Hear a track from Guitar Slinger:
Cruise down lower Broadway in Nashville on a Saturday night, and chances are you’ll run into a guitar picker with jaw-dropping technique and tone for days. It doesn’t take long to learn this is a musician’s town, and in order to make a dent, you need to have your musical ducks in a row. Over the last 30 years, Vince Gill has not only survived in Music City, he has carried the torch of the old-school country crooner who can break your heart with a ballad one minute and then rip into a blistering solo the next.

In 2006, Gill released the most ambitious– and expansive–album of his career. These Days is a 43-song, four-disc opus that allowed him to explore everything from hardcore country to gospel and blues. When it came time to write music for his latest effort, Guitar Slinger, Gill knew that, in the end, he was at the mercy of the songs. “I was thrilled that the first song that I wrote after that project was ‘The Old Lucky Diamond Motel.’ It’s a real neat story song, kind of Americana,” remembers Gill. “I finished it and then looked back at the last record and said, ‘Wow, that’s a relief. It’s nothing like anything on the last record.’ It gave me a really good jumping off point and I think, more than anything, that I am so much more interested in the songs these days and what they are and what they’re about than anything else.”

Even though the album title brings to mind finger-busting licks, Gill demonstrates the restraint and well-developed sense of taste that he’s known for. “The songs lead me to play more guitar, or be more country, or rock harder,” states Gill. We catch up with Gill to discuss vintage guitars, balancing the roles of a songwriter and guitarist, working with your heroes, and if he would ever work with a band again.

Did the title for the album come about while you were writing the material, or did you already have it in mind?
The idea for the album title came from my manager, Larry Fitzgerald, who I’ve been working with for 28 years. As he listened to the record he said, “There is something different about your playing. It just sounds completely free on this record. Generally, you would drift towards a solo in the middle and that would be about it. These songs have like two-minute jams on the end. You are really blowing it up, so I think you should call this record Guitar Slinger.” At first, that song wasn’t going to be on the record. I said, “Well, if we don’t put that song on the record, that doesn’t make a lot of sense.” I like that it had a sense of humor in it. It’s poking fun of Amy [Grant], and poking fun at me losing all that stuff in the flood last year. I like the sense of humor in that song. poking fun of Amy [Grant], and poking fun at me losing all that stuff in the flood last year. I like the sense of humor in that song.

You really let loose on some of these tracks.
I guess it’s more guitar than usual for about half of the record. The other half is mainly country and story songs. Still, I had a blast playing a little more than usual.

“Threaten Me With Heaven” has one of the most powerful solos on the album.
I felt like the power of that song needed that kind of angst in it. Not a choir-like thing, but with those background singers it sounds like arena rock to me. I’m always trying to play what’s appropriate for the song and the arrangement, so that’s the reason, to me, that it has that non-stop kind of blitzing mentality at the end. I made this record with Justin Niebank, who is a great musician, and he said, “There is this one time where you hit this two-note thing and the bottom note almost harmonically does something. It is so emotional.” To me, that’s what playing is all about. It could be a subtle solo on something like “Who Wouldn’t Fall in Love With You”—the greatness in playing is in the subtle things that really have emotion. You can play every lick in the world, but if there is nothing in it that has emotion, it’s not going to move anybody.