According to his youngest daughter, Glen Campbell could play any instrument he picked up. The late country legend always seemed to have a guitar, mandolin, bass or banjo in his hand. But it’s his banjo picking I remember most.
So when I talked with Ashley Campbell about growing up under the influence of her father’s music, I assumed she was born with a banjo in her hands and that she learned how to play it as a little girl, mastering it by the time she joined her father’s touring band at 22.
As it turns out, though, the banjo was the last instrument Ashley picked up.
She started out by playing piano, pretending she was composing the next big movie theme song. Then at 15, she picked up a guitar. Then in college, she finally had a reason to learn to play the banjo.
“I was a junior in college and I got into a play in the theater program, and they needed someone to learn banjo for the show. It was called The Kentucky Cycle, and I did all the music for the scene transitions,” Campbell recalled. “The theater department actually bought me my first banjo and paid for my lessons. I really did take to the instrument and the music that goes with it. And I started getting really into bluegrass.”
Her father was thrilled, she said, because he claims he never mastered the banjo. “Of course he could play anything he picked up better than anyone else, but still, the banjo was a pretty niche instrument. I just lucked out. It was a cool way for us to bond.
“I’d be like, ’Dad, check out this bluegrass song I just learned.’ And he’d sit down with his guitar and start singing it. I was like, ’You know this song?’ He’d always say, ’Of course.’ So I may have been kind of a late bloomer, but once I picked up the banjo, something flipped a switch in me and I became passionate about that. So when my dad asked me to go on tour with him, that came very naturally.”
With the deeply gifted Glen Campbell as her father/mentor/inspiration, Ashley wove her way through all kinds of artistic paths: composing, theater, comedy, acting, touring musician, and now, making classic country music. Her full album Something Lovely is due out Oct. 9, and it truly is something lovely.
“I just hope that the album enhances people’s lives in some way. What I love about music is the duality: there’s the lyrical side and then the sonically pleasing side. I think how songs sound can change your whole day. I wanted this album to be something people could put on and have it be a pleasant nostalgic sound. When you think, ’Just put on something lovely.'”
One of the first songs on the album — “If I Wasn’t” — is one Campbell co-wrote with Chris Roberts and Jabe Beyer. Then came Vince Gill. “It was my idea to bring in Vince. I knew I wanted to have a collaboration on this album,” she said, “and he was the first artist that came to mind. No one is more classic than Vince. Through my godfather Carl, I was able to reach out to Vince to see if he’d even be interested. He said yes right away. I’m completely humbled that he trusted that I wasn’t going to have him sing on something that he didn’t like. When you have someone you admire so much on something you created, it’s very validating.”
When her father died in 2017 after his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Ashley’s solo music career was just getting started. So while she wasn’t able to have him give his stamp of approval on Something Lovely, he did approve of her decision to follow in his footsteps. “He did get to see the beginning of me becoming who I am as an artist.
“I’ll always hold onto that,” she said.