His voice is immediately recognizable–a warm melodious tone that melts deliciously over each note. Vince Gill is widely acclaimed as a top vocalist and guitar player in country music. Gill has sold more than 26 million albums, earned 18 Country Music Association Awards and has 20 GRAMMY wins under his belt. At 55-years-old, Gill still has a fire for music in his belly. He continuously seeks avenues to fulfill his immeasurable desire to make music. Case in point: Vince has embarked on a bluegrass tour which rolls through Atlanta on Friday, June 22. Vince Gill may be one of country music’s biggest stars but he was humble enough to laughingly admit he earned “street cred” when his daughter learned he would be playing with Sarah Jarosz, an artist she had watched at Bonnaroo. Gill joined AMG to discuss his bluegrass music roots, what he looks for in a great song and his standing Monday night gig with a western swing band.
Many listeners may not know you got your start playing in bluegrass music vs. country.
Yes, I was in a couple of bands in high school. I was a 16-year-old kid, playing the joints, staying out late and getting into a little bit of trouble (laughing). It was a great start for me. I graduated high school and was hired by a bluegrass band called the Bluegrass Alliance. I moved to Louisville and started playing with them. That was the end of me thinking I may go to college. The great thing about bluegrass music is everybody knows everybody. There is great camaraderie between the musicians. Once you start playing with them, word gets around on whether you’re pretty good or you’re not. My next job was playing in a band with Ricky Skaggs for a while and that led to a job out in California with Byron Berline. He played with Bill Monroe and was the kingpin of the west coast bluegrass world at the time. I moved out there as a 19- year-old to Los Angeles. I played with Byron for about three years and then started playing with Pure Prairie League which was different from bluegrass. Bluegrass has never been far away. I’ve always played on people’s records and played out….it’s never a stretch that bluegrass will be around me.
Yes, I have seen you play bluegrass on the Grand Ole Opry stage. You looked very “at home.”
I think what feels good for me is that the bluegrass world still accepts me as a real bluegrass musician and singer. I’m not a country guy that wants to dabble in bluegrass. I think I still have an authentic stamp of bluegrass in the way that I play and sing.
Your current album “Guitar Slinger” is one of my favorites, particularly the stunning song “Threaten Me With Heaven.”
How do you decide which songs will make the cut?
I don’t think it has ever changed for me. I trust my ears and trust how something feels and what it says to me. I would say I write about different subjects now than I used to. I’m 55 and not 25, so life looks different. I have a lot more life lived and a lot more subjects that pertain to what and where I am.
The scope of country music is ever-changing. Traditional country feels more like the exception instead of the norm. Have you felt that shift?
I think it always changes. We were probably seen as different doing what we did in the 90′s than what was done in the 80′s. I just think it is almost circular the way that it works. Music will go its different ways and then winds its way back up to where it started. I think it’s really easy to look at what is going on today and go, “I’m not crazy about that. That’s not how we did it.” It’s human nature to feel that way. I think artists are out there doing what they want to do and I’d never begrudge anyone of that…all I ever do is occasionally miss the traditional element of this music. I love that part of country music.
Tell me about your side gig with a western swing band, The Time Jumpers.
For the past 13 years the band played at the Station Inn, a bluegrass club in Nashville. We kind of outgrew it, which was too bad because we all loved the Station Inn. We loved JT, the guy who owns and runs it. It is a mecca club in town. We just found that too many people wanted to come and see this band so we moved to 3rd and Lindsey which has become one of the best live venues in Nashville. We played our opening night there last Monday and it went great. We’ll be camped out there on Mondays for a while. The band I’m in, we play really hard-core traditional country stuff, shuffles and swing. It is a blast!
Wow! This gig reminds me of the great Chet Atkins. He had a weekly gig in Nashville…
Yes! He used to play over at Cafe Milano once a week.
How funny you have that in common! You both are truly great musicians.
I hope so! That’s all I ever wanted to be.
Catch A Bluegrass Evening with Vince Gill at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on June 22, 2012.