With Help From Friends And Family, Glen Campbell Says 'Adiós'

Jun 12, 2017

On Friday, the legendary singer-songwriter Glen Campbell bid a final farewell to his fans by releasing his last-ever album. Titled Adiós, it was recorded in 2012, when the "Rhinestone Cowboy" formally ended his music career after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease the year before.

Produced by his friend and longtime banjo player Carl Jackson, Adiós also involved Campbell's daughter Ashley Campbell, a country musician in her own right. She and Jackson both spoke with NPR's Michel Martin the day the album was released, and she says knowing that Adiós is her father's last album is "definitely bittersweet."

"But I'm so excited about it because I know he would be excited to share new music with his fans," she says.

The 12-song collection includes songs that Glen Campbell loved but never had the opportunity to record. Some of the album's poignancy stems from the fact that, on it, Campbell sounds nearly as robust and fluid as ever. Jackson says that's partly because these are songs that were "ingrained" in him.

"He couldn't remember lyrics — that was one of the first things to go," Jackson says. "But he didn't lose his melodies, and that beautiful perfect pitch and tone."

According to Jackson, Adiós could not have come together without the intimacy of the recording process. "It was a special thing that went on in the room. There was so much joy, so much laughter, so much fun," he remembers. "I think there was so much love in the room [that] made me able to get some things out of him that maybe somebody else couldn't have done."

Ashley Campbell, who played the banjo parts for the song "Everybody's Talkin'," says the experience pressured her to measure up not to her father's musicianship, but to her own capabilities.

"I've never felt like I've ever had to directly compete with my dad because in my eyes, he's on a completely different plane from me," she says. "But being his daughter, I've definitely felt a pressure ... from myself, to be the best version of myself that I can be, and in that way to honor him."

Glen Campbell has been open about his experience with Alzheimer's. In 2012, he embarked on a yearlong farewell tour, which was captured in the documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me. The film also documented some of the singer's offstage struggles as the disease progressed. Jackson says his friend's attitude towards his ailment was extraordinary.

"Glen's whole approach to having Alzheimer's was pretty much different from anything I've ever seen before," Jackson says. "If he forgot something, he would laugh about it, rather than get sad. And we just went about [recording the album] that way, as a fun thing to do, and it was a total joy."

Campbell, who is in the last stages of Alzheimer's, is no longer able to communicate well, and so no one will know exactly what he thinks of his last-ever album. But, according to Jackson, he seems to approve.

"I just know in my heart that it means the world to him ... because of the peace that comes over him when he hears the music," Jackson says. "It just means the world to me that we can do this for him and have him go out on something I believe just reaffirmed that Glen Campbell's the best — period."

Web intern Karen Gwee contributed to this story.

Editor's note on June 12: The audio version of this report previously included comments about the "Campbell/Falk Act." That Tennessee law established rules about how a conservator may and may not seek to restrict someone such as Glen Campbell, who has Alzheimer's, from seeing family members. The brief discussion of that act was removed because it didn't provide enough context and perspective about the circumstances that led to the law's creation.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally, today the legendary country Western singer and songwriter Glen Campbell has a new album out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNNY")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) Well, hello there. Why, it's been a long, long time.

MARTIN: And it seem strange if you remember that the rhinestone cowboy known for hits like "Galveston" and "Jeckell On My Mind" and his TV variety show received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, the degenerative brain disease six years ago. Family members say he hasn't been able to communicate for some time, but back in 2012, after he formally ended his musical career with a farewell tour, he recorded a collection of vocals. And that has been polished into an album called "Adios." It's a poignant farewell to his fans.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNNY")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) Gee, ain't it funny how time slips away?

MARTIN: We're joined now by his daughter Ashley Campbell who performs on the album and also the producer of the album Carl Jackson, one of Glen Campbell's longtime friends and collaborators. And they're going to tell us how they were able to coax out this final album.

CARL JACKSON: We picked songs that Glen loved so much, and they were kind of ingrained in there, you know. He couldn't remember lyrics. That was one of the first things to go. But he didn't lose his melodies and that beautiful perfect pitch and tone. That just didn't go for a long, long time. That was still there.

So I think there was so much love in the room. It may be able to get some things out of him that maybe possibly somebody else couldn't have done, and I don't want that to sound wrong now. I don't want that to sound boastful or anything.

ASHLEY CAMPBELL: Well, you had a very unique relationship with him.

JACKSON: Yeah. Glen and I...

A CAMPBELL: Very strong friendship.

JACKSON: Glen's family.

A CAMPBELL: Yeah.

JACKSON: Glen's family. Ashley's my goddaughter. It was a special thing that went on in the room, and there was so much joy, so much laughter, so much fun. Glen's whole approach to having Alzheimer's was just pretty much different from anything I've ever seen before. If he forgot something, he would laugh about it, rather than get sad. And we just went about it that way as a fun thing to do, and it was a total joy.

MARTIN: Well, as you both mentioned that you and Glen Campbell go way back, Carl. There's a song on this album I wanted to ask you about, "Everybody's Talkin'." It's, I think, a favorite of a lot of people. Let's hear a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY'S TALKIN'")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) Everybody's talking at me. I don't hear a word they're saying. Only the echoes in my mind.

MARTIN: I can't resist. I'm going to play the - from when you performed this with Glen Campbell in 1973 on "The Sonny And Cher Show." And let's hear a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SONNY AND CHER SHOW")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) I'm going where the sun keeps shining through the falling rain. I'm going where the weather suits my clothes.

(LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: A little bit faster.

A CAMPBELL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah a little bit faster.

A CAMPBELL: A little vicious banjo picking.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

JACKSON: I thought it was - I was really proud of that, the fact that I played that with him years ago on that show and now to have Ashley play the banjo part on this recording just means the world to me.

A CAMPBELL: Thanks for throwing me that bone, Carl.

(LAUGHTER)

A CAMPBELL: You could have easily done it. But thank you for letting me do it. Seriously, though, it meant a lot to me.

MARTIN: But I do want to mention Ashley that you are an artist in your own right. I just have to ask as an artist yourself, I'm wondering if you felt a bit of pressure because I know you know what a high level of performance you're dad had obtained and I just wonder did you ever feel any pressure to see, gee, do you think we can achieve that level that he would be proud of and that you, yourself, as an artist would be proud of?

A CAMPBELL: Yeah. Well, I've never felt like I've ever had to directly compete with my dad because he, in my eyes, he's done a completely different plane from me. But, you know, being his daughter, I have definitely felt the pressure not from anyone else, but from myself to be the best version of myself that I can be and in that way to honor him.

MARTIN: One track that's getting a lot of attention is "Arkansas Farmboy." Let's just play a little bit of that which sounds like it's a ballad of Glen Campbell's own life. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARKANSAS FARMBOY")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) The seventh son born to an Arkansas farmer and a hard working mother of 12. Never could find any time or a dollar that she could just spend on herself.

MARTIN: Carl, can you talk a little bit about "Arkansas Farmboy," how it came about?

JACKSON: Glen told me a story about his granddaddy teaching him how to play "In The Pines" on a $5 Sears and Roebuck guitar. And I just thought, wow, that's really cool how that $5 guitar led to a huge fortune and fame and stardom all over the world. And so I got the idea to write the song from that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARKANSAS FARMBOY")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) On a $5 guitar it led to a fortune. I'd trade just to go back and time. The leaves have grown high on the farm back in Dixie.

JACKSON: We were on a flight. I want to say to Australia. I know it was in the mid to late '70s while I was touring - when I toured with him from '72 to '84. And I just started writing the song on the plane, and it all came together. I mean, he was and he is the Arkansas farm boy, so it's a huge honor to hear him sing it in first person, to sing it about himself.

MARTIN: Ashley, I know it's a sensitive topic, but the whole your father's illness has been in the news, not just because of the music, but also because of the law that was passed in Tennessee last year that is intended to ensure that vulnerable people continue to have access to other family members. It was the result of a lawsuit brought by your half sister Debby, and, obviously, we don't want to relitigate all of this, but I just have to ask what has that process been like?

A CAMPBELL: That was actually pretty upsetting because my dad and his situation had absolutely nothing to do with that law. And so my half siblings have never been denied a visit. So they were just making a stink about nothing and trying to get in the spotlight. And I think that is so abhorrent.

MARTIN: I'm sorry about that.

A CAMPBELL: But for people who do have that problem, not being able to see loved ones, I'm glad that that law has passed. But I want to say that it has nothing to do with my father or our family situation.

MARTIN: I do want to mention that we're taping this conversation on Friday which is ahead of your performance at the CMA Music Festival there in Nashville. Will you be performing any of the songs on the album?

A CAMPBELL: Not for my show tomorrow, but today I'm performing a couple of songs from the album with Carl and my brother Shannon.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Carl, maybe I'll ask you this question. Has Mr. Campbell heard the final product?

JACKSON: You know, when I go visit him, I've played him some of it, you know. Glen's not - to be honest, he's not really able to communicate anymore. But I just know in my heart that it means the world to him, and it just means the world to me that we can do this for him and have him go out on something that I believe is reaffirmed that whole thing that Glen Campbell's the best.

MARTIN: That's Carl Jackson and Ashley Campbell talking about Glen Campbell's farewell album it's titled "Adios." And I think maybe we'll play a little bit of "Adios" now as we say goodbye to our guests. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

A CAMPBELL: Thanks for having us.

JACKSON: Thank you Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ADIOS")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) Adios. Adios.

[Editor’s note on June 12: The audio version of this report previously included comments about the “Campbell/Falk Act.” That Tennessee law established rules about how a conservator may and may not seek to restrict someone such as Glen Campbell, who has Alzheimer’s, from seeing family members. The brief discussion of that act was removed because it didn’t provide enough context and perspective about the circumstances that led to the law’s creation.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.