Saying goodbye is never easy, but no one’s ever said it quite the way Glen Campbell has. Following his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011, the country legend made it his mission to muster every last ounce of himself to bid his fans adieu, first with his Goodbye Tour and accompanying documentary I’ll Be Me, and now with his final LP, Adiós. With that album due to be released this week, Campbell has given a peek at one of its most personal moments with the biographical “Arkansas Farmboy.”
The song, written by Campbell’s longtime friend and bandmate Carl Jackson, was based on a story Campbell told him of growing up one of 12 children in a family of Arkansas sharecroppers in the 1930s. Jackson told Rolling Stone Country last month that he originally expected “Arkansas Farmboy,” which he’d written on a flight to Australia with Campbell back in the Seventies while he was part of Campbell’s touring band, to be the title track of Adiós.
The jaunty track, with Campbell’s still-unmistakable voice accompanied by banjo and fiddle, recalls how his grandfather gave him a $5 Sears & Roebuck guitar, thereby opening up his world to the music that would take him on to fame and fortune. “And the memories run wild in this Arkansas farm boy, who’d give all he owns just to go,” Campbell sings in the refrain, which, while written decades ago, has taken on immeasurably more depth as Campbell’s own memories slip away.
That the recording of Adiós, which was produced by Jackson at Nashville’s Station West studio, required superhuman effort from Campbell and the caring guidance of his old friend is made clear by the accompanying in-studio footage of the “Arkansas Farmboy” sessions. In the video below, Jackson can be seen at Campbell’s side, helping guide him through the lyric sheet necessary for him to keep track of the words.
“I stood right beside him on every line, printed out the lyrics in big print,” Jackson said in that same interview from last month. “Sometimes we had to do a line at a time because with Alzheimer’s, his memory of the lyrics, as we saw in the tour he had to use teleprompters, that went away pretty quick. But his melodies did not go away for a long time after his ability to remember actual songs.”
That Campbell’s gifts as a singer could still be so fully intact while also so difficult to access is as remarkable as it is heartbreaking. But in Adiós, the six-time Grammy winner affords himself the chance to say goodbye on his own terms, a feat that may be more remarkable still. The album, which features a number of compositions from longtime collaborator Jimmy Webb and a duet with Willie Nelson, arrives this Friday, June 9th.