Interview: Glen Campbell’s Wife and Daughter Discuss His Final Album, ‘Adios’
Editor's Note: This interview originally ran on July 14, 2017. We are republishing it today, Aug. 8, 2017, on the occasion of Glen Campbell's death, without edits.
As Glen Campbell continues to live a life affected by Alzheimer's disease, he is surrounded with a loving community that is making sure his music and legacy continue to reach new and old fans alike all over the globe. More than five decades after Campbell released his first studio album, that community is spreading the good news of his 64th and final record, Adios.
Campbell's brand-new LP is chock full of songs that fans have never before heard Campbell perform in the studio, and it even features a few surprise appearances from some close friends. During a recent trip to New York City, Campbell's wife Kim and daughter Ashley took some time to catch up with The Boot to help celebrate the release of Adios, as well as to continue the national conversation about Alzheimer's disease.
"Glen contributed to society with his music, and now he's raising awareness of Alzheimer's," Kim Campbell tells The Boot. "Both contributions are huge accomplishments, and having this album out brings all of this to the forefront of the discussion."
Below, read more from The Boot's conversation with the Campbells.
Now that you've had a bit of time to reflect on it, how does it feel to have Adios finished and out to the fans?
Kim Campbell: I'm such a fan of my husband's music. I'm really proud of him, that he's able to do this in the midst of having Alzheimer's ... he just enjoyed every minute of it. It brings me a lot of satisfaction knowing that we were able to help him check that off his bucket list.
All of these songs that he loved for so many years, but never got to record because he never got around to it, these songs were the soundtrack to our home life. Every time he sat down with a guitar at home, these are the songs he'd start playing, especially "A Thing Called Love" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." Those two were always the ones he would start to play.
Ashley Campbell: And it's the Jerry Reed version of "Don't Think Twice ..."
Kim: We had been visiting Roger Miller at his home in Santa Fe when Cal, our first child, was a baby. They were telling stories and singing each other's songs, and Roger started playing us songs that were some of his favorites or some that he was working on. One of those was "Days of Our Wives."
All of a sudden it occurred to me that I had a cassette recorder in my purse, and so I turned it on just in time to get him singing "Am I All Alone (or Is It Only Me)." For so many years Glen had this little cassette, and he would play it over and over, and he would just say, "We have to record this song." So when we had the opportunity, I told Carl [Jackson, producer], "We have to do this." Glen was always such a good friend with Roger, he loved him so much, so that was a very special thing for him to finally get to do.
And the cassette made its way onto Adios as sort of the intro to the studio version of that song, right?
Ashley: Yeah, you can hear the age on the recording of that cassette. I love stuff like that.
In the liner notes of the new album, you said this just had to be done. Was that feeling universal amongst the people working on Adios?
Kim: Absolutely everyone felt this had to be done. The doctors told us that keeping him engaged musically is the best and healthiest thing for him. Glen loved it. If you saw the videos of him in the studio doing it, you can tell he savored every minute of it. It was just a big love fest. It was something he always wanted to do — he was in his element and so excited about the whole project.
Were there harder parts of the project?
Kim: I had heard him sing these songs so many times, and I knew every nuance. So when he'd step up to the microphone, I could hear differences, you know? But for the most part, he really did nail every single song.
Did you ever worry that the project might not actually reach a finishing point and that it would stop in the middle of all this work?
We got Willie and Vince in the studio, and it just kept growing and growing. It evolved and turned into this incredible album.
Kim: We didn't know. We just went in to have fun. We weren't really trying to make a record at the time. Carl put down some basic tracks, and Glen put some vocals on it, and we just kind of forgot about it.
Later on — years later — we started thinking about it and decided to finish the album. We got the tracks back out and listened to them and realized how beautiful Glen sang all of these songs. So Carl brought in these great studio musicians and got Ashley to put on banjo, and our three children all helped with vocals. And then we got Willie [Nelson] and Vince [Gill] in the studio, and it just kept growing and growing. It evolved and turned into this incredible album.
I know Glen would be pleased. We play it for him, but it's hard for him to ...
Ashley: We don't want to sugarcoat it. He has no idea that he has an album out. He had no idea when he won a Grammy.
Kim: I handed him the Grammy when I brought it back to him, and he had no idea what it was.
Ashley: He can't process it.
Kim: But he listens to music, nonetheless. So we always play it for him.
With music being such an integral part of Glen's life — and now, it's such an integral part of his health — do you find a sense of closure with the release of Adios?
Kim: I wouldn't say closure, but I would definitely say "accomplishment." I think there is a lot of satisfaction with this, especially having done the film [Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me] and then this. Glen contributed to society with his music, and now he's raising awareness of Alzheimer's. Both contributions are huge accomplishments, and having this album out brings all of this to the forefront of the discussion. We're talking more and more about Alzheimer's, and he's bringing more music to everyone. It's really satisfying, and I'm really proud of him.
I hope that by going in and doing this album while he had Alzheimer's, it serves as encouragement to other people with Alzheimer's that you still have a full life left to live. Get the help you need, have fun, laugh, and enjoy it.
Working with Carl Jackson must have been an absolute pleasure — he's like family to you both, isn't he?
Ashley: He is family. He's my godfather. We trust him so completely, and he loves my dad so much. It was a perfect match for the producer. No one else knows my dad personally so well and musically so well. There couldn't have been anyone else.
Kim: And Carl had performed a lot of these songs with Glen onstage. He knew exactly how Glen would want to do them — the tempos, the keys, everything.
Ashley: Carl started playing with my dad when he was just 18 ... he was basically raised by my dad, raised onstage.
And, Ashley, he saw you grow up.
Ashley: Of course. It was so comfortable in the studio.
Kim: We laughed a lot.
Were you surprised that you laughed a lot throughout this process?
Kim: No. We always laugh. Glen is just a crack-up.
Ashley: Dad is always joking around.
You mentioned getting Willie and Vince for this record. Was it easy to get them into the studio to contribute?
Ashley: Carl has a good relationship with most people. He knows Vince really well. Carl knows Willie and Willie's manager. Carl showed his manager my dad's version of "Funny How Time Slips Away," and he said he had to show it to Willie. So Carl told him to see if Willie wanted to do it as a duet, and of course Willie said yes. Carl actually invited me to that session — I got to see Willie sing it. It was amazing.
Kim: [Laughs] Why didn't I get invited?
Ashley: The first week I moved to Nashville, here I was, sitting in a Willie Nelson session. You know, my dad and Willie used to do a lot of music together, so this song was almost like they were meeting again.
The history is so obvious on that track with Willie. You can tell there is this unique camaraderie between them. The song takes on a whole new life decades after it was first written.
Another song that stands out on Adios seems to be "Arkansas Farm Boy." Is it true that Glen never recorded that until this LP?
Kim: Carl wrote that, and they did a demo of that with Emmylou Harris singing background vocals. It never made it onto an album or anything.
He wrote that about Glen. Glen had been sharing with Carl all about how he learned to play guitar, how he learned on this five-dollar Sears, Roebuck guitar. And so, naturally, Carl wrote a song about it.
And 40 years later, it sees a whole new life on this album.
Another song that is completely transformed is Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."
Ashley: You know, he loved Jerry Reed's picking version of it. To play it on guitar was always so much fun for him, and it's kind of this way for him to show off his guitar skills because it's such a complicated tune.
Kim: It's very joyful for him to play.
But he never recorded it. For years, that was sort of this inside experience for family and friends, and now, you saw him and Carl record it and offer it to the world.
Ashley: That was a song we always wanted to record.
Kim: That intro lick was the main thing to me. You have to get the lick right. At that time, I don't think Glen was able to play it, so we relied on Carl to get it. He pretty much nailed that lick. That was the one he always played the most. If you came over and visited us, he'd pick up the guitar and that was the one he would play.
Did anything not make the record?
Kim: Yeah, there was a song that Carl really wanted to get on there called "Against the Grain." Garth Brooks recorded it, but Carl really wanted Glen to record it because it has this line about John Wayne, and Glen loved John Wayne. But the song wasn't in Glen's memory bank. The songs on this record had to be songs that he had known forever — he really couldn't learn any new material. That was part of our deciding mechanism for this album.
Ashley, you got to play banjo on this record. What was that experience like?
Ashley: It meant a lot to me to be asked to play on it, especially banjo because that's how I got into music. My dad wanted me to learn how to play it. Of course, it meant a lot to me because I know Carl could've played those parts no problem, but he wanted me to do it and that meant a lot.
And Carl's first job was playing banjo with your dad.
Ashley: Yeah, exactly. That was pretty significant for him to ask me. It meant so much to me.
Not only is Carl Ashley's godfather, but he introduced you to Glen, is that right, Kim?
Kim: I was a Rockette dancing at Radio City Music Hall. My best friend from college was dating Glen's banjo player, and Glen's band came to New York to do a show, and they were going to spend a few days in the city. I was talking to them and asked them what they would be doing, and they said they were going to see James Taylor. I really wanted to go, so I begged Carl and my friend to fix me up with someone in the band, and they both looked at each other and winked. And so they fixed me up on a blind date. I didn't know until right before that I would be dating Glen Campbell. He was a lot older than me, and I didn't really know who he was.
Ashley: She wasn't one of those girls who grew up with his poster on their walls.
You just really wanted to see James Taylor.
Kim: [Laughs] Exactly. I wanted to see James Taylor.
Glen brought his parents to the city with him, and they invited me into the sitting room, so I was there talking with his parents. All of a sudden, Glen bursts into the room carrying a guitar singing, "Like a rhinestone cowboy!" [Laughs]
Ashley: Can you imagine meeting the parents on a blind date?
Kim: He made everyone laugh, and he looked right at me and said, "Wow, she's pretty." I never spoke to him before that.
That sounds kind of like a fairy tale.
Kim: I was looking at him thinking, "Oh my gosh, this man is so gorgeous." He was 44 at the time, and I was 21. I had never dated a man before; I always dated surfers or college guys ... I was intimidated. But his parents were so down-to-earth.
Before going to the concert that night, we went to Peacock Alley at the Waldorf to have dinner. We ordered our food, we were talking, the food came out, and Glen bowed his head and said a prayer. I asked him if he was a Christian, and I told him that I am, too. It had only been a few weeks earlier that I was walking down the streets of New York City with two of my girlfriends who were both dancers, too, and one of them said, "Dear Lord, please send me my knight in shining armor." The other one said, "Oh, dear God, please send my my Prince Charming." And I said, "Oh, dear God, please send me a handsome, Southern, Christian millionaire that I can be in love with and he can be in love with me." And so there I was, dating Glen Campbell.
Ashley: But ...
Kim: But, later on that night, I realized I should have added to that prayer, "A man who is not an alcoholic, not a drug addict, and who will never get Alzheimer's."
How is Glen doing now?
Kim: A lot of time when I tell people he's in these late stages of Alzheimer's ...
Ashley: They think he's dying.
Kim: There will be stuff all over the internet that he's died or he's on his deathbed.
Ashley: People even say to me, "Oh, I was just thinking about your late father the other day."
Kim: I let people know, yes he's in the late stages, but those stages can go on and on and on. Not much has changed. He's healthy except for Alzheimer's. He's content, he's cheerful. He doesn't communicate with language, he doesn't understand what you say, though.
Kim, a big part of what you do is not just promoting Glen's music, but also raising awareness of Alzheimer's.
Kim: The documentary helped a lot of people because it helped remove the stigma of getting the diagnosis. It educated a lot of people, and it brought this discussion to the forefront — we opened up a national conversation about it. Glen did so much with this film. I want to continue what he started.
Kim: As a caregiver, though, I know the other side of it. My heart goes out to caregivers who are stressed out and not getting any sleep. That affects your own health. Studies show that caregivers could lose 10 years of their life, and they're at greater risk of developing dementia because of the stress. So I joined a memory care group, and I began to know other families in our community and other women whose husbands had Alzheimer's — we created a support group.
The biggest thing I was facing was depression. You always carry this sadness with you. How do you overcome this? How do you shake this? So, I started CareLiving.org. It started out as just a blog to encourage caregivers and to inspire them. We have faith articles, we have information, we have guest contributors. We talk about inspiring films for people with dementia, that kind of thing. It's sort of like an online magazine.
When my loved one is cared for well, it gives me peace of mind. I want to help other families have that peace of mind.
Now, we hope this site will start making real-world changes for caregivers by showcasing the best memory care communities in the country. Also, we're talking about now how to raise funds to improve the quality of life for people with dementia, maybe donating gardens or art rooms to memory care communities that are in more underprivileged areas. When my loved one is cared for well, it gives me peace of mind. I want to help other families have that peace of mind.
Do you find it difficult to go around the country talking about Glen's illness? When you're promoting Adios, there really is no way not to talk about it ...
Kim: It's an opportunity to help people know they're not alone. I think it's something like every 16 seconds, someone else is diagnosed ... there are constantly people coming in behind us at the beginning of their journeys. We want to provide hope and inspiration and encouragement. And, honestly, it's therapeutic for me.
It seems like CareLiving.org is therapeutic for you, too.
Kim: I have a lot of faith articles. Scripture has really helped me to know God is in control and that he has a purpose and a reason for everything we go through. I try to learn about what I'm going through, and I still learn things from Glen.
I did an article recently that starts out talking about how Glen opened every show with, "Hi, I'm Glen Campbell, and I'm happy to be here tonight. Heck, at my age, I'm happy to be anywhere!" That's the way he is today. He's just happy, and as I sit around being depressed and sad, Glen is happy! I should be happy for that, and so I try to count my blessings, and I try to be a blessing.
Do you enjoy being back in New York City where you first met Glen?
Kim: It's very fun. I get to connect with friends I made when I danced at Radio City. We have a grandson who lives here, too, who is a chef and just got married.
Is it fun doing this sort of thing together, as mom and daughter?
Ashley: It's nice to hear my mom talk about these things. It's good to see her out and about.
Kim: We have fun. We do shop a little. [Laughs]
What's next for you guys?
Kim: We have a few things up our sleeves. Something that's being talked about is a biopic. We're talking about it, thinking about developing it. In everything we do, I'm excited to secure Glen's legacy and pass it down to other generations and to tell the story in a way that he would want his story to be told. He really was a man of faith, and God turned his life around, and so I think it would please him if that story was told in some way.
And Ashley, you have a record coming out soon?
Ashley: We finished recording, and now we're figuring out how to put it out.
Kim: It's all original music. She's a fantastic writer.
Ashley: We don't know the timeline. It'll be done soon, but who knows when it will get out there ... it's very exciting. I can't wait to get it out. I've been writing it for about four years, and started recording last year. My brother produced it. And I just recorded a version of Jimmy Webb's "Highway Man" for Amazon Music, and that should be out this summer.
Thank you both for spending some time with us today. I just have to say how perfect of an album title Adios is, and how beautiful of a closing tune the title-track is, Jimmy Webb's "Adios." It's hard, at times, to listen to it, but it's absolutely gorgeous and encouraging all at the same time.
Kim: It really does wrap it up nicely. Both Jimmy and Glen ended up in LA very young, both went out there to do music. Glen ended up out there when he was 14 years old or so ... he had such an amazing career, and he still does.
Glen Campbell Through the Years