“Vince Gill is quite simply a living prism refracting all that is good in country music. He uses the crystal planes of his songwriting, his playing, and his singing to give us a musical rainbow that embraces all men and spans all seasons.” – Kyle Young/Country Music Foundation on Vince’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame
Vincent Grant Gill was born April 12, 1957 in Norman, Okla. His father encouraged him to learn to play guitar and banjo, which he did along with bass, mandolin, dobro and fiddle. While in high school, he performed in the bluegrass band Mountain Smoke, which built a strong local following and opened a concert for Pure Prairie League.
After graduating high school in 1975, Gill moved to Louisville, Ky. to be part of the band Bluegrass Alliance. After a brief time in Ricky Skaggs’s Boone Creek band, Gill moved to Los Angeles and joined Sundance, a bluegrass group fronted by fiddler Byron Berline. In 1979, he joined Pure Prairie League as lead singer and recorded three albums with the band, the first of which yielded the Top Ten pop hit “Let Me Love You Tonight” in 1980. Departing the group in 1981, Gill joined Rodney Crowell’s backing band the Cherry Bombs, where he met and worked with Tony Brown and Emory Gordy Jr., both of whom would later produce many of his future solo albums.
In 1983, Gill signed with RCA Records and moved with his wife Janis and daughter Jenny to Nashville to pursue his dream of being a Country Music artist. His debut mini-album Turn Me Loose (produced by Gordy) was released the following year, featuring his first charting solo single, “Victim of Life’s Circumstance.” The Things That Matter, his first full album was released later that year, featuring two Top 10 hits: a duet with Rosanne Cash on “If It Weren’t For Him” and a solo hit with “Oklahoma Borderline.” In 1987 he achieved his first Top 5 single, “Cinderella,” from his album The Way Back Home. In addition to performing as a solo artist, Gill also worked frequently as a studio musician, wrote songs for other artists and toured with Emmylou Harris.
Gill signed with MCA Records in 1989, reuniting with Brown as a producer, and released the album When I Call Your Name. While the debut single “Oklahoma Swing” (a duet with Reba McEntire) reached the Top 20, it was the title cut that firmly established the singer as a new force on the Country Music scene. The song peaked at No. 2 and earned Gill his first CMA Award (Single of the Year) and his first Grammy Award (Best Male Country Vocal Performance) in 1990. The next single, “Never Knew Lonely,” peaked at No. 3 and the album was certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales of more than one million copies.
Declining an offer from Mark Knopfler to join Dire Straits as a full-time member, Gill went on to record his next album Pocket Full of Gold, which also became a Platinum certified album after it was released in 1991. The album featured four Top 10 hits including the title cut, “Liza Jane,” “Look at Us” and “Take Your Memory With You.” That year he also earned his first CMA Vocal Event of the Year Award for his performance with Mark O’Connor and the New Nashville Cats (featuring Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner). In 1992 he released the quadruple-Platinum certified I Still Believe In You. The title cut became Gill’s first No. 1 single, followed quickly by “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away.” The album also featured the hits “One More Last Chance,” “Tryin’ to Get Over You” and “No Future in the Past.” Gill also topped the charts with “The Heart Won’t Lie,” his second duet with McEntire, which was featured on her album It’s Your Call.
Vince Gill co-hosted the CMA Awards for the first time in 1992. He continued to host “Country Music’s Biggest Night” for 12 consecutive years, ending his run in 2003. Gill not only set a record for the most times anyone has consecutively hosted a televised award show, but he set the bar for other television awards emcees with his respect for his peers and the audience, quick ad libs and gentle humor.
Gill recorded his first Christmas album Let There Be Peace on Earth in 1993, before releasing When Love Finds You in 1994. This album also sold more than four million copies and featured six hits including the title cut, “What the Cowgirls Do,” “Whenever You Come Around,” “Which Bridge to Cross (Which Bridge to Burn),” “You Better Think Twice” and “Go Rest High On That Mountain.” Becoming an in-demand duet partner, Gill sang with Amy Grant on “House of Love,” the title cut of her 1994 album which became a hit on adult contemporary radio stations, and with Dolly Parton on a duet version of her signature “I Will Always Love You” from her Something Special album that earned the duo the CMA Vocal Event of the Year Award 1996.
His 1996 album High Lonesome Sound featured Gill’s eclectic musical stylings. Hits included the title cut, “My Pretty Little Adrianna,” “Worlds Apart,” “You and You Alone” and “A Little More Love.” The Key, released in 1998, was a return to hardcore Country while chronicling the turmoil in his life including the death of his father and the breakup of his first marriage. The album, which was one of his most critically acclaimed releases and his first to top the Billboard Country Albums Chart, featured the hits “If You Ever Have Forever In Mind” and his duet with Patty Loveless on “My Kind of Woman/My Kind of Man.” His status as an in-demand duet partner continued with his 1999 duet “If You Ever Leave Me” with Barbra Streisand on the latter’s album A Love Like Ours.
Gill married singer Amy Grant in 2000, and released Let’s Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye that same year. The album celebrated his new relationship and featured the hit “Feels Like Love.” The couple celebrated the birth of their daughter Corrina Grant Gill in 2001. Three years later, Gill released Next Big Thing, his first solo-produced album, featuring the title cut and “Young Man’s Town.” He reunited with Rodney Crowell, Tony Brown, Richard Bennett and Hank Devito (as well as new additions Eddie Bayers, John Hobbs and Michael Rhodes) as the Notorious Cherry Bombs, and the supergroup released an album in 2004 on Universal South Records featuring the single “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long.”
In 2006, Gill released These Days, a groundbreaking, four-CD set featuring 43 new recordings of diverse musical stylings. Each album in the set explored a different musical mood: traditional Country; ballads; contemporary, up-tempo; and acoustic/bluegrass music. The set features a variety of guest performers including John Anderson, Guy Clark, Sheryl Crow, Phil Everly, daughter Jenny Gill, wife Amy Grant, Emmylou Harris, Diana Krall, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Leann Rimes, Gretchen Wilson, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood and more.
Gill has sold more than 26 million albums. He has earned 18 CMA Awards, including Entertainer of the Year in 1993 and 1994. He is tied with George Strait for having won the most CMA Male Vocalist Awards (five), and is currently second only to Brooks and Dunn for accumulating the most CMA Awards in history. Gill is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and has received 20 Grammy Awards to date, the most of any male Country artist. An avid golfer, he helped create the annual Vince Gill Pro-Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament (“The Vinny”) in 1993 in order to help support junior golf programs throughout Tennessee. Besides being known for his talent as a performer, musician and songwriter, Gill is regarded as one of Country Music’s best known humanitarians, participating in hundreds of charitable events throughout his career.
In August of 2007, the Country Music Association inducted Gill as the newest members of the coveted Country Music Hall of Fame.
The glow on a child’s face at Christmas pales in the light that beams from Vince Gill and Paul Franklin when they reflect on how much the songs of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard have meant to them. Both men were kids, weren’t even teenagers yet—Gill in Oklahoma City, Franklin in Detroit—when that urgent, high-voltage sound rolled out of Bakersfield, California and engulfed them in a tidal wave of ecstasy and heartache. They’ve not been the same since.
From their memories of that experience, Gill and steel guitarist Franklin have fashioned the album Bakersfield, a perfectly matched set of five Owens and five Haggard classics that pulsate with all the emotional fervor of the originals. Owens is represented by “Foolin’ Around,” “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore,” “Nobody’s Fool But Yours,” “But I Do” and “Together Again,” while Haggard surfaces via “Holding Things Together,” “The Fightin’ Side Of Me,” “I Can’t Be Myself,” “Branded Man” and “The Bottle Let Me Down.” All these songs were originally released between 1961 and 1974.
“My history with Buck Owens is so deep and so long and so much a part of being grounded in my childhood,” Gill says. “Those TV shows he did were filmed in Oklahoma City where I grew up. I didn’t know that then or I would have been down there every Saturday watching. As for Merle, his songs are so compelling and truthful, for me he’s the greatest living country singer and songwriter ever.”
Franklin’s roots and admiration run just as deep: “In spite of all Vince and I have done as musicians—all the things that are modern and that we also love—this album says more about who we are at our core. I got my first steel at eight-and-a-half, and by the time I was nine years old, it was listening to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard that kept driving me to learn how to play music.”
Like Gill, whom he has known for more than 30 years, Franklin is a member of The Time Jumpers, the ad hoc band of studio musicians cherished for their expertise in traditional country and western swing music. Franklin hit the big time at 16 playing on Gallery’s gold-winning pop single, “It’s So Nice To Be With You.” He migrated from Detroit to Nashville in 1972 to play steel for Barbara Mandrell. Since then, he has toured and/or recorded with Jerry Reed, Mel Tillis, Sting, Mark Knopfler, Shania Twain, George Strait, Barbra Streisand and Megadeth. He was 13 times the Academy of Country Music’s steel guitar player of the year.
Gill’s guitar and vocals grace more than 400 albums—in addition to his own. He’s won 20 Grammys, 18 Country Music Association Awards and is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Bakersfield is his first duet album.
It was playing with The Time Jumpers and hearing the crowds’ rapturous applause that led Gill to approach Franklin with the idea for this album. “The Time Jumpers are so good,” he says, “that you can call out any tune you want to play and everybody can play it. For some reason, I’d always call out ‘Holding Things Together’ or ‘Together Again’—two songs I’ve sung my whole life. When we do these songs, they’re show-stoppers. And when Paul finishes the solo on ‘Together Again,’ the whole club erupts. That’s heaven on earth. It’s so much fun to play for people who are absolutely starved for what you’re doing.”
Gill had a very clear reason for choosing Franklin as a recording partner and co-producer. “I’m such a lover of the steel guitar,” he explains. “It’s my favorite instrument. It’s what’s so achingly beautiful about country music. Just as the sound of the banjo defines bluegrass, the sound of the steel guitar defines country music. So I talked to Paul and said, ‘Do you think it would be fun to do a record?’ I didn’t want to do an instrumental record. They never hold my attention for an entire record. I said, ‘How about if I sing, and then we just play those great old songs? We’ll have a blast.’ And he was up for it.”
Once they decided to walk the streets of Bakersfield, Gill says he isolated three songs he absolutely had to have on the album. “Deal breakers,” he called them. They were “Holding Things Together,” “Together Again” and “I Can’t Be Myself With You.” Fortunately, they were among Franklin’s favorites, as well. But finding Owens and Haggard songs they both loved was the easy part. Narrowing down the list to five each was hard. “We could have done 500 and 500,” Gill says. “What was fun for me was finding two great Buck songs I didn’t know—‘He Don’t Deserve You Anymore’ and ‘But I Do.’” They made the cut, too.
From the outset, Gill and Franklin agreed they wouldn’t record sound-alike versions. “The album is very much borrowed from and inspired by the originals,” Gill says, “but it’s done in our own way—the way we chose to play and sing it. There was no point in doing a note-for-note.” Both men assumed Don Rich had provided the harmony vocals on the Owens’ songs they picked, because of seeing him sing on Buck’s early tv shows, but WSM-AM disc jockey and country music historian Eddie Stubbs informed them that Owens sang his own harmonies on the early records. And that’s what Gill did. On four of the Haggard songs, however, Time Jumper Dawn Sears, and Gill, sang harmony.
Gill and Franklin tracked the album in two days at Gill’s home studio, backed by a “killer band” made up of John Hobbs, piano; Greg Morrow, drums; Willie Weeks and Brad Albin, bass; J. T. Corenflos, electric rhythm guitar; and Time Jumpers Kenny Sears, Larry Franklin and Joe Spivey, fiddles. Gill played all the acoustic and electric guitar fills and solos.
“So, this is just as much a guitar record for me,” Gill says, “as it is a singing record. But it was fun for me to sing a whole record of the greatest songs ever. I guess what I’m real proud of is that when it’s one of Buck’s songs, I sing it very much in that vein. And the Haggard songs are very much in the vein he sang. With Buck’s songs, you won’t find much vibrato in my vocals, and with Merle’s, it will come down to a low note and that quiver.”
Gill and Franklin go to some length in Bakersfield to honor certain pickers who backed Owens and Haggard early in their careers. Among these were stellar guitarists James Burton, Roy Nichols, Don Rich, Reggie Young, Buck, Merle, and fabled steel players Ralph Mooney, Tom Brumley, Norm Hamlet and J.D. Maness. “Years ago,” Franklin says, “there was a Burton and Mooney album [called Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin] that was all instrumental. But you could hear the ‘conversation’ between them as they played. We wanted to maintain that same kind of conversation between the guitar and steel on our record.”
“I was obviously looking for what would suit the steel guitar,” Gill adds. “That was the whole impetus behind all the songs we chose to do—that and some of the chicken pickin’ kind of guitar stuff James Burton did so much on Merle’s records.”
Although he’s spent much of his career in the spotlight, Gill insists his greatest joy is in being a sideman. “The only reason any of us learned to play was to collaborate and play with someone else. It’s not much fun by yourself. This record has been a great experience for me—to go back and honor the things that I hold dearest.”
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