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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: CARL JACKSON

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: CARL JACKSON

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Anyone who knows anything about Bluegrass, knows the now legendary name, Carl Jackson. As of 2015 Carl has produced, written & published songs on, sung on and played on over 650 albums, 9 of which were his own and 7 of which were collaborations with one of his dearest friends, Emmylou Harris. As a songwriter, Jackson has had well over 450 cuts. His song Little Mountain Church House alone, which was voted the 1990 International Bluegrass Music Association song of the year, has been recorded by over 100 artists and according to a poll conducted by Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine, Carl has written 8 of the top Bluegrass songs of all time.

Carl Jackson
Carl Jackson

A short 'but significant' list of artists featured in Carl's enormous body of work includes; Emmylou Harris (13 albums), Dolly Parton (16 albums), Vince Gill (16 albums) , Glen Campbell (16 albums), Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner, Dwight Yoakam, Garth Brooks, Janie Fricke, Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, Marsha Thornton, John Anderson, Mac Davis, Pam Tillis, Radney Foster, Joe Diffie, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Holly Dunn, 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, Joey + Rory, Roger Miller, Wild Rose, Diamond Rio, Daron Norwood, 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, The Whites, lllrd Tyme Out, The Rarely Herd, Continental Divide, The McCarters, Val Storey, The Country Gentlemen, Mark Newton, Johnny Paycheck, Mel Tillis, Jim & Jesse, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Jerry Salley, Ricky Lynn Gregg, Mountain Heart, Terri Clark, The Oak Ridge Boys, Marty Raybon, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tricia Yearwood, Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Keb' Mo' and the Father of Bluegrass himself Bill Monroe.

Some of the highlights of Jackson's illustrious career include his first Grammy in 1992, for his album with John Starling entitled "SPRING TRAINING". 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.

Carl's second Grammy was the 2003 Country Album of the Year, "Livin', Lovin', Losin' - Songs of The Louvin Brothers". "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, for which Jackson received a Grammy Certificate.

Carl has 5 IBMA Awards, 3 ASCAP Awards, 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 and...he has won SPBGMA Songwriter of the Year twice.

Another monumental Jackson project "Mark Twain: Words & Music" released in 2011, tells the life story of the great Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) 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 his buddy, Jerry Salley.

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

In 2012 Carl became the recipient of THE GOVERNOR'S AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE IN MUSIC! Carl was nominated by Senator Giles Ward and Congressman Greg Harper.

And in January of 2013, Carl's beautiful guitar project entitled "GRACE NOTES" was released. It is a long awaited collection of twelve beloved hymns played on twelve different (mostly vintage) guitars. A spoken description and the story behind each guitar, precedes each track.

One thing nobody can deny, when Carl Jackson commits to a project, he doesn't rest until it's released. For the past 2 1/2 years, Jackson has been completely engrossed in his latest project that coincidently was finally released last week on May 12th.

"ORTHOPHONIC JOY: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited" is a multi-artist, star-studded, tribute to the "Big Bang of Country Music" that happened in Bristol, Tennessee during the summer of 1927.

Orthophonic Joy
Orthophonic Joy

And considering the historical significance of The Bristol Sessions, don't be the least bit surprised if another slew of 2015 Awards, are about to come Mr. Jackson's way.

The Producer's Chair: What have you been doing since our last interview in 2012?

Carl Jackson: That's a good question. I play every Monday night at The Station Inn with Larry Cordle and Val Storey, along with Aubrey Haynie on fiddle, Catherine Marx on keyboards, Doug Jernigan on steel guitar, Mike Bub on bass and Larry Atamanuik on drums.

Let me think what I've done. I've worked for two and a half years on this latest thing. I've done some stuff with Dolly. I've done some stuff with Brad Paisley. Gosh, I sang on 'This Is Country Music', I sang on several things of Brad's. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have recorded a couple things. Rhonda Vincent has recorded a single on 'Run Mississippi'. Nu-Blue recorded a thing called 'All The Way'. Gosh, The Trinity River Band recorded 'Faithless Heart'. I've got another Bradley Walker project basically in the can. It's about 75 percent done. We've just got to get in and finish it. And, I'm working on a Joey + Rory gospel project. The 'ORTHOPHONIC JOY' project has taken my time completely for the past two and a half years. It's like herding a bunch of cats, if you can imagine.

The Producer's Chair: OK, Let's get right to the Bristol Sessions. You know yourself, they've been referred to as 'The Big Bang' of modern country music.

Carl Jackson: Johnny Cash said that they were the single most important event in country music history.

The Producer's Chair: Did you come up with the idea of doing this project, or was it brought to you?

Carl Jackson: The idea itself was brought to me. It was a buddy of mine named Rusty Morrell. He's a native of Bristol. It was kind of a dream of his to do something to honor Bristol, and to honor the Bristol Sessions. He was very familiar with the Louvin Brothers project that I did years ago and the Mark Twain project and some other things. He called me one day and asked me if I would consider doing something to honor the '27 Bristol Sessions. I said, "Well, I think it's a great idea if we can come up with the funding to be able to do it right." I don't take on anything that I can't do the right way.

The Producer's Chair: Of all the producers in the world to call, how did you feel about him calling you?

Carl Jackson: It felt great. Of course, Rusty and I have known each other for a long time - over 20 years. It made me feel really good that he trusted me. He told me, "If you take this on I know it will get done right. Nobody's going to be in your way. Nobody's in your hair. If you agree to do it, it's your baby. You do it. Do it how you want it, and I'll come up with the funding." We both approached the State of Tennessee and then the State of Virginia also came onboard to help fund the project. Then we were able to land distribution through Sony Legacy.

The Producer's Chair: Where does one begin, on a project of this magnitude?

Carl Jackson: There's immediately a lot of prep work that starts going in. You start making those phone calls to friends, you know? People that you want to take part in the project. So, the first calls I made were, of course, to Vince and to Marty Stuart, Emmylou, Dolly - artists like them that are my close friends. They certainly know and love the history of the music.I wanted them to be part of it for sure.

The Producer's Chair: Tell me a little bit about the difference between the pre-production process on this project as opposed to other projects you've produced.

Carl Jackson: Well, I can't say that there was a total difference because, once again, you kind of start with a base. When you do a project like this, you want big names and known artists on there, obviously. But also, I mean no offense to anybody, I wanted people who understood that music, you know? I wanted to honor the music properly. So, you immediately go to the well. You go to the greats: Emmylou, Vince, and Dolly. You can't ask for a better base. Then you branch off and you get superb artists like my dear friends, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, and on and on like that. I try to mix things up a lot when I do these things - I have some country artists on this one. I've got some pop artists like Sheryl. Keb' Mo' is on there. There's a wide variety - plus some new artists. I always try to include some new artists that deserve recognition.

The Producer's Chair: Can you give us a list of the artists that are going to be on the project?

Carl Jackson: OK. I've got Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. I've got Emmylou Harris. I've got Marty Stuart. I've got Dolly Parton. I've got Ashley Monroe. I've got The Shotgun Rubies (The Shotgun Rubies are one of those new groups that I put together from three girls that I absolutely love their voices and love them as people). I wanted to put some things together kind of like Ralph Peer did in '27. The Shotgun Rubies are Val Storey, Delnora Reed, and Dani Flowers - three of my favorite singers. And then I've got Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. I've got Vince Gill. I've got Keb' Mo'. I've got The Church Sisters who were also on the Mark Twain project. They're phenomenal singers. They're now 19 years old. They're an ancient 19 years old, unbelievable. I've got a new kid named Corbin Hayslett. Corbin is the winner of our contest. We had a contest similar to what Ralph Peer did in 1927, when he put the ad in the paper and asked people to come to Bristol to show up to audition. We did a Facebook campaign. We had about 120-130 entries - wonderful talent, but this man came out on top. He's an amazing, amazing talent and believe me, he holds up his own just fine.

And then I've got Brad Paisley on here. I've got Ashley and Shannon Campbell which, you know, that's a couple of Glen Campbell's kids. Ashley is my Goddaughter. I'm very thrilled to have her and Shannon be a part of it. I've got Sheryl Crow. I've got Larry Cordle and the Virginia Luthiers doing an old song called 'Train on the Island' which is really cool. I've got Jesse McReynolds on here, also. Jesse is a mentor of mine. I went to work with him and his brother Jim when I was 14. And finally I've got The Chuck Wagon Gang on here. I wanted somebody special to record 'Shall We Gather at the River'. There was nobody more perfect than the Chuck Wagon Gang. That's the line-up.

The Producer's Chair: What about the musicians?

Carl Jackson: Musicians are similar to the musicians I used on the Twain project - similar to my base musicians. Of course, there are some variations here and there. Some of the bands are self-contained, like the Rangers. But Aubrey Haynie is playing most of the fiddle on the record. Andy Leftwich is playing on 'Black Eyed Susie' with him, which is just awesome. Kevin Grantt is playing most of the bass but Dennis Crouch is also playing on one or two things.

Let's see...Oh yeah. I'm playing guitar. I'm playing probably 85 percent of the guitar. I've got Bryan Sutton playing on a couple of things. But I'm playing most of the guitar. I'm playing most of the banjo. There's some clawhammer banjo that I had Ashley Campbell, (my Goddaughter) do on a couple of things. Of course Steve Martin is playing the banjo on his track - wonderful. Let's see. We have a mandolin player. Adam Steffey is playing on most of it. Spencer Strickland is on some of it. Rob Ickes is playing dobro on most of it. In fact, I believe he's on all of it, because Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - their tune is a cappella. It's just absolutely wonderful. Gosh, I can't think if I'm leaving anything else out. I've got Tony Creasman on drums, and Catherine Marx is playing all the keyboard stuff.

The Producer's Chair: Who engineered the project?

Carl Jackson: The tracks were recorded by John 'Hip Hop' Caldwell. And, of course, Luke Wooten did my mixing and mastering for me - as always.

The Producer's Chair: Where did you record the album?

Carl Jackson: I recorded the vast majority of it at Station West - Luke's studio over in Berry Hill. There were a couple of things that were done outside of there - a couple of vocals, especially. I did Sheryl's vocals at her place. I did Vince's vocals over at his house. Brad's guitar and vocal parts were done at his house. So, there's a couple little outside things, but most of it was recorded at Station West.

The Producer's Chair: Does the album, in some fashion, pay tribute to Ralph Peer?

Carl Jackson: James, that's the extra part about it that I haven't even discussed with you. There are 37 tracks on this 2 CD set, but 18 of them are music and 19 of them are narrations. My narrator is Eddie Stubbs and the script was written by Dr. Cindy Lovell who is the director of the Mark Twain Home and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. It's a beautiful script, and Eddie was the perfect voice to tell the story. And, yes, we tell the entire story. We tell the story of how - Pop Stoneman finally gets the credit he deserves for encouraging Ralph Peer to come to Bristol in the first place. Pop Stoneman is really a lot more behind the whole Bristol Sessions than people realize. He was already a big star in 1927.

The Producer's Chair: If there was one magic moment that stands out during the recording sessions and the whole process of doing the project, what was it?

Carl Jackson: Wow. Do I have to pick one? There were many to tell you the truth. There's a couple - oh my gosh. One of the things was - I love the song 'The Storms Are On The Ocean'. It's one of my favorite songs that was recorded back in '27 on the Sessions. Written long before then, I'm sure. When I was doing the project that was kind of like my baby song, you know what I mean? That was going to be my favorite one, you know? So, I was kind of holding it back for Dolly. When I met with Dolly to go over songs and decide exactly which one to do, that's the first thing I played her. She liked it a lot, of course, but then she asked me to play her some more things just to see what else I had in mind. I played her, 'When They Ring Those Golden Bells'. And she immediately said, "That's it. That's the one I want to do. I've been singing that since I was a little girl. That's the song I want to do." So, that was a really neat moment, there, quite a bit of divine intervention.

Gosh, I wanted Keb' Mo' on the project. I was hoping to get him, but I didn't know Keb'. He was one of the few artists that I didn't know. I was speaking to my engineer John Caldwell one day about it,. He said, "I know Keb. I work with Keb every now and then, you want me to call him?" So, John picked up the phone and called Keb. And you've got to realize, we were in the studio at Station West. When he called, Keb was one block away carrying one of his guitars over to Joe Glaser. And Keb came straight to the studio and we recorded 'To the Work' that day. And I had never met him before. He was a super nice guy and great player. And so that was another bit of divine intervention.

Keb had a young boy with him who was a protégé of his. He was even named after him. His name was Keb Hutchings McMahon. He calls himself 'Keb' H' Mac', you know? While Keb and I were talking about what we were going to do on the record - I was playing him some songs. He looked over at me and he said, "You know," cause he had let me hear the kid play, and he was playing pretty good already. He said, "It might be a good idea to let little Keb play on here, too." I said, "You know what? I think that is a good idea." So, we wound up - I put little Keb on his first ever recording with Keb' Mo' doing 'To the Work'.

That was a special thing that I was able to give to somebody, you know? Corbin Hayslett winning the contest and being on the project was another. Corbin is a great guy, and he's an old soul. He's 21 years old now, but if he'd been born in 1927 he'd have been bigger than Babe Ruth, you know? Babe hit 60 homeruns in 1927. That's pretty big.

The Producer's Chair: Originally there were 76 tracks recorded during the Bristol Sessions. Were the decisions for what songs were going to be on the project made by the artists?

Carl Jackson: Well, no. The decision was basically made by me. I went through the box set of the Bristol Sessions and went through all 76 songs more than once. I picked out probably my 25-30 favorites, you know? And as I started bringing the artists on board I would usually have two or three tracks in mind that I felt would be best for them. It was kind of like the Louvin Brothers Project. It just fell into place. I just thought of a great story. Vince Gill said, "I want to do a Jimmie Rogers tune." I said, "Well, Jimmie Rogers only did two tunes on the sessions." Those were his first two recordings ever, and that was, 'Sleep, Baby, Sleep' and 'The Soldier's Sweetheart'. He said, "Well, I dang sure don't yodel. So, let's do 'The Soldier's Sweetheart'."

The Producer's Chair: Are any of the descendants of any of the original artists on the project?

Carl Jackson: At 85 years old it's really cool to have Jesse McReynolds on it and playing his granddaddy's fiddle which was played on the original 1927 sessions. That's really pretty cool. Charles McReynolds played the fiddle that Jesse is playing. In 1927 Charles played it on the original session in a group called 'The Bull Mountain Moonshiners', I believe. Jesse has recorded Johnny Goodwin and 'The Girl I left Behind' with just me and him standing in the studio with just guitar and fiddle and then also talking about it. And there's also Jimmy Edmonds. His granddaddy was Norman Edmonds who also played on the original sessions. Jimmy is part of The Virginia Luthiers. They're on the record, too, doing 'Train on the Island' with Larry Cordle.

The Producer's Chair: How about the musical arrangements - did you do all of them?

Carl Jackson: I did them all. There's a couple of cases, like in Corbin's case. Corbin sent his video in to YouTube - Facebook, you know, where we were doing the contest. We gave them like 4 or 5 songs from the original sessions to pick from to send us a video or audio clip. We had 5 judges and we all picked a winner. Corbin sent in 'Darling Cora' with just him and clawhammer banjo, him singing and him playing banjo at the same time. I mean it just absolutely smoked off the screen. So, that - I cut Corbin live with a bass. It's Corbin Hayslett along with Dennis Crouch playing bass, and its Corbin's arrangement. I didn't really change anything except for adding the bass and some harmonies. Val Storey and I sang some harmonies. You know, I did a couple little things, but I gave Corbin all the arrangement on that one.

I gave Doyle Lawson the arrangement on 'I'm redeemed'. It's the opening track. It was originally done by the Alcoa Quartet. It's an old traditional hymn. Doyle went in and did it with his group. So, in other words, there are a few things. 'Sweet Heaven When I Die' - Steve Martin and The Steel Canyon Rangers - we all basically arranged that together. But most of them I'm the arranger on.

The Producer's Chair: Has anyone presented the thought of a documentary or a movie about the Bristol Sessions that you know of?

Carl Jackson: We're doing it. It's already in the works. We've got tons of footage already from the project that is being put together as we speak. We hoped to have it all out at the same time, and maybe release it in a package. I hope there will be a package that contains everything at some point. But the documentary is to follow, yes.

The Producer's Chair: Is there a possibility that there might be a tour or a concert of some sort?

Carl Jackson: Yes, there is. We actually opened - we did Galax, Virginia last weekend. We did two days with about 10 of the artists off of the CD. There is talk of doing some things. We are going to do Larry's Country Diner. On June 2nd, we're doing Marty Stuart's Late Night Jam and yes, there is talk of doing a theatre run or something like that. It's a really cool thing for stage. It really is.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tony Brown

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Michael Knox

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Forest Glen Whitehead

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mark Bright

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Scott Hendricks

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Trey Fanjoy

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jay DeMarcus

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Shane McAnally

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Doug Johnson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jeff and Jody Stevens

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jamie O'Neal

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Noah Gordon

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