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By James Rea

Carl Jackson
Carl Jackson

Carl Jackson's extraordinary career began in the mid-sixties, when his father took him back stage, to meet and play for Jim & Jesse McReynolds, at a local show near his hometown of Louisville, Mississippi. That meeting resulted in, Carl landing his first professional gig with the bluegrass greats, at 14 years of age. That same year, Carl was playing on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry and by 1972 Glen Campbell had hired Carl and was introducing him on National TV, as the greatest banjo player in the world.

"Glen came into town to play the state fair and being huge fans of his, my close friend, the late Keith Whitley and I went out to see the show. Afterwards we ran into Glen's banjo player, Larry McNeely, who persuaded us to come by the next day for a jam session. After picking for a while, Larry suddenly told me, he had been looking for someone to take his place with Glen because he was tired of traveling and that I was the guy. Larry took me to meet and play for Glen and he hired me on the spot."

During his years with Glen, Carl concentrated heavily on his vocal and songwriting abilities as well as his musicianship. He recorded two albums for Capitol Records, ("Carl Jackson: Banjo Player" and "Old Friends"), three for Sugar Hill, ("Banjo Man: A Tribute To Earl Scruggs", "Song Of The South", and "Banjo Hits"), and then in 1984 his signing with Columbia Records produced a couple of top forty country songs, "She's Gone, Gone, Gone" and "Dixie Train".

When it was time to leave Glen's show and strike out on his own, Carl had no idea what God had in store. As a vocalist, you can hear him on recordings with EmmyLou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner, Garth Brooks, Janie Fricke, Dolly Parton, Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, Marsha Thornton, John Anderson, Mac Davis, Pam Tillis, Radney Foster, Joe Diffie, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Holly Dunn, Glen Campbell, Lorrie Morgan, Martina McBride, Marty Stuart, Ken Mellons, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams Jr., Rodney Crowell, Mike Reid, James Bonemy, Mindy McReady, Linda Ronstadt, Keith Whitley, George Jones, Rhonda Vincent, Patty Loveless, Ricky Van Shelton, Shawn King, Ashley Monroe, Alecia Nugent, Mark Newton, Bradley Walker, Travis Tritt, Merle Haggard, Jon Randall, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Joey + Rory and Roger Miller, just to name a few.

Hundreds of Jackson's songs have been recorded, with sales in excess of 40 Million, by such artists as Glen Campbell "Letter to Home", Wild Rose "Breaking New Ground", Pam Tillis "Put Yourself In My Place", Trisha Yearwood "Lonesome Dove", Diamond Rio "Close To The Edge", Patty Loveless "You Don't Know How Lucky You Are", Steve Wariner "The Same Mistake Again", Vince Gill "Real Lady's Man", Daron Norwood "My Girl Friday", Rhonda Vincent "I'm Not Over You", Mike Snider, The Seldom Scene, Charly McLain, Nancy Sinatra, The Chuck Wagon Gang, Bobbie Cryner, The Lewis Family, Keith Stegall, Tony Rice, Red Steagal, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, lllrd Tyme Out, The Rarely Herd, Alecia Nugent, Continental Divide, The McCarters, The Country Gentlemen, Mark Newton, Johnny Paycheck, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Mel Tillis, Bradley Walker, Jim & Jesse, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Jon Randall, Ricky Lynn Gregg, Mountain Heart, Terri Clark, The Oak Ridge Boys, Brad Paisley, Marty Raybon, Joe Diffie and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Carl's work can also be heard at baseball and football games. He penned theme songs and jingles for the California Angels "California 9 to 5", "Dreams" and "Something To Shout About" and the Ole Miss Rebels "Neath The Oaks In The Grove".

Jackson's "Little Mountain Church House" was voted the 1990 International Bluegrass Music Association song of the year and has since been recorded, by well over 100 artists.

On February 25th, 1992, for his album with John Starling entitled "Spring Training", Carl was awarded his first Grammy. A few months later he received a Dove Award for southern gospel song of the year, "Where Shadows Never Fall", recorded by Glen Campbell. The beautiful ballad, "No Future In The Past", by male vocalist of the year Vince Gill was a huge songwriting success for Carl and was named the #1 Country Song of the Year for 1993 by Radio & Records magazine. In 1998, after hearing Carl's demo, Garth Brooks decided to include the Jackson spiritual entitled "Fit For A King" and "Against The Grain" in his "Sevens" project.

A poll conducted by Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine several years ago found Carl to have written eight, of the top 200 bluegrass songs of all time.

Who was your most cherished Mentor?
"That would easily be my dad. There was a guy who gave me 2 or 3 lessons on banjo named Bud Rose, in east Tennessee. If you're talking about a star, I'd have to say Glen Campbell, Emmy Lou and Dolly. Glen was an incredible mentor to me. Being with Glen taught me so much about singing, so much about performing, and some things not to do. My songwriting mentor was Tim Rushing"

Do you currently have a publisher?
"No, I'm self-published...I don't even have a plugger right now. That end of it is so time-consuming. You know...whatever the latest excuse words are for not cutting a song."

Carl Jackson's rich body of production credits currently includes (2007 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) Bradley Walker, who last week, was a nominee for Best Contemporary Male Vocalist, at the SPBGMA Awards (The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America), Alecia Nugent, who had 2 SPBGMA nominations for both Contemporary and Traditional Female Vocalist of the Year and hot new country sweethearts, Joey + Rory.

Are you involved in any formal capacity with the SPBGMA or IBMA?
"Absolutely, I on the IBMA on the Board of Directors, Executive Committee and I'm the IBMA Fan Fest producer."

What is IBMA's most difficult challenge?
"Same as everyone...we're bleeding money. We need more memberships. We need to make it bigger and more available to more people."

One of Carl's finest production successes is entitled "Livin', Lovin', Losin' - Songs Of The Louvin Brothers" and was the 2003 Grammy winner for Country Album of the Year. "How's The World Treating You", an incredible duet from the album, featuring James Taylor and Alison Krauss also won the 2003 Grammy for vocal collaboration of the year.

The CD was released in September 2003 and contains other performances by EmmyLou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Patty Loveless & Jon Randal, Dolly Parton & Sonya Isaacs, Joe Nichols & Rhonda Vincent, Glen Campbell & Leslie Satcher, Johnny Cash & Pam Tillis, Vince Gill & Terri Clark, Ronnie Dunn & Rebecca Lynn Howard, Harley Allen & Dierks Bentley, Marty Stuart & Del McCoury, Kathy Louvin & Pamela Brown Hayes, as well as three performances by Carl himself; one with songwriting pals, Larry Cordle & Jerry Salley, one with country legend, Merle Haggard, and one with the incredible Linda Ronstadt.

What are the biggest challenges you consistently face, when producing?
"First of all...I won't agree to just produce anybody. They have to meet my qualifications...The first one I look for in a singer is that they can sing, Carl said laughingly. Second is their ability to recognize a good song. I want to see their willingness to stand for what they believe in and what I believe in. I tell them we're going into this together...and I tell them right up front; "If there's a song that the label or anybody pushes at you and even if you do believe that the song is a "HIT"...but you hate the you have the courage to say no, because I have the courage to stand with you."

What if your artist likes the song and you don't?
"I cover that too...There will be songs that I believe in, but bottom line, if you don't want to do it and you're not comfortable, I'm not going to try to make you do it."

Is that kind of attitude more prevalent in Bluegrass?
"It's prevalent with me. It gets you a lot of good things like respect and loyalty, but you have to be willing to give those in return. Those who stand firm are the Alison Krauss's of the world. There are plenty of people who are going to like what you like.
We're trying to get everybody to be a fan of the same thing."

Is my perception correct? Did "OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU" give the Bluegrass community new hope?
"I think it did...absolutely...a huge boost."

Is there evidence that Bluegrass became more popular, as a result?
"I think there's some evidence of it. When you listen to a country record and realize that's Stuart Duncan or Aubrey Haynie, or those harmonies are bluegrass and that dobro player is Rob Ickes or Jerry Douglas. The best musicians in the world are bluegrass musicians. They can play anything. Just ask, any producer in country who they want...Brian Sutton...he's the best."

Is the Bluegrass industry experiencing the same problems as the Country Industry?
"They might be slightly different because Bluegrass has not completely caved. They try to make it better."

My perception is that Bluegrass artists do not seek the spotlight like Country Artists. Is there any reason why artists like Alecia Nugent couldn't be the spokesperson for some of the products we see in commercials on the Rural Farm Network?
"That's actually a good idea James."

Carl played guitar, as well as sang and produced all the harmony vocals on Hag's release, "The Bluegrass Sessions", except on one song. Alison Krauss joins Carl and lends her angelic voice to "Mama's Hungry Eyes".

Carl further leant his talents to Brad Paisley project, singing harmony on the title track, "This Is Country Music", as well as "A Man Don't Have To Die", along with the awesome, Sonya Isaacs. He is also featured, along with Marty Stuart and Sheryl Crow, on the bluegrass gospel classic, "Life's Railway To Heaven", not only singing some high lonesome tenor, but also soloing on five string banjo.

On September 21st 2011, another monumental project produced by Jackson was released to the public and is currently getting rave reviews across the country. "Mark Twain: Words & Music" tells the life story of the great Samuel Clemens and contains magical musical performances by Emmylou Harris, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent, Bradley Walker, The Church Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Marty Raybon, Val Storey, Vince Gill, Joe Diffie and Ricky Skaggs, as well as narration by Garrison Keillor, along with Jimmy Buffet, as the voice of Huck Finn, and non-other than Mr. Clint Eastwood, as the legendary Mark Twain. Carl even performs a song himself, entitled "Safe Water", co-written with dear friend, Jerry Salley.

When you produce a multi-artist project, do you produce all of the artists?
"For the most part I produce them all. On the Louvin Bros project, I absolutely refused to let anyone else do it and I had Tony Brown and Tim Dubois standing behind me , on that and they applauded me for it. I've always been so grateful to them for doing that. On the Mark Twain project I went in with full control."

Jackson also had a hand in the production of several great artists such as Ruby Lovett, Slickerbilly, Mike Ward, Real Surreal, Carly Goodwin, Bering Strait, Jim & Jesse and Bobbie Cryner, whose first effort on Sony Records received the honor of Best Country Album of 1993 in USA Today.

Carl has two great writer's CD's along with pals, Larry Cordle & Jerry Salley, entitled "Against The Grain" and "Lonesome Cafe". He is also the producer of the critically acclaimed tribute to the late Gram Parsons called "The Gram Parsons Notebook", available on Shell Point Records.

And...for some hot guitar pickin', listen to Carl along with Steve Wariner, Mark O'Conner and Jimmy Olander sizzle on "Hap Towne Breakdowne", included on Steve's instrumental album, "No More Mr. Nice Guy".

What was the biggest surprise of your career?
"So many things in my career have been surprises, like getting with Glen Campbell for the first time. I literally have 3 or 4 pages in my high school year book, where classmates have written; "See you on Glen Campbell some day" When it happened it was like it was supposed to happen. Like winning the Grammies, it was a big surprise but it too, felt as if it was meant to be. I can only explain it by saying "God has been very good to me". I dreamed about working for Glen Campbell and all of a sudden...there it was."

What's your biggest disappointment industry-wise, since you came to Nashville?
"I am very happy for people who do well, but to see Country music almost be wiped off the screen for pop music basically. Country has been willing to become another kind of music. You can call it country and we can call it good, but at some point, it's just not country. I get tired of something being presented as country when it ain't even close to country. Ray Price, Haggart and Campbell wouldn't have a chance today. If we can agree that Merl is country, can we safely say that Rascal Flatts is not country? That's not a dis to them, but should we call it country? Sometimes if you don't look down the road at what you're doing and you look short term, you can wind up in a mess. Overall, is Country doing better...I don't think so...I don't see how it's really gaining more fans. You can go too far and then it isn't Bluegrass or Country anymore."

So it all boils down to "who" the labels are signing?
"Exactly...It becomes almost like a process. They've got this kind of act so we've gotta sign an act like that. We've been through these phases. We've seen it good ways, like when Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis came along and brought Country Music back. And we see it in other ways that kind of take it in another direction"

Have you ever been asked to run a label?
"Merv Griffin wanted to start a label here in town before he passed away and I was the guy he was talking to. Merv was willing to give me total control. Funny story...Frank Liddell was having lunch in LA and wound up meeting Merv. When Frank was introduced as a producer and publisher from Nashville, Merv said; Frank, I'm so glad to meet you, do you know my good friend Carl Jackson? Frank laughed...he was expecting...Do you know Tim McGraw or Garth Brooks."

Have you ever thought about starting your own label?
"I'd love to do that, if I had the funds and could treat people the way they should be treated. It's difficult to say the least. Imagine starting a label and trying to get space at Walmart."

Grammy-boy Carl also has 5 IBMA Awards, 3 SPBGMA Awards, 3 ASCAP Awards, a Dove Award, and an International TV Programming Award. He's a Mississippi Musicians Hall of Famer and in 2008 Carl became an SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats inductee.

On December 26th, 2011 the state of Mississippi honored Carl with an official Country Music Trail Marker in his hometown of Louisville. The beautiful marker, which highlights Jackson's career, stands within a stone's throw of the historic Strand Theatre. Carl performs his annual "Home For Christmas" concert every December in the very building where he used to watch movies as a kid.

And there's more...

It was just announced that on February 16, Carl will be a recipient of THE GOVERNOR'S AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE IN MUSIC! Carl was nominated by Senator Giles Ward and Congressman Greg Harper.

Is there a seed of "Stewardship" that The Lord has prompted, that you are conscious of?
"I've always said that I'm here to make a difference. It's going to sound odd to you, but a couple of times I've been approached about getting into politics. I might, if I felt like someone would believe in me enough to know that I would stand on those same principles in life, as I do musically."

Your lyric says; "It was there in that "Little Mountain Church House" I first heard the word to base my life upon". What was the name of that church?
"It was the Wess Chapel Baptist Church."

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