THREE CHORDS AND THE TRUTH
Vince Gill headlines the grandstand entertainment at The Great Frederick Fair on Saturday. He will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $47 reserved grandstand seating and $52 reserved track seating.
He called me from a hotel room in Morgantown, W.Va., on a rainy day. Coincidentally, it was a rainy day here.
We both like traditional and current country music. Another coincidence! We both like to write — songs for him, stories for me. We are about the same age and our last names both start with the letter G. It’s getting eerie, now.
But that’s where the similarities end. Vince is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. I don’t play a single instrument and those occasions where I have been heard singing by others, I’ve been told to not quit my day job.
Vince has a new studio album wrapped up and ready for an Oct. 25 release. It’s called “Guitar Slinger.” Among the vocalists joining him on this album are his wife, Amy Grant, and their daughter, Corinna, 10. The first single release is “Threaten Me With Heaven,” a song Amy co-wrote.
I asked Vince if he considers himself a singer or songwriter first.
“It all comes from the same ears … all born out of my ability,” he said. “At this point, I’m seen more as a musician than in my early career, when I knew my best chance for success was singing.
“Most people are drawn to my voice first,” he said. “Now it’s about even. I take guitar playing seriously, too. He’s performed with rockers Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt, and country music’s Trisha Yearwood, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless and Lee Ann Womack, among others.
Collaborating with other musicians is what Vince said he aspired to as a young performer. While most music fans buy music for the artist, he would read “the record jacket” to see who the musicians were playing on the album. “I would buy it for a guitarist or bass player,” he said.
Collaborating also helped him keep in touch with the process of making music, which is what he always wants to be a part of, he said.
Gill has also become a champion of traditional country music. He said he’s “not shy” about recording contemporary country music, but doesn’t want the traditional sound to be forgotten or lost either.
“I’m an old guy in comparison with what’s going on now,” said Vince, who is 54, noting that much of his music is steeped in what is today considered the traditional sound. “The Opry means a lot to me,” he said. “I owe it to those who were before me.”
Country music is not a static art. It’s always evolving. In the 1950s and ’60s, it had a “cosmopolitan” sound, with strings, he said. Then there was the twangy music of artists like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Today, it’s pop-country.
“Great music is great music,” he said of the changes in how country music sounds.
Vince and Amy married in 2000. They have five kids together and he is enjoying life.
“It’s the best it’s ever been,” he said. “Things mean more and (at age 54) you don’t feel bulletproof. You have a different perspective when you can see the other side of life,” he said.
He’s won 20 Grammys and 18 CMA Awards and has a career that spans more than 25 years. “I never once thought it could or would happen,” he said. “I believe it’s the reward of people liking what I do.
“The reason my (award) numbers have been so many is my willingness to collaborate with other people,” Vince said, including his wife, Amy.
The two are out on the road these days but heading in different directions. “Between now and Thanksgiving we’ll be apart 70 nights, which is not fun,” Vince said.
At home, he is Dad. He’s coached the kids’ sports teams and says “I’m crazy about kids.” He played all the sports in his high school days in Oklahoma. Now it’s mostly golf and he hosts the annual golf tournament, The Vinny, a pro/celebrity event that benefits youth golf programs.
Gill has a string of hits a mile long, but he said he couldn’t imagine doing a show without singing “When I Call Your Name,” “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” “I Still Believe” and “Look at Us.”
He doesn’t tire of singing them. “I learned a lesson a long time ago from an artist” he overheard say, “If I have to sing that song one more time I’ll shoot myself,” the other artist said.
“I’m grateful to have those songs,” Gill said.
You can read more of my interview with Vince Gill in today’s edition of 72 Hours, online and inside The Frederick News-Post.