If you go
What: Vince Gill
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Admission: $36 to $154; 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com
Vince Gill has released 18 studio albums, earned a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame, picked up 18 Country Music Association awards and won more Grammys than any other male country artist.
But talking to Gill on the phone, you would never suspect he's sold more than 26 million albums. With a down-to-earth voice, he sets you at ease by calling you “buddy” and dismissing any notion that the sun shining on him in California is preferable to the gloomy storm clouds hovering outside your Indiana office on a late March afternoon.
He laughs off the idea that awards mean much to a career, and you get the sense that if you asked him about his golf swing, he'd comfortably spend the next 20 minutes talking about grips and greens instead of his upcoming show in Fort Wayne.
It is the show, though, that prompted Gill to take the time to speak to The Journal Gazette – though we did talk a little about golf. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
I was looking at your tour schedule, and it really struck me that you're doing sometimes four nights in a row. That's got to take a toll.
It's getting to at my age. I'm getting ready to turn 60 (his birthday was April 12), so everything's a little bit different now than it was 40 years ago and 20 years ago. I'm in the midst of doing 13 straight nights. I was out with Lyle Lovett for nine straight gigs, just him and I swappin' stories and singin' songs. So I stay busy.
What does a day off look like for you when you get one?
Oh, there's always something that shows up, but I find my way to the golf course more often than not.
I was thinking back to 30-odd years ago – listening to country music in my mom's car, and the people, including you, that I sang along to – and I was thinking, “So many of these people are still touring. And not just still touring, but still putting out new music.”
That's the point. I just think that if you let success, or lack of success, be your barometer, then you're missing the point.
When I was 4 or 5 years old, I wanted to learn to play guitar. And my whole life, I've wanted to get better, and I have and I still am. So it's inspiring to still be musical, and the results don't really have much of an impact on my ability and love to play and to do this.
You say that about the results, but you hold the record for most Grammys won by a male country artist and you've got a host of other awards. Doesn't that create pressure?
Not really. I think winning an award is a reflection of the work that you've done and doesn't have anything to do with the work that you're going to do.
What's funny with all those things like Grammys is that you never think you're going to win the first one. And you always think you've won your last one (laughs), … so you don't think you're going to win the next one. You can't let that hold you hostage.
I never felt pressure like that; I felt grateful more than pressure. I've got a pretty normal head on my shoulders in that I don't let a whole lot of that stuff be a barometer of what I think about myself.
I like to continue to get better, and if I feel like I'm playing better and writing better and singing better, but none of that stuff wins awards or sells records or has hits, then I still feel confident in that I'm improving.
That's all I could ever ask of myself with a straight face is “Are you getting better?” And as long as that continues to be the case, I'm inspired.
Is there a moment that you can point to where if you had done something differently, you wouldn't be where you are now?
I imagine several. You end up being the result of the choices you make, and I've made a bunch of choices – and lot of them weren't good, but they were just the choice that I made at the time and thought it was the best thing I could do. Sometimes I was right and sometimes I was wrong.
I could have taken a job in the late '80s with Dire Straits and may never have had a real career in country music. I went after a record deal in the '80s after I left Pure Prairie League tryin' to be a pop singer and rock artist, and nobody was interested. So I pointed myself toward country music, which was really my background and was a wise choice.
But had I got pointed in a different direction, I don't know what might have or could have happened. I don't worry too much about it.
Do you feel like your place in the music business has changed over the years?
I don't know that I think it's changed; I think it's been consistent. I think I stayed pretty true to my mindset of just being a good musician.
I wasn't the guy in the mirror with a hairbrush trying to be Elvis. I was the guy with my head down trying to learn how to play guitar and come from an honest musical place, and I still do.
I play with a swing band called the Time Jumpers in Nashville. It's a blast, and all the musicians are just over-the-moon good, and it just makes you have to buckle down and have to play well and listen to the other people play, and it's just fun. It's never not been fun in all these years.
How important is that, having fun?
It's the most important. If it's not any fun, there's no point in doin' it.
That probably translates to a lot of careers.
(Laughs) I would think so. I mean, unfortunately, with a lot of people it's “I have to fix my house, I have to feed my kids.” And I get that, that's true. And I do know that I'm lucky in that I get to do something for a living that I love and adore.
If you weren't doing this for a living, do you have any idea what you might be doing?
I would have probably tried to play golf in some form or fashion.
I don't know if I had enough talent to be on tour back when I was young, but golf was the other love that I had, and I was pretty good at it. I've shot a bunch of low scores in my life and played pretty decent. Maybe if I'd applied to golf what I applied to music, I could have been out there and had fun with those guys.
I love sports of all kinds. Maybe I'd have been a basketball coach. Who knows?
So many possibilities!
Yeah, but music was first and foremost in my life since I was 4 or 5 years old. All I can remember is playing music and hearing music.
Do you remember your first experience with music? Is there a moment that just sticks with you?
I think my first honest, conscious memory of music was hearing my grandma play the piano. She played “How Great Thou Art.” And my dad played the banjo and the guitar. Those would have been my first experiences with hearing real musicians play music instead of listening to the radio or records. It just hit me like a big hammer right between the eyes that “This is what you're going to do.” (laughs)
It's great to have that in your mind at such a young age.
Yeah, I never honestly once thought about college. Because when I was in high school at 15, I was out playin' gigs in two bands. When somebody gave me a little bit of money to play music, that's all I needed.
And I thought “I got one person to pay me, maybe I can get two.” I never looked back.
What was your first paying gig?
I got stiffed for it! (chuckles) It was a great lesson in not believin' what you hear all the time. But what was fun was that I understood that it didn't take much. Especially after I left home at 18 and had to make my own way, I realized I didn't really need very much.
I look back at those years and realize how little money I made and think “Oh, God. How did you live?” But I did! I rented a room in the attic of a house for $15 a month.
Take me behind the scenes of your show for a minute – the last things you do before walking out on stage.
(Laughs) I have no routine. Not one. If it's showtime, I go walk onstage and strap on a guitar – it's like breathing air to me.
I don't warm up, I don't practice singing. The only thing I do is write a set list – figure out what song is gonna follow what song. That's always fun.
It's interesting how a show can have an ebb and flow, and what which-song-follows-which-song does to the night. You do the wrong song and it makes everything come to a halt. So the one thing I enjoy doing before a show is trying to carve out a neat order of songs to do, and it's never the same. I couldn't stand to have the same songs be in the same order every night. If there's not a little spontaneity, a little “fly by the seat of your pants,” I wouldn't know what to do.
Helps keep the energy up a little bit.
What's next for you? Another solo album or more with the Time Jumpers?
I did a record with Paul Franklin called “Bakersfield” a few years back, and we're gonna do another version of that honoring some other people that had a profound impact on us.
And I've got most all the songs written for my next record that I want to do. It'll be a little bit different. I think it's gonna be very bare-bones and very acoustic-driven and not too much about arrangements and production and background vocals. It's going to be very, very low key. Let the songs kinda stand on their own.
With the Time Jumpers, I don't know that we'll make another record and when. Everything about that has been very different since Dawn (Sears) passed away. She was really the shining light in that band, and a big reason all of us loved doing it was to hear her sing. And now we don't get to anymore, so it's not quite the same.