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more... ArtistsGuitaristsDecember 2011Vince Gill

Vince Gill: Song Slinger

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Vince Gill: Song Slinger

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 the road?
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 work together?
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.

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