A Bluegrass Homecoming with Robin Jackson
A Bluegrass Homecoming with Robin Jackson
by Richelle Putnam
On December 7, 2017, Carl Jackson and Robin Arnold said, “I do,” in the small town of Louisville (pronounced with a prominent “s” unlike the Kentucky version), Mississippi. “The day that will forever live in infamy,” said Robin Jackson. It happened like this …
Robin and her family lived in West Virginia in 1974 when her mom decided to move back to Louisville, her and Carl Jackson’s hometown. But Carl was already on the road with Glen Campbell. “Him being 12 years older than me, there would have been no reason for us to have known each other,” said Robin. “But throughout the years, Mama and Daddy would go to his Christmas concerts when I moved off to Atlanta. They told me they were going to Carl Jackson’s concert.” And to that, Robin inquired, “Who is that?” They explained that Carl was “a very talented musician smalltown boy who had made it big and that he sings with Dolly Parton and a whole bunch of other big names.” And to that, with still little interest, Robin replied, “Okay, have a good time.”
Around 2010, Robin, then recently divorced, was visiting her family in Louisville and went with her mom to the funeral home to pay respects to a local family who had lost a loved one. “So, we go to the funeral home, and I didn’t know Carl Jackson from Adam.” Her mom introduced Carl and Robin, but Robin was “certainly not looking for anything. We talked for maybe a minute, and then I went on to see the family.”
Carl and Robin did finally friend each other on Facebook, but that was the extent of their friendship for around two years, until Christmas when it was time for another Carl Jackson homecoming. Her mom, of course, was going, but when Robin said she’d go with her, “Mama said the tickets were sold out.”
Robin messaged Carl on Facebook and told him she was home for Christmas and wanted to see the show, but she couldn’t get a ticket. Carl assured her he could make that happen. It did. And at that Christmas Homecoming, Robin “intentionally” met Carl Jackson for the first time.
“Two weeks later, when we were home for Christmas, we had our kind of first date at McDonald’s until 3:00 o’clock in the morning.”
She explained how being from the same small town has advantages, especially when you’re a divorced female.
“In a big town, it’s kind of weird starting to date again because you have no idea who the person is you’re marrying. He may be a nice guy and sweet, but you know nothing about his family history. That was one of the things that immediately drew me to Carl because our families had grown up together; they knew each other. We’re all kind of intertwined.”
As connected as their families were in a small town, the music was not, at least not for Robin. Her music had been a mixture of the 80s, rock ‘n’ roll, country, and absolutely no bluegrass. “I knew the big names like Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff. When Carl and I first started dating, somebody asked what I thought of “Little Mountain Church,” and I’m like, I’ve never heard it; I don’t even know what you’re talking about. It’s been a big enjoyable learning experience.”
That learning experience includes Robin getting up close and personal with bluegrass artists. Years before, at pop and rock concerts at Mississippi State and elsewhere meant being in the audience and leaving afterward because there’s no possible way to get close to the artist. “It’s really different in bluegrass because after the show, the bluegrass artists, whether at a festival or a venue, will come out and talk to their fans because they know these fans truly love them. I have been spoiled being with Carl because I’ve gotten to know a lot of the big main people. Carl says they’re just like we are. I will talk to and learn about them and learn about Carl and what they did for him and what he did in their life. It’s a family atmosphere that is heartwarming.”
Carl Jackson’s music career began at age 14 when he toured for five years playing banjo for Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys. His next stint as banjo player was with Glen Campbell for 12 years. Robin met the Campbell family at the onset of Glen’s Alzheimer’s Disease after James Keach’s production company had filmed the documentary I’ll Be Me during Glen’s Goodbye tour in 2012. “I met him in April 2013 at TK’s (TK Kimbrell) house, who was his manager. I walked in, and Carl says ‘Glen, this is Robin,’ and I was walking in thinking, Oh my gosh, that’s Glen Campbell. Everybody was talking, and then Glen started singing Rocking Robin. After that, he was no longer Glen Campbell; he was Glen. And I saw him up until about four weeks before he died,” on August 8, 2017.
The disease itself is ravaging, Robin said. “I did know him a little bit, and I’m very grateful for that. But I’m more grateful for the love Carl has for him and the love that Glen had for Carl.” Carl is godfather to Glen and Kim’s daughter, Ashley. “She is just so fortunate to have him,” Robin said, adding that Carl will “probably step into that father figure role for Ashley, in some form or another. “It’s good for both of them.”
As Robin and Carl continued to date, Robin drove back and forth to Nashville because “Nashville was much more fun than Atlanta when you’re with Carl Jackson.”
We would go places and see people and see shows and do shows; you do everything a bluegrass artist does. I started making that trip and continued that trip for about five years. And I told people that I can tell you every nook and turn on Interstate 24 and 75 from Nashville to Atlanta.”
Christmas 2017 came around, and Robin was home in Louisville for Christmas and another Christmas Homecoming show. “We’ve always been engaged,” she said, and so she texted him the message, “Look, do you want to get married today, or do you not want to get married, and he said, Let’s go. “We went uptown to the courthouse, got our marriage license, went across the street to a gift shop where the owners were friends of ours. He was a pastor and a past Ole Miss football player. We stood in the back of the store and got married and didn’t tell anyone until the next night when we were having dinner with all the musicians for the show. I didn’t even tell my mom. It was silence for just a second, and then everyone erupted in laughter and cheers, and everything like that.”
Robin left Georgia, put everything in storage, and the Jackson couple started adding on to the Tennessee house, which led to another story.
“The guy walked out on us during construction, and everything was done wrong, so we have been trying to recover since February of 2018,” said Robin, “and then COVID hit, so it hasn’t been a smooth way of going. But I love Carl Jackson, and he loves me, and our marriage will be really strong surviving all this.”
With COVID and the housing dilemma, it’s hard for Carl to concentrate on music in the studio, but that doesn’t make him want to stop. He starts a big project in February, and “I think everyone will be surprised and be excited when they find out what it is,” said Robin, adding that he has a bluegrass album and a duet album he wants to put out. Robin works the merch table at Carl’s events and makes a list of songs everybody asks about, like “Lee and Ruby Pearl.” She tells them the songs will be out on a future album. Carl also wants to produce albums for other people like Colonel Isaac Moore. “We’ve been talking about that for five years.” In short, retirement is not on Carl Jackson’s mind or his heart, and “he will continue as long as God will let him pass it on to others.”
Robin says that in marriage, whether it’s your first, second, or third, you have to “listen to each other, compromise, and try the best you can to make the other person happy. I have bad days, and so does Carl Jackson. I try to make Carl as happy as I can, and I try to treat him with respect and love the best way I know how to do. Take the time to appreciate and love each other.”
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Behind the Scenes with Robin:
Robin’s Private Time:
Robin finds peace in two unexpected places. “I pray when I’m in the car and I go to the grocery store, get my coffee, and walk around. I can stay two hours.”
New Year’s Resolution:
“To get the construction on the house done, but also enjoy life and realize how blessed we are.”
The Jacksons are expecting their first grandchild, “Carl Jackson is going to be a grandfather!”