No one can deliver a song quite like Vince Gill. No one.
That fact was proven, once and for all, during the
December 2006 gala at the John F. Kennedy Center for
the Performing Arts.
With President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and a slew of country music
and Hollywood icons in attendance, a select group of stars from film, stage and music—
Movie director Steven Spielberg, singers Dolly Parton and Smokey Robinson, composer
Andrew Lloyd Webber and conductor Zubin Mehta—received Kennedy Center Awards
for a lifetime of achievement.
One of the most amazing moments came at the end of the Dolly tribute when Vince Gill
walked onstage to sing Parton’s signature tune, “I Will Always Love You.” It was an
emotional highlight, not just because of the heart-wrenching tune, but largely because of
Vince’s soaring delivery. He literally brought down the house. The standing ovation
swept across the center, spontaneous and memorable.
His extraordinarily tear-tinged voice has touched people that way for decades, dating
back to his days at Oklahoma City’s Northwest Classen High School.
After a stint playing backup with Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, he struck out on a soloist
career. “When I Call Your Name” from his 1989 MCA debut album set the standard for
angst-ridden, heart-broken country tunes. Few who heard it would ever forget it.
Vince Gill's 1989 MCA debut album (following a couple of unsuccessful efforts on RCA)
was produced by Tony Brown, whom Gill had previously met 10 years before when both
future music legends were members of Harris's band.
That first MCA album included another lovely ballad called "Never Knew Lonely," as well
as a duet with Reba McEntire on "Oklahoma Swing."
“When I Call Your Name,” with uncanny harmony vocals by Patty Loveless, proved to be
the breakthrough hit Gill had been waiting for.
Most wondered if the Oklahoma native would be able to top his first hit. Not to worry. He
kept going into the showbiz stratosphere, building a career that few reach.
Along the way, he married Christian and pop phenom Amy Grant. Together and
separate, they kept finding new ways to surprise fans and critics.
Nothing, it seems, could top Gill’s newest effort, a 4-CD collection of 43 all-new tunes,
now certified Platinum and a Grammy nominee (Vince's 35th!).
Never has a singer, writer and picker done anything as imaginative or creative. Sure, the
Beatles in their heyday released three albums in a year, but not in one set nor at one
time. And virtually everyone in the music industry who has lasted more than a couple of
years has released a boxed set, but seldom with more than a new song or two.
MyBestYears.com wanted to discover why. What Vince Gill revealed is much deeper
than this remarkable new CD collection.
MBY: it’s an ambitious project, to say the least. Did it start out this huge, or did it simply
grow along the way?
Vince Gill: The project started innocently enough. I had been writing a lot. It had been a
very creative time and a lot of good things were happening to me. One of the pivotal
things came from a phone call.
MBY: A phone call?
VG: The person on the other end of the line said, “Hello, Vince. It’s Eric Clapton.” I said,
“Sure, and I’m the Pope.” I honestly thought someone was messing with me, the British
accent and all, but it really was Eric. He was putting together a big guitar festival in
MBY: What did he say that was pivotal?
VG: He talked about the festival, then he added, “I’m only inviting guitar players I
admire.” I can’t even describe what those words meant to me. At the time I was struggling
with my place in the world and my place in the music business, and this phone call came
at an amazing time. It re-inspired me. It re-invented me. It did so many things to my
confidence. More than anything it made me feel like a musician again.
MBY: But you’ve spent your life as a musician…
VG: So many times that gets lost along the way. You become a hood ornament up there
on the stage, signing the autographs, and it’s your picture on the album covers. But it
had always been my intention to just be a musician. So that call was such a freeing
conversation for me. It made want to play music again. All kinds of music. It inspired me
to turn my guitar up and see what comes out.
MBY: How did that lead to the massive 4-CD project, These Days?
VG: It was such a creative time. All these songs came out, and they weren’t all country
songs, so when I started recording, we went all kinds of directions. It was such a great
environment with awesome musicians. We had a blast! But I realized early on that eleven
songs weren’t going to get it done for me. I kept recording more songs, with no agenda
at all, other than to see how these tunes would turn out. And after five weeks in the
studio, we had laid down 31 songs. My thoughts were, “Now I’ve done it. I’ve got to get
rid of most of the stuff that I’m crazy about.”
MBY: Obviously more than the ten or twelve you would normally put on a new album…
VG: Definitely. I started looking through the songs. Some fit really well on a country
album. Other went together as moody ballads. Others were more of a fun, up-tempo
style with lots of guitar playing. I started thinking of a way to get all this music to come
out. I didn’t want to see it disappear.
MBY: What did the record company people say?
VG: I went to the record company and talked to Luke (Luke Lewis, Universal Music
Group Nashville Co-Chairman) and everybody there. I wanted to get the point across
that I didn’t want just a single and ten more songs with my picture on the cover. I
normally don’t release more than an album every couple of years, but I started
wondering if we could put out one every few months to get all the tunes out that I had
recorded. I had been inspired by all the songs, and I thought others might be, too.
MBY: Obviously they liked the idea.
VG: They did. They liked the concept. Then we started talking about which CD to
release first. From there it grew to doing all four CDs in one collection. At that point I
knew we needed more songs. Can you imagine? Thirty one songs weren’t enough.
Back to the studio! It took a year. All 43 songs are originals. All new songs. With all the
great musicians, it was such an amazing stretch of time in the studio, seeing the songs
come together, and there were such incredible singers who came in.
MBY: What a time that must have been…
VG: With so many great people coming into the studio, the process really encompassed
my whole life. Not only my kids are on the album, but my wife and the most favorite
people I’ve played music with since I was a teenager, and the four CDs represent what I’
ve tried to accomplish during the past thirty-some years.
MBY: It’s interesting how you put the songs together into four distinct groups on the
CDs: Workin’ on a Big Chill (The Rockin’ Record), The Reason Why (The Groovy
Record), Some Things Never Get Old (The Country & Western Record) and Little
Brother (The Acoustic Record). Let’s talk about the Rockin’ Record.
VG: I like to play guitar, and I like to play it loud. In my career I’ve been primarily known
for singing a lot of ballads, since most of my hits have been that way, so this whole
record may be a surprise to some people. From start to finish, it’s funky and has these
deep-old-nasty grooves and horns.
MBY: Speaking of grooves, let's talk about the second record.
VG: One thing I like about the whole collection is that when you put on a CD, it goes to
one place and never really leaves there. On most albums, you have to put an up-tempo
tune or two, then a mid-tempo, then a ballad or two, and so on. With These Days, it’s
unique in that each CD has its own place. Justin Niebank, who co-produced everything
with me, was the first to call the second CD the Groovy Record. At first it was sort of a
joke, but it stuck. It’s moody and beautiful.
MBY: “The Reason Why,” your first single from the entire collection, came from this
VG: It’s a song I wrote with Gary Nicholson. Alison Krauss sings on that one. I love the
song because it has a feel and a groove that I’ve never recorded before—like a Van
Morrison record, almost with a Fifties feel to it.
MBY: How about the third one that you call the Country & Western Record?
VG: Emmylou Harris sings on “Some Things Never Get Old,” the title cut. There’s a line
in it that I changed. It was originally written this way, referring to things that never get old,
“Making sweet love to that gal of mine, hit the game winner down the third-base line…” I
wanted to change that because Emmylou was going to sing on it, so I wrote, “Making
sweet love to that gal of mine, my first taste of blueberry wine…” Most people will think I’
m talking about drinking, but the reference was really to the first record Emmylou, which
was “Blueberry Wine.” Hearing that record and that voice during that period of my life
was one of the reasons why I ended up doing what I wanted to do. Working with
Emmylou’s band later on was another step. So that song and the new words mean light
years more to me than to anyone else.
MBY: The third CD is filled with the kind of music you don’t hear today…
VG: I miss it. I absolutely love the old feeling with the twin guitars and all. This sounds
like a record you might have heard during the Sixties, at least in spots. There’s a duet
with John Anderson. Alison Krauss is on it. There’s some great steel playing by Buddy
Emmons, Paul Franklin and John Hughey. I guess it’s apparent that they don’t call it
Country & Western anymore. It was considered corny, I suppose, but I like it. And I think
it shows through on this CD.
MBY: Let’s talk about the fourth CD, Little Brother.
VG: We called it the Acoustic Record. It’s half Bluegrass and half acoustic music. All the
musicians are so exceptional, and I got to do more of the “off the beaten path” type
tunes, some folk songs. There’s a duet with Guy Clark, “Almost Home,” in which he does
a recitation and I sing. It’s like a conversation between a young man and an older man
who meet in the middle of nowhere. There are a couple of songs, also, that my wife
wanted me to put on it, tunes that I sing around the house, but that I had never
recorded. It’s more of a homespun CD.
MBY: You’re in the middle of a tour right now. How in the world did you come up with the
concept of traveling with such a wide range of musicians?
VG: Usually when you have a new album come out, it’s hard enough to get ready and
remember some of the new songs from an 11-song album.
MBY: How in the world do you do justice to a collection with 43 songs?
VG: I decided that to be able to incorporate this much music, that I’d need to take four
different bands…eighteen people. There’s a horn section. There’s bluegrass pickers.
There’s my band that I normally travel with. There’s extra singers on the tour. I really
didn’t have a clue how it would all turn out, but I really felt that it would be a lot of fun
doing a lot of the new songs. I know it’s different from anything I’ve ever done.
If there is one criticism, it is the lack of one single tune that is most memorable. There
are no cast-offs. No “B-sides.” Just pure, time-weathered, talent-blessed Vince Gill and
Disc 3’s “Sweet Little Corrina” has to be the sentimental favorite, if for no other reason
that the fact that it features legendary Everly Brother Phil.
“The Rock of Your Love” with Bonnie Raitt has to be a close second, but so are “A River
Like You” with exceptional daughter Jenny and “Tell Me One More Time About Jesus”
with wife Amy Grant.
Okay, there’s also fun-loving “Take This Country Back” with John Anderson, and “Almost
Home” with Guy Clark.
Vince has done what few would even attempt. The words to the title song speak volumes:
I’ll take these days
over any other days
I’ve ever known,
`Cause your sweet ways
make these days
feel like home.
“I am as passionate today as I have ever been about playing music,” Gill says.
These Days, the masterpiece collection, is living proof!
of Jim McGuire
and feature for
by bestselling author