Do you find that difficult?
No, I think it’s a fun challenge. If you work
on something and say to yourself, “I just
played 11 notes in this four-bar phrase.
Would eight be better?” You just massage
it and milk it and find a way to make it
speak the most. That’s the thing that happens
to you later in your musical life. You
learn more what not to play and that the
real greatness is in the nuances of subtleties.
I think in the writing process I know
certain songs are written to be a vehicle
to play the guitar. Others will have a great
groove that will lend to some playing. Some
songs won’t. A lot of songs don’t need a big
ripping solo, or really much of anything.
It’s all about serving the song and deciding
what is the right thing to do.
You really show off your blues side on
“When the Lady Sings the Blues.” How
did that song come together?
When I was young, Diana Ross made that
movie, When the Lady Sings the Blues, about
Billie Holiday. I gotta tell ya, I probably
saw that movie 100 times. We had a little
theater about a block from my house and
I would go over there and pay and see the
movie and then hide behind the curtain or
run to the restroom and hang out to see it
again. I was just completely overwhelmed
by that music and had never heard of Billie
Holiday until that movie. I didn’t know
who this woman was, but the music was
unbelievable, so I just had to find out what
it was all about. It sent me on a pretty
neat path towards that slant of music.
As we were writing that song I thought,
“Wait a minute, we could massage this a
little bit and it could be a really neat hard
times song.” When you are struggling with
hard times, nothing is better than listening
to Billie Holiday. A singer like that is
the epitome of that style. She had some
kind of thing in her voice that was melancholy,
blue, and just completely mesmerizing.
I thought it was a neat idea to do a
more modern blues, Steely Dan-ish song.
Lyrically, it makes you think of the depression,
with the soup lines and people struggling.
That is one tune that warranted a lot of playing at the end. It was so much fun to
just cut loose and play the blues. Hopefully
it didn’t get stale. I just loved where it went
and how the track massaged itself around it
and halfway through it lifted and went to
the next place. It’s a really neat record of a
bunch of guys listening to each other and
making it go somewhere.
Sounds like you used a Strat on that solo?
Yeah, that was a ’59 Strat. Recently, I bought
another Strat that used to belong to Duane
Eddy. He bought it brand new when he lived
out in Fullerton [California]. He never really
played it and then gave it to his son. His son
tracked me down in the process of wanting
to sell it and I thought it had a pretty good
history. Duane is a pretty good friend of mine
and I am a huge fan of his. I said, “I’ll give
that guitar a musical home.” That has been my
go-to Strat for the last little bit of time. I can’t
remember if I played it or a ’60 slab-board
Strat. Those are two of my favorite Strats.
Do you bring the vintage gear out on
Yeah, I take the great ones out there. [For a
detailed look at Vince’s road gear, go to p.
130] They need to be played. What else you
going to do? I feel like with all those guitars,
since I’m not going to sell them it doesn’t
matter as much if I bang them up a little bit.
If you are all worried about the value of it, I
don’t know if you should have it in the first
place. For a player, it’s what you want to do.
They sound great and they feel great, why
wouldn’t you want to play them?
You use many of the members of your
live band on records. One of the mainstays
in your group has been keyboardist
John Hobbs. When did you two start to
John and I go back to the mid-’70s when
I moved to California. I was a 19-year-old
kid and he played on one of the first
records I played on out there. We were with
Byron Berline, a guy I used to work for
when I moved. We were friends and John
also played on the first record I did in ’83
as a solo artist. Eventually, he made his way
here to Nashville and I talked him into
going on the road a few years ago.
Tell me about who else is on the album.
Pete Wasner is another keyboard player that
always plays on my albums. We also write
songs together and he has been playing with
me for 30-plus years as well. Some of the
relationships I have with these guys are really
deep. Richard Bennett is a great guitar player
who I always lean on. He maybe is one of the
best supporting guitar players that I have ever
known. He’s an odd duck in that he never
really wants to play leads too often, but rather
playing parts and rhythm guitars. He is just
so great at coming up with really great stuff
that really makes the records special. His parts
are always a huge contribution to the records.
David Hungate, who is a great bass player, has
been playing in my band the last few years.
He used to be in Toto and played on a million
records over the years. It’s worth it to me
to go the extra mile and pay those guys what
their worth and what they deserve. It’s a great
experience to play music every night with
really gifted musicians. Life’s too short.
You recently did some work with Sting.
How was that?
Oh boy. It was more than amazing. It was
a life highlight. They have a show on CMT
called Crossroads and I picked four of his
songs and he picked four of mine. We sang
them together and it was just a great experience.
It was fun to find out how compatible
and similar we were. Our voices and our
range are similar. He is a no-nonsense guy
and I am a goofball. That may be the only
difference, but we are both really serious
about music and making sure it’s great. Great
stretch of a couple days working with him.
[In a British accent] I got to be a rocker.
It’s well known that you were offered a
gig in Dire Straits and turned it down. At
this point in your career do you ever see
yourself playing in a band again?
Yeah, I do. I think that at this point in
life I’m not exactly having No. 1 record
after No. 1 record and I have my feet well
entrenched in country music but not to the
level I did 15 or 20 years ago, or even 10.
I would definitely entertain the thought.
Sting and I talked about going on the road
together as the Self-Righteous Brothers
[laughs]. I would like to do something like
what the Traveling Wilburys did. Find four
or five people from different places and do
something like that. If Clapton called and
asked me to be his other guitar player on
tour, I would say yeah. Maybe 20 years ago
it really wouldn’t work. It didn’t make sense
for me to do that with Mark [Knopfler].
The musician in me would have done it in a
heartbeat. The place that I was in I just felt
that it was the wrong thing to do, for me.
Alright, i am going to put you on the
spot. Who would be the other three artists
you would like to tour with?
Oh gosh. I would go out with Sting,
Michael McDonald, Sheryl Crow, maybe
Sonny Landreth. I could name you 20.
Eric and Mark, of course. I just think that
life is so short, and at 54 you really start to
see your mortality and realize you have less
time left than you have lived. So I would
be open for just about anything and really
always have been. I think my career bears
that out. Most hillbilly singers wouldn’t be
thought of as a duet partner with Gladys
Knight, Barbra Streisand, or Tim Finn. I
feel lucky I don’t have a place that I have to
land in all the time.