Uncensored Elvis and blown chances with Glen Campbell’s MVP Carl Jackson
Twelve years in the saddle as Glen Campbell’s banjoist, rhythm acoustic guitarist, dobroist, and violinist, Carl Jackson was a shaggy-haired, multi-faceted Mississippian on the cusp of his 19th birthday in September 1972 when Campbell hired him for a debut trek down under. Talk about plunging into the flames head first — Jackson’s prior claim to fame had been a five-year stint in innovative bluegrass duo Jim & Jesse’s touring outfit — and now he was performing with an artist who commanded 20 million viewers on CBS’s recently cancelled Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour variety series.
Roughly a year after Campbell succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease as unflinchingly chronicled in the I’ll Be Me documentary, a serendipitous reading of a Billboard recap about the 2018 Capitol Congress, Capitol Records’ annual gathering for its staff and other music biz insiders built around special guest Paul McCartney, turned up a cliffhanger fragment. A “‘lost’ Glen Campbell album featuring a duet with Elvis Presley” was on the label’s impending release schedule.
Coincidentally prepping an interview with Bobbie Gentry: The Girl from Chickasaw County compiler Andrew Batt — charisma-oozing siren Gentry collaborated on vinyl with Campbell in the wake of the multiple Grammy-winning “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” — the Capitol-Universal freelancer obligingly put the wheels in motion for a nearly two-hour phone conversation with the producer of the buoyant Glen Sings for the King. Jackson was guilty as charged for sequencing the Wrecking Crew-backed archival set consisting of 17 Presley soundtrack demos composed by Ben Weisman plus one reimagined duet of the Tupelo Mississippi Flash’s deep gospel cut “We Call on Him.” Campbell was obviously pals with Presley, also contributing guitar to a frenetic, albeit slightly watered down R&B rendering of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say” for Viva Las Vegas and on hand for the Vegas wedding of Presley’s eighth grade classmate, Memphis disc jockey George Klein.
Jackson, an unvarnished Southern Gentleman in the truest sense, attended two “phenomenal spectacle” shows by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll at the Las Vegas Hilton and Del Webb’s Sahara Tahoe. On another occasion Presley desired to come backstage after a Campbell gig, but his security team requested that the area be cleared. Get cozy as Jackson divulges one of his biggest regrets and a naughty incident between Presley and an oblivious female admirer incapable of containing herself.
The Carl Jackson Interview, Part One
Once you joined the Rhinestone Cowboy’s band, did you ever encounter Elvis?
This is a great story, man. When you’re younger, you take a lot of things for granted. We were in Las Vegas near the beginning of my 12-year tenure with Glen. We usually followed Elvis at the Hilton. Elvis had stayed over a night or two past his residency and came to our show. After the gig one night there was a call from some of Elvis’s security who said, “Elvis would like to visit with Glen. Can you clear the backstage area?”
Glen answered, “Look, Elvis and I are good friends. Of course he is more than welcome to come see me, but my guys go wherever they want to.” Glen was not going to put us out or keep us from coming in the dressing room. Glen was one of the guys — he never separated himself from the band — and didn’t hesitate to stand up for us. I’m sure Elvis would have done the same thing, but the edict was from his people [Author’s Note: Following the interview’s publication, Campbell’s drummer Bob Felt commented on Facebook, “I remember that night as if it were last year. Elvis’s bodyguard told Glen that Elvis might not come if the backstage area wasn’t cleared. Glen just said, ‘That’s too bad. It would have been nice to see him.’ I was so proud of Glen”].
Elvis came down and silly Carl here — I could have easily walked in the dressing room, shook the man’s hand, sat down, talked with him for awhile, had a picture made — and it never even crossed my mind. It’s so frustrating that I blew my chance. I’ve regretted it ever since. Not long after, Elvis would be gone [August 16, 1977]. I did get to see him twice onstage — once in Las Vegas and once in Lake Tahoe — and I cherish those memories.
Perhaps anxiety was a factor.
I didn’t feel scared at all because Glen made all of us feel so included. We could walk in his dressing room without knocking or go in hotels as we pleased. My wife at the time didn’t say, “Hey, I’d like to go in and meet Elvis.” We may have been tired or hungry after doing our show. There was no conscious effort not to go in there.
I’ve met so many people I admire — John Wayne, Ginger Rogers — everybody you can think of would come and see us. I imagine I took it for granted that there would be plenty of opportunities and that Elvis would be around forever.
Any memories about seeing Elvis in Vegas or Tahoe?
I first saw skinny Elvis in Tahoe and then heavy Elvis in Vegas. At the former venue we sat in the first or second row at stage level. Elvis got to the point in the show where he intended to do a nice, slow ballad, possibly “Love Me Tender.”
They brought the spotlight down to illuminate only Elvis’s face and the microphone near his lips. Women of all ages were going crazy. There was one lady sitting close to me who kept screaming, hollering, and carrying on. She wasn’t being mean — she was just beside herself.
You’ve got to picture this — Elvis was literally standing in front of me singing “Love Me Tender” while his left hand was pointing down toward the woman giving her the bird! In a subtle way he was like, ‘Lady, please. Shut up so I can sing my song!’ She never did become quiet. His left hand was basically at my eye level, but the vast majority of the audience had no idea what Elvis was doing because it was so dark. I wish it had been the days of iPhones, and then I’d have concrete proof for you. I’ll never forget what he did [laughs].
The whole Elvis live experience was a phenomenal spectacle. When “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the theme song to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey started, holy cow! Acoustic guitarist Charlie Hodge would hand scarves to Elvis to pass out to lucky fans.
Elvis was a special guy who brought something to the stage that nobody else did. People rave about how good-looking Elvis was and how much charisma he had, but his voice doesn’t receive as much acknowledgement. I know Glen thought the world of Elvis and always gave him credit for being a fantastic singer. Still, Glen was the greatest singer I ever heard in my life. That guy was like a machine, just immaculate pitch.
As a musician, were you keeping track of Elvis’s TCB Band?
I was watching the guys, too. Being a guitar picker myself, I have always been a huge fan of James Burton. We have known and respected each other for many, many years, but our body of work together is very small.
I produced “Barefootin’” with James, Ronnie Tutt [drums], Glen D. Hardin [piano], and Jerry Scheff [bass] as part of a Gram Parsons tribute album quite a few years back  called The Gram Parsons Notebook — The Last Whippoorwill. I played acoustic on the session, steel guitarist-dobroist Al Perkins was there, and Mike Alan Ward sang lead [he wrote “Whiskey Tears” for Dierks Bentley]. I have several pictures from that day.
Notebook is a great album where myself, Mike, Jim Lauderdale, and others finished songs that Gram had started and left behind in a notebook that fellow International Submarine Band member John Nuese was given upon Gram’s death. “Soldier of the Road” and “Forever Will Never Say Goodbye,” two more songs that we did with the TCB Band at that same session, were eventually unearthed on Mike’s Whiskey, Trains, and Lonesome .
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