Born in Louisville in 1953, Carl Jackson played banjo here as a boy, and by age fourteen was backing Jim & Jesse on the Grand Ole Opry. By the age of twenty he had established a versatile career as a recording vocalist, instrumentalist, songwriter, and record producer in bluegrass and mainstream country music that made him one of the most sought after contributors and collaborators in both genres well into the twenty-first century.
Carl Jackson was born on September 18, 1953, in a small clinic housed above the Strand Theatre, just a stone’s throw from this very spot. He grew up in a musical family, took to the guitar, mandolin, dobro and fiddle in childhood, and by age nine was proficient enough on the banjo, his instrument of choice, to begin playing with his father’s and uncles’ bluegrass band, The Country Partners. Bluegrass legends Jim and Jesse McReynolds saw young Carl play and invited him to join their band at age fourteen; he would be one of their Virginia Boys for four years that included frequent Grand Ole Opry appearances. After a brief stint with Mississippi’s Sullivan Family Gospel group, he became the featured banjo player for country and pop star Glen Campbell, touring with him from 1972-1984. As instrumentalist, lead or back-up vocalist, songwriter and record producer, Jackson would find success in both the bluegrass and mainstream country fields for years to come. Jackson’s own initial recordings, produced by both smaller, independent labels and for Capitol Records through the 1970s and early 1980s spotlighted his premier banjo, guitar, and harmony vocal work, as did his role during 1986 as a member of Emmylou Harris’s Angel Band.
In the mid-80s, Jackson’s vocal and songwriting skills came even more to the forefront. He recorded four country singles for Columbia Records, two of them Top 40 hits, and began appearing as a back-up vocalist for artists that eventually included Tammy Wynette, Roger Miller, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams Jr., Patty Loveless, Garth Brooks, and countless others. As a songwriter of hundreds of recorded songs, Jackson wrote top chart hits that included “(Love Always) Letter to Home” for Glen Campbell, “Put Yourself in My Place” for Pam Tillis and “No Future in the Past” for Vince Gill. His song “Little Mountain Church House” was voted the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Song of the Year for 1990. The album Spring Training, his own 1991 collaboration with John Starling, won the GRAMMY for Best Bluegrass Album.
From the 1990s, Jackson became a celebrated record producer as well, for projects that ranged from work with young, emerging bluegrass and country artists to special historic projects involving some of country music’s grandest names, including his salute “Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’–Songs of the Louvin Brothers,” featuring Johnny Cash, James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Merle Haggard, Ronnie Dunn, Marty Stuart, Linda Ronstadt and Del McCoury, which won the 2003 GRAMMY for Country Album of the Year; and a 2011 all-star set entitled “Mark Twain: Words & Music,” exploring Samuel Clemens’ life in spoken word and song. Throughout this singular, celebrated career, Jackson regularly returned to Louisville for “Home for Christmas” concerts. He was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2006.
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