Vince Gill is having the best time of his life
For a man who has sold more than 25 million albums, won 20 Grammy Awards, 18 Country Music Association Awards, including winning Entertainer of the Year twice and five consecutive CMA Male Vocalist of the Year awards, AND is the only songwriter to win the CMA Song of the Year award four times, PLUS he is married to Amy Grant, Vince Gill is truly having the best time of his life!
Gill, who rolls into the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa next Tuesday (October 18) is also a “Guitar Slinger,” which happens to be the name of his new album, his first new release since his ambitious and unprecedented four-CD, 43-song album called “These Days” that was released in 2006 (and notched yet another Grammy award for Best Country Album). The new disc is a complete turn-around from the last one. It is a collection of songs about love, reflection, redemption and spirituality, including three of the most powerful songs of his career – “Threaten Me with Heaven,” “Bread And Water” and “If I Die.” During the best time of his life, Gill feels he is making the best music he’s ever made.
In a telephone interview last week Gill said that he is pleased with the way the new album turned out. “I think the songs are better, I think I am playing better, I am singing better and it sounds better,” he said. “You should continue to get better at what you do. I don’t want to be wheezing to get the notes, but I do want to do this until I drop.
“I feel like everything’s improving that’s supposed to. If there is a place I can improve most, it would be in writing songs, and these songs seem to have grown a notch from those on the last record,” Gill explains. “There are some powerful songs and some beautiful songs here. There’s fun and tons of guitar playing. The first half of this record is as much about guitar playing as anything else. There are some long, extended and different styles of solos, which is why we titled it “Guitar Slinger.”
The first time I saw Vince Gill, he was a member of Pure Prairie League and the band was doing a live radio show from the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville which was being broadcast on Radio Luxemburg in Europe. During our conversation last week, I reminded him of that show. “I remember that very well. We had to play at about two o’clock in the afternoon to be on the radio at eight o’clock at night, and I still have a tape of that show,” Gill remembered.
Since then, he was signed to RCA Records having minimal success, and then switched to MCA Records where he has been making records and reaping awards for some 25 years. He is one of the youngest talents ever to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he spoke about that as well. “I believe I have a somewhat interesting reaction to the Hall of Fame induction,” he said. “Many singers or musicians would believe, ‘alright, I’ve accomplished that. I can go relax and take it easy. Look at me, I’ve accomplished the greatest of whatever it is I could possibly accomplish.’ But it has had the reverse effect on me. It has made me want to go earn it and fortify my place in the Hall of Fame. It is a huge honor and responsibility to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame and I want to prove to myself and to everybody else that it was warranted and good.”
The new album did not come without a bit of heartbreak. The disc’s first single, “Threaten Me With Heaven” was written by Vince, his wife Amy Grant, Dillon O’Brian and Will Owsley. Vince explained, “Since the song was recorded, my friend Will Owsley took his own life, so the song has a profound impact on me now,” he said. “In my lifetime, ‘Go Rest High On That Mountain’ has been the song that helped a lot of people through their grief. I’m hopeful that this song will do the same thing. It is a powerful, powerful song.”
Vince has also been dealing with the loss of an influential father figure in his life, veteran steel guitar player John Hughey, who died at age 73 in 2007. “This is the first record I made without him in 20 years,” says Gill, “and I think it’s one reason why I took so long to make another record. I knew it was going to be hard.” So in true Vince Gill form, and as a tribute to John Hughey, he wrote and recorded “Buttermilk John” and invited many of those who had performed with Hughey to join him on this music send-off. “His nickname was Buttermilk John because he loved buttermilk and cornbread,” Gill said.
Another song on the album, “Billy Paul,” was written solely by Vince. “It is a true story that happened a year or so ago. Billy Paul was a friend of mine that caddied out at the golf club where I play golf. We had been friends for 30 years. Unfortunately he took a woman’s life and then took his own. I was crazy about him,” says Gill, “I wanted to understand how it happened. He meant enough to me to write a song about him. ‘What made you go crazy Billy Paul? Was it true love or too much alcohol? Was your back all the way against the wall? What made you go crazy Billy Paul?’ It’s a story song that talks about redemption and has something of a spiritual side to it, even as dark as it is.”
But the album is not all doom and gloom. “’True Love’ is a song that Amy had written about me and I asked her if I could write a bridge for it with a few changes,” Gill explains. “It’s mostly her song, with just a little help from me. She was sweet enough to say that we wrote it together. It also was the first thing we recorded in our new home studio where the entire album was recorded, so it’s really special. What I love about the song is our daughter Sarah sings on it. In fact my daughters Jenny and Corrina also sing on the album. It’s a family plan,” Gill jokes.
When asked about who some of his favorite guitar slingers are he gets animated and says, “Anybody that was great.” And then says, “There are so many in jazz, rock and country. Chet Atkins was always a hero of mine, and when I was young, Clapton, Page, Hendrix and of course, the Beatles were a huge influence and then the Southern rockers like Duane Allman. Oh,” he says, “You will like this, I got to play Duane Allman’s 1957 Les Paul guitar at a show in Macon, Georgia recently. That was a pretty amazing experience. But I’m just in love with the instrument. When I was in seventh grade, I took guitar lessons and the teacher taught me songs, not just notes, but songs, and that made it a whole lot of fun.”
When he is not touring, Vince plays a weekly Monday night gig at the Station Inn in Nashville with a Western swing band called The Time Jumpers, something he has done for many years now. While there are several core members in the band, the remainder of the line-up depends upon who is in town on a Monday night. That is one of the great things about the music scene in Nashville. And for that gig, Vince does not have to be the leader of the band.
With his fabulous wife, his kids, his golf game and his music pals, Vince Gill is one of the greatest country stars in history – mainly because he is an excellent singer, a fabulous writer, and he certainly can play. He is a one-of-a-kind performer and one of the most real and down to earth artists on the planet. Vince Gill is truly having the time of his life.