(s) on your iPod?

A: Believe it or not, I don’t listen much that way. Usually I’m listening to the latest thing I’m working on until it is finished, and then it’s on to the next project.

Q: Advice to young songwriters? Should they head to Nashville?

A: If Nashville is the place where their dream lies, then they should head directly there and do not pass go!!!!

 

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