With almost 40 years in the music business, Vince Gill sounds comfortable and cheerful with his life, chuckling at whim and speaking with a genuine smile.
The native Oklahoman has earned a wealth of awards – 20 Grammys, 18 Country Music Association Awards and seven Academy of Country Music Awards – and election in 2007 to the CMA Hall of Fame, but he’s as happy adding his notes in the background as he is taking center stage.
Calling last week from home in Nashville, Tenn., Gill reflected on his career, which began with bluegrass as a teen. He’ll play June 14 at the Alabama Theatre in North Myrtle Beach.
Question | What special theme will your concert at the Alabama Theatre carry?
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Answer | It will be all bluegrass. This whole tour in June is all bluegrass songs, so we don’t want to people to come hoping to hear the steel guitar and the old hits. It’ll be a throwback for me of where I got started as a 16- or 17-year-old kid. What I like more than anything is I think my fan base is willing to go along with me and all the different things I’ve done over the years. It’s not the same sound every time you do a show. I’m making it fun for myself, and I’m making it fun for the audience, too.
Q. | Outside of projects for TV specials, such as a duet with Miss Piggy for the “CMA Country Christmas” last year, what’s it feel like to be a fan, enjoying music awards shows from the audience, and seeing country artists today honored the way you were starting in the 1990s?
A. | It’s great. They’re up there nervous, with that feeling like they’re on top of the world. It’s fun to watch how people react to some of this stuff. The human side of all this is that we wish it were us, but all in all, I’m rooting for everybody. I just want to sing good and play good.
Q. | What does it feel like to have reached that career plateau when there’s no longer a pressure or deadline to create and produce albums on a timetable, and how does that really unleash a new form of creative freedom, as found last year on your “Guitar Slinger” CD?
A. | I’m probably more motivated now than I ever have been, for several reasons. I’m 55 years old, but I want to keep doing it while it’s easier now, before some times when my fingers might not be as nimble and voice as strong. Who knows what “Guitar Slinger” will do? But I’m so indebted to be able to continue to do this, even though it’s not going to get noticed on such a large platform as it has on the past. It doesn’t change in the desire, though, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t get better at everything. I’m singing and writing better songs now. The best is only yet to come.
Q. | Reading liner notes on CDs, a listener can see your name on SO many other musicians’ works – Sara Evans, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood represent just a fraction of the artists to whom you’ve you lent your talents. How do guest performance roles emerge? Do colleagues and producers approach you? For instance, how did you end up singing harmony on Carrie Underwood’s remake of Randy Travis’ “I Told You So”?
A. | She just asked; it’s that simple. The other thing, I’ve had a history of always doing things for other artists. I did it first as a way to pay the rent, plus it’s something I’m honored to do. I did a ton of it in the 1980s, but nobody saw who it was until the 1990s. I love being a part of the process and not being up front. So it’s hundreds of people with whom I’ve worked on their records, and I will continue to do so. I love doing it. I don’t want to do this just for myself; it would be so boring to me.
Q. | A Good Housekeeping article in December really showed how deep a word family is for you and wife, Amy Grant. Is it peculiar how such pairings so natural take a while to emerge?
A. | We’re so similar in so many ways and completely opposite in so many ways.
We have the same kindness in our hearts for other people and for each other. … We make a good team.
Q. | You and Amy have toured together so regularly at Christmastime – is that your tradition every December to lead in to your own holiday?
A. | I think she’s going to do some dates solo this year, some Nashville Symphony dates, about two weeks’ worth.
Q. | Might a duet album with Amy be in the offing, maybe for a Christmas?
A. | You know, I would think there will probably be a time when one of us is beating the door down to get it done, but we like our careers. We intertwine in small doses, and every now and then, we do a duet, and occasionally, we write songs together. We don’t have a whole plate of it to satisfy us, but we might.
Q. | What’s your youngest daughter, Corinna, up to now? Taking notes from eldest sister Jenny for a career in your footsteps?
A. | I don’t know. She’s 11 and is the kindest kid in the world. She’s having a blast, and she’s doing anything and everything an 11-year-old is supposed to do.
Q. | Some fans might remember singing lead for Pure Prairie League in the late 1970s, on hits such as “Let Me Love You Tonight.” Breaking through on that plane back then, how did that set you up for the 1980s and bigger success that ushered in your own solo work?
A. | It was a great experience because of what I learned ... about the record business, radio promotion, touring and traveling. … In the ‘80s and ‘90s. I did a little bit of everything. I stumbled a bit, but I wouldn’t change any decision I’ve made. I felt like every decision I made was the smartest thing to do at the time – some would make most people go, “Why did he do that?” … I have no regrets.
Q. | What slow song makes your world stop whenever you sing it?
A. | I guess “Go Rest High On That Mountain” has had the biggest impact, only because of what people have said in the past 20 years whenever they hear it, for different reasons, such as when they need something to make them feel more comfortable.
Q. | What legacies from the late Doc Watson will come through and be heard forever whenever you pluck the strings?
A. | He’s my favorite of the flat pickers. Of all those guys who flat-picked bluegrass, he’s the first I heard do it. What a gentle man, so kind and welcoming. He was so welcoming of every young musician he met. And I got to play with him at MerleFest in North Carolina this year. It strikes me as pretty profound that in the last few months, we’ve lost Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs. That’s a God thing.
Q. | Feeling upbeat on the new strides the Nashville Predators made this past season in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
A. | To me, it was the best chance they had to play for the Stanley Cup. I don’t know if anybody is going to beat Los Angeles this year, but it was fun for the city of Nashville, a blast for the city. This was like the first time that we felt, “We don’t want to just win a first round.” The team and the city really felt that way, and everybody really believed it.