From traditional to contemporary, songs from latest record highlight Gill’s versatility
Vince Gill’s “Guitar Slinger” spotlights the celebrated country singer’s diversity both as a songwriter (“Threaten Me with Heaven”) and a guitarist (the title track). The 55-year-old supports the collection Saturday at ACL Live.
“I had a hard time getting started on a new record because (2006’s box set ‘These Days’) was so massive,” Gill says. “But I found my way through the songs that I liked. I just put a studio on my house so it was a much more relaxed atmosphere.”
American-Statesman: How did ‘Guitar Slinger’ come together musically?
Vince Gill: I look at the record like there are three pieces in a sense. The first four or five songs are a more contemporary slant and then they’re a little singer-songwriter-y for a few songs and then it gets pretty traditional toward the end.
Does a common lyrical theme tie the songs together?
Not so much. There’s a song on there called “Billy Paul” about a friend of mine who took his life after he unfortunately had taken a woman’s life. There’s the story of a homeless person in “Bread and Water.” There’s a really great, really traditional song called “Lipstick Everywhere” that’s on the deluxe edition.
The title track sounds autobiographical.
Kind of, actually. That’s poking a little bit of fun at being married to (singer) Amy (Grant). My life’s different. There’s a reference to all my stuff being in the Cumberland River. The flood that came through here in 2010 did so much damage and I lost a bunch of guitars and a lot of gear. It’s slightly tongue in cheek.
Did you or Amy bring ‘True Love’ to the table to co-write?
It’s really Amy’s song. She wrote all the lyrics and I wrote the music for the bridge.
What freedom does working with Amy allow you?
Well, there’s just so much trust and security in each other. It’s always a safe place to go and you can be vulnerable. We don’t do tons of it. We both had 20, 25 years of careers before we got married and never thought, “OK, now let’s go do everything together.”
Who did you draw from most as a young guitar slinger?
Oh man, as a kid, I knew Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff (Walker), Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, all those folks. They’re more singer-songwriter kind of things, but it was fun music and we were in some bands in high school that did those songs. I was also a Clapton fan, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. I’m a sponge. I like a little bit of everything.
Do you feel like you’ve mastered the instrument at this point?
No. (He laughs.) There’s always something to learn. I think the real beauty of becoming a better guitar player is the willingness to edit yourself and only play what’s necessary. When you’re young, there’s a sense that you have to play everything you know. As you get older, you hold your cards different and try to make more of an economy of it.
So, the learning process keeps you intrigued?
Yeah. It’s like golf. The possibilities are endless. To me, there’s always a different way to play that instrument. In golf, it eventually ends up in the hole, but music is infinite.
What did receiving the Career Achievement award at (this year’s) Academy of Country Music Awards mean?
That I was old (laughs). I’ve had a really nice career over the last 30 years, I guess. I’ve had a great run.