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A Saturday night in Reform, Mississippi changed the course of singer/songwriter Carl Jackson’s life

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

The Louisville, Mississippi native has appeared alongside many of country music’s most famous singers over the years, including Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and many more.

Born in Louisville, Mississippi in September 1953, Carl Jackson was already on his way to becoming an accomplished musician by the time he was eight years old. He was influenced by his father and uncles, who had a bluegrass band called The Country Partners. Young Carl often joined them on stage, and his desire to become a musician grew stronger every day. 

“My father was a big Jim and Jesse fan, and when I was eleven or twelve, he took me with him to see Jim and Jesse play on a Saturday night in Reform, Mississippi,” Jackson said. “I remember it well, because Ole Miss was playing that night, I wanted to stay home and listen to the game on the radio. But my dad made me go, and I loved the show once I got there.”

That night changed the course of Jackson’s life. During an intermission, Jackson wandered backstage with his dad, and they met Jim and Jesse.

“My dad mentioned that I played the banjo and before I knew it, I was on the stage playing with them. The crowd went wild, because I was just a kid, although I have to say I was already pickin’ pretty good!”

After the show, Jackson’s dad told Jim McReynolds that if they ever needed a banjo player to keep young Carl in mind. 

When he was 14 years old, McReynolds called and asked if Carl could go on tour with them.

“God blessed me so much. Jim and Jesse opened so many doors for me to play at the Grand Ole Opry and the new bluegrass festivals that were coming along. I spent the summer of 1968 and the next several years on the road and enjoyed many wonderful times with them. On our first trip out, which was about two weeks, I got mighty homesick for my parents and sister,” Jackson recalled. “But I learned so much about the music business, singing, stage presence and more. It was like I was on the front row of bluegrass school! I’m thankful my parents, my principal and Jim and Jesse recognized and supported the talent God gave me.”

Jackson went on to play with The Sullivan Family, and his own group, The Country Store, a band he had with some close friends. But that didn’t last long, because soon the boy from the hills of Mississippi had a break of a lifetime.

The state fair was in town and the headliner was Glen Campbell. Carl and a friend went to see the show. The boys ran into Larry McNeely, who played banjo for Glen Campbell. He invited them to come by the next day for a jam session. After picking for a while, Larry revealed that he was tired of traveling, and the band would be looking for a new banjo player. Larry took Carl to play for Glen Campbell, and he was hired on the spot. For the next twelve years, Carl was on the stage with Glen, who always introduced Carl as “the greatest banjo player in the world.”

When Carl was ready to strike out on his own as a songwriter and musician, he moved to Nashville. He was good at what he did, earning numerous Grammys and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards for his work and charting three singles on the Billboard country music charts. His song, Little Mountain Church House, was awarded IBMA Song of the Year in 1990 and recorded by Ricky Skaggs and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He wrote songs which were recorded by Glen Campbell, Garth Brooks, Alecia Nugent, Terri Clark, and Rhonda Vincent. Carl penned Lonesome Dove, recorded by co-writer Larry Cordle, Rickey Skaggs, Trisha Yearwood, and Tim Hensley. He received a Grammy award in 1991 for Spring Training, featuring Emmylou Harris, and another Grammy in 2003 for producing the album Livin’, Lovin’ Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers.

Jackson has been a vocalist on dozens of recordings with some of music’s biggest stars, and he is a prolific songwriter and producer as well.

“I have been a Dolly fan ever since I saw her backstage at the Grand Ole Opry when I was 14 years old. One of my many goals was to someday sing with Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt. I now have been fortunate to sing numerous times with all of them!”

It’s always good to love what you do for a living. To do it with good friends is even better. Carl has had that very experience time and again with his dear friends Larry Cordle, Jerry Salley, and Bradley Walker. The four musicians had the opportunity a few years ago to provide backup vocals for Dolly Parton’s never-before-heard version of In The Sweet By and By. The tune is one of eight new recordings and six classics performed by some of the top names in music on an album called Country Faith Bluegrass, released September 2021 on Billy Blue Records.

Salley produced the song for the album and asked Jackson, Cordle and Walker to join him singing harmony vocals as a bluegrass quartet, reminiscent of the Jordanaires.

“I’ve been blessed to sing with Dolly many times over the years,” says Jackson. “We are good friends. She is such a sweet person, and she is a real class act. She is so funny; she really makes every moment you are around her special.”

Singing harmony with Cordle, Salley and Walker was quite natural for Jackson.

“We are all really close friends, and I have done songwriter nights and house concerts with Cord and Jerry for many years. Folks refer to us as ‘The Trio’ sometimes when we play, but Bradley has joined us quite a few times and made us ‘The Quartet’, I guess!  I’ll often have one or more of them come in and join me when I’m working on a project, or they’ll call me in to do something.”

While Jackson has had many opportunities to sing with Dolly, it was the first time the other singers had the opportunity to sing with the music legend.

“I know what they were feeling,” says Jackson. “So, I know what that feeling of singing for the first time with Dolly is like!”

The track won the IBMA Gospel Recording of the Year.

“Being a part of the song is an honor,” he said. “To sing background for Dolly, and to do it with this group of talented vocalists, who just happen to be some of my best friends, is a true blessing to me.”

That same group of singers has been seen each December in Louisville for the Carl Jackson Home for Christmas concert. The concert, a benefit for the Strand Theatre, has been held in downtown Louisville for over twenty years. Mary Snow, president of the Red Hills Arts Foundation says the concert began as a fundraiser for the historic theater in 2001. The theatre had fallen into disrepair.

“The first concert featured another Louisville talent, Lisa Stewart,” says Snow. “Carl joined her the next year, and then she took a break from singing to focus on being a mother.”

Carl has been doing the show ever since.

“The Strand is a special place for me,” said Jackson. “There used to be a doctor’s office upstairs, and I was born up there. The Strand is where I went to see movies when I was a kid.”

For the first time since it started, the concert will not be held this year, but organizers promise it will return next year.

“I always love coming home to Louisville, and I really look forward to returning to the Strand, hopefully next year.”

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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