Category: Vince Gill

Vince Gill is the 'Guitar Slinger' on first album in five years

Vince Gill Vince Gill

Over his 30-plus year recording career, Vince Gill has proved himself a prolific and astute songwriter, a highly regarded guitarist and one of country music’s most award-laden singers. He’s landed multiple song-of-the-year honors from the Country Music Assn. and the Academy of Country Music, along with two Grammy Awards -- among his overall Grammy total of 20 -- for best country song for “I Still Believe in You” and “Go Rest High on That Mountain” in 1992 and 1995, respectively.

This week, the 54-year-old musician is releasing “Guitar Slinger,” his first studio album in five years. While he was in Los Angeles recently to host the annual Country Music Hall of Fame benefit concert, Calendar asked Gill, who also plays the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Nov. 16, to talk about how he writes songs, what characterizes his favorite songs by other writers and how the new album came together.

Musicians often say there are two kinds of songs: those they consider “gifts” that arrive virtually fully formed, and those that are carefully and sometimes laboriously crafted from the germ of an idea or a musical riff that springs to mind. Is there a common thread you see?

I think first lines of songs are immensely important. It’s your first chance to pull somebody in. Like [the George Jones classic] “He Stopped Loving Her Today”: The first line is, “He said, ‘I’ll love you till I die’.” I’m in. [He laughs] It never ceases to amaze me how many great first lines of songs there are.

What examples from the new album can you point to?

On “Bread and Water,” that’s what I did. I said that first line: “One night he wandered into that old mission” — and it hit me like a ton of bricks, because it reminded me of my brother. [His older brother, Bob, died of a heart attack in 1993 after spending the last years of his life struggling with homelessness and mental illness following a car accident.] Right off the bat, I knew I had a place to take that.
Another song on there, “If I Die,” to me is really a unique song, because in a sense it’s four different vignettes, and each verse is somewhat different. I remember singing the song at church. A friend of mine is pastor of a church in Nashville, and the first verse is about drinking: “If I die drinking….” The second verse is, “If I die cheating…,” and I was watching him, with humor, I was watching him squirm because he didn’t know where it was going, and I could see he was thinking, ‘What is he doing singing this in church?’

It ends with, “If I die praying, everyone I’ve ever loved will be there waiting for me.” It’s all about when we don’t see [death] coming. How that song came about was with Ashley [Monroe, with whom he co-wrote it]. She had that idea in the first bit, “If I die drinking.”

What about some of the other ways a song comes into being?

Certain songs are born out of a feel. On [the song] “Guitar Slinger,” it was a riff, I was just playing that groove. Certain things just point you where to go…. I’m sure that [Jimi Hendrix’s] “Purple Haze” was written around that guitar riff at the start. “Liza Jane,” an old song of mine, was written out of that groove, that little lick. Sometimes a lick can be the memorable thing, the hooky thing that defines something. I think most records are defined before the singer starts to sing. Musicians don’t get enough credit for making records definable.

You do a lot of guitar-playing on this record, which I suspect is the inspiration for the title. How did that come about?

There’s a song called “Guitar Slinger,” and actually, it was [his manager] Larry Fitzgerald’s idea to call it this. This record’s a little more free for me as a guitar player. I went ahead and played, maybe a lot more than I usually do. There are some two- and three-minute fades on the ends of songs [with extended guitar solos]. He heard that song and liked the humorous side of that song. Half the record’s pretty guitar-driven, half of it’s not.

I don’t know — I never know. It’s hard to describe this stuff. It’s hard to talk about what you mean or what you were thinking. I just try to do what I always do: I play something, then I try to see how can I massage that to say a little bit more or a little bit less. I experiment; go into the subtleties of the sound of the instrument, the tone of the guitar.

It’s been five years since you released “These Days,” your four-CD set with all new material, which was unprecedented, and which also earned you another Grammy Award for country album of the year. Did it take long after that outpouring to feel motivated to return to the recording studio again?

It was a lot of things. One of the biggest reasons was my dear friend John Hughey passed away, who’d been playing steel guitar on my records since 1990 until 2006. I knew it was going to be difficult to record without him there. It’s very sad. That was one reason. Also, I started to build a studio in my house, and it wound up taking so much longer than I thought. Once we eventually got started, we had more problems because [engineer] Justin Niebank, who is one of the busiest guys in town, was mixing our record. I want him to be a part of everything I do. So it just took a long time to get it finished.

Are you a perfectionist — someone who can never stop tinkering with a track until somebody rips it out of your hands?

It’s so funny -- you can have a record from so many years ago and you’ll go, “I wish I could go in and sing it today, because now I could sing it better.” I don’t think you can ever really let go.


Guitars abound at All for the Hall benefit concert

Vince Gill stretches out in a roomy place

Vince Gill sings, chats in Disney Hall

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Vince Gill at the 2011 All for the Hall benefit concert at Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Credit: Michael Robinson-Chavez / Los Angeles Times.

Bob Dylan's all-star album of 'lost' Hank Williams songs due Oct. 4

Bob Dylan sings Hank Williams

Hank Williams saluted by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s long-gestating project to complete a batch of songs left unfinished by Hank Williams will see the light of day Oct. 4 with the release of “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams,” a collection of a dozen songs for which Dylan, Merle Haggard, Jack White, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow and several other musicians created music for the country giant’s unpublished lyrics.

Dylan invited those with an affinity for Williams' music -- also including his own son, Jakob Dylan, Williams’ granddaughter, Holly,  as well as Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell, Alan Jackson, Levon Helm and Patty Loveless -- to select lyrics from a stockpile that Williams left behind in a leather briefcase when he died in 1953. Some lyrics were finished, others were just fragments or ideas Williams had jotted down. 

The album has been assembled in conjunction with the “Family Tradition” exhibition on Williams and his descendants at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, a show that opened in 2008 and will continue through Dec. 31.

Gill and Crowell collaborated on a song titled “I Hope You Shed a Million Tears,” for which Williams’ original steel guitarist, Don Helms, played on what turned out to be one of the final recording sessions before his death in 2008.

“The neat thing for me,” Gill told The Times three years ago, “was how the spirit of it felt like that era of music: Hank and the '50s. We all gathered in a circle, played together and played live with no overdubbing and no fixing. We just gathered 'round and had a pretty big time.”

Haggard sings "The Sermon on the Mount," a song for which he said, "I had to fix a few lines."

The album will be the second release on Dylan’s own label imprint, Egyptian Records.  The first was a 1997 tribute to pioneering country singer and songwriter Jimmie Rodgers with recordings of his songs by Dylan, Bono, Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, Steve Earle, Alison Krauss, Jerry Garcia and several others.


Jack White speaks on Bob Dylan's Hank Williams project

Don Helms, 1927-2008: Steel guitar player for Hank Williams

Bob Dylan turns 70: 'I'm younger than that now'

-- Randy Lewis

Photo (left) of Bob Dylan. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

Photo (right) of Hank Williams. Credit: TNN.

Taylor Swift joins Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, Lionel Richie and Emmylou Harris at Country Hall of Fame benefit

All for the Hall 2010 
After selling more than 10 million albums in the last four years, the last thing Taylor Swift needs is a raise. But Thursday night, the young country-pop hitmaker got a major promotion in her status as a singer and songwriter.

There she sat onstage at Club Nokia for the annual All for the Hall concert benefiting Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, accorded an equal place alongside such esteemed country music figures as Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris and Vince Gill, as well as the event’s special guest, '70s and '80s pop-R&B kingpin Lionel Richie.

Country_gallery_140_ “These are the best role models I could have,” Swift, 20, told the crowd of about 2,000 who had paid up to $1,000 a seat to witness this year’s “guitar pull,” for which each musician took a turn introducing and playing a song. They casually related stories behind each song and occasionally enlisted a bit of instrumental or vocal support from the other participants.

Previous editions of the fundraiser have emphasized veterans such as Harris, Gill, Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakam and others. The addition of Swift to this year’s show translated into a large, vocal contingent of teen and preteen girls, who erupted in a chorus of squeals when master of ceremonies Gill brought her on stage.

As the shrieking subsided, Gill quipped: “Thank you, thank you! I get that a lot.”

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Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, others remember country music songwriter Hank Cochran

Hank Cochran-boat

Hank Cochran, the celebrated country songwriter and singer who died Thursday at age 74 from pancreatic cancer, spent most of his life immersed in music, searching for the next song to write, and it sounds like that’s the way he spent his final time on Earth.

“I spent the last day of his life at his bedside along with his family and a few close friends,” singer and songwriter Jamey Johnson told me in an e-mail he sent a few hours after Cochran died at his home in Hendersonville, Tenn. “Buddy [Cannon, the songwriter] joined us later in the afternoon and brought along Billy Ray Cyrus. We sang a range of old gospel songs and many of his own songs to him: ‘I Fall to Pieces,’ ‘Is it Raining at Your House,’ ‘Set 'em Up Joe’ and ‘Make the World Go Away.’

“My 6-year-old daughter even sang along with us on ‘The Chair,’ and she got a kick out of Billy Ray's ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ which even got Hank singing along for a note or two,” Johnson noted. “Although Hank was tired, he didn't want anyone to leave. He was enjoying the fellowship.”

Because Cochran had been struggling for a long time with cancer, many of his friends kept in close touch and spoke to him in person or by phone in his final days. Ray Price told me, “I talked to Hank on Monday and had a chance to say goodbye. This is not a real happy day; he will be missed, I guarantee it. … He was a great person in our business, and he contributed an awful lot.”

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Lost in the Nashville flood: Musical instruments galore

Nashville Soundcheck warehouse

Anyone who knows the feeling of becoming intimately familiar with a particular musical instrument can’t help but sympathize with all those musicians who lost prized pieces of equipment during the recent floods in Nashville.

I reached out to several to ask whether they’d been affected by the wall of water that submerged Soundcheck Nashville, one of the key musical equipment storage facilities there. A lot of people think of instruments as little more than furniture that's easily replaceable, but that notion quickly fades when you hear a musician talk about a favorite piece of musical equipment. And even for those instruments that might be in good enough shape to repair, the chorus from those dealing with them was remarkably consistent: "They'll never be the same."

Brad Paisley had all his guitars and other equipment he uses on tour at Soundcheck because he and his crew were rehearsing for a tour that opens May 21 in Virginia Beach, Va. Ironically, it’s “The H20 Tour” from the track “Water” on his latest album, recorded long before the flood.

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Eric Clapton's third Crossroads Guitar Festival coming to Chicago on June 26

Eric Clapton Hollywood Bowl 2004 Shepler

Eric Clapton is hosting his third Crossroads Guitar Festival on June 26 in Chicago, inviting many of the same stellar guests who appeared at the first two events. This year’s lineup includes B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, John Mayer, Vince Gill, Steve Winwood, Robert Cray and ZZ Top.

The event, benefiting Clapton’s  Crossroads Centre in Antigua for people with chemical dependencies, also will include Sheryl Crow, the great Brazilian jazz guitarist João Gilberto, James Burton, Albert Lee, Keb’ Mo’,  the Allman Brothers Band, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas and  Italian musician Pino Daniele.

The first Crossroads Festival in Dallas in 2004 and its successor three years later in Chicago both were filmed and released on DVD. In addition to the main-stage performances, the festivals encompass music workshops, demonstrations and various forums for interaction among fans and participating musicians.

Tickets are $100 and go on sale Feb. 20 through Ticketmaster.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Eric Clapton at the Hollywood Bowl in 2004. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Taylor Swift to host 'SNL'; 'Idol's' Daughtry added to CMA Awards roster


Days before she surely cleans up at the Country Music Assn. Awards, Taylor Swift will bring her crossover pop to "Saturday Night Live," hosting the NBC program on Nov. 7. "Saturday Night Live" has been kind to musicians this year, including Lady Gaga, who appeared in a number of sketches during her recent appearance.

Swift has already shown off her comedy chops. In an an opening sketch for the Country Music Television Awards, Swift (a.k.a. T-Sweezy) rapped with T-Pain to open the telecast ("I knit sweaters, yo!"). In the weeks leading up to "Saturday Night Live," expect plenty of speculation as to how exactly "SNL" will attempt to refresh the Kanye West/MTV Video Music Awards incident.

Swift's "SNL" appearance will mark the start of what will be a country-heavy week on television. On Nov. 11, Swift will appear on the CMA Awards, which has bolstered its performance roster: Jason Aldean, Billy Currington and Daughtry, who will duet with Vince Gill, have been added to the lineup.

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CMA Awards: Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley back as emcees


Music award season is upon us. The eligibility period for the 2010 Grammy Awards ends Monday, and today Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley were announced as returning hosts for the 2009 Country Music Assn. Awards. The CMAs will air live for the East Coast on Nov. 11 on ABC.

Underwood is reigning "entertainer of the year" champion at the rival Academy of Country Music Awards, breaking a lock that Kenny Chesney had on the category. She's also been named female vocalist of the year at the CMAs three years running, and Paisley has owned the male title for the last two years. All told, Paisley has 11 CMA trophies to his name, and Underwood five.

The CMAs are open to the public, and tickets will go on sale Sept. 19 via Ticketmaster. Tickets start at $110, not including surcharges, and top out at $382.50. The CMAs will once again be held at the Sommet Center in Nashville. Nominations for the 2009 awards will be announced in early to mid-September. A spokesman said details are "still being finalized" before the nomination date can be revealed.

While country has two major awards dedicated specifically to the genre, expect a larger Nashville presence to be felt throughout the entire 2009-10 music award season. Young star Taylor Swift may very well end up with 2009's top-selling album in "Fearless," and she's become a major part of MTV's current branding campaign for its upcoming Video Music Awards.

Country stars are a major presence on the charts these days. Reba McEntire holds the No. 1 album this week with her "Keep On Loving You"; last week, the top spot belonged to George Strait's "Twang," this week's No. 2 album. Last but not least, the Recording Academy is making a greater outreach than in years  past with its Grammy Awards. The group, as previously reported, will stage its first ever "Grammy Salute to Country Music" on Sept. 8 in Nashville, which will honor Vince Gill.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Carrie Underwood at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam lead Country Hall event to L.A.


Los Angeles will get an all-star “guitar pull” on behalf of the Country Music Hall of Fame come October, and then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will host a week-long salute in November to one of its inductees, Janis Joplin, the hall’s 2009 American Music Masters honoree.

Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam and Emmylou Harris, all of whom figured prominently in L.A.’s roots-country community at some point in their careers, will appear at Club Nokia for the country music organization’s annual All for the Hall fundraiser. The guitar pull, in which musicians take turns sharing songs and stories, is a country tradition most famously conducted in Tennessee by Johnny Cash and his coterie of friends and family members. The annual benefit, launched in 2005, was held in New York for the last two years. Funds support the museum’s long-term financial needs.

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Grammys getting cozy with country


OK, Nashville, is everything forgiven?

The Recording Academy will honor Vince Gill at its first ever "Grammy Salute to Country Music," slated for Sept. 8 in Nashville. Set to appear are Brad Paisley, wife Amy Grant, Alison Krauss, Steve Martin and Michael McDonald. The Recording Academy stages similar events for classical, jazz and gospel music.

"Vince Gill who has made an indelible mark on the genre," said Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow in a statement. "Our 'Salute To' series pays homage to and celebrates the work of extraordinary people and organizations that continue to ensure that these genres remain a vital part of our culture."

Gill has garnered 20 Grammy Awards in his 30-plus year career. He won best country album in 2007 for his four disc set "These Days," but lost out in the album of the year field that year to Herbie Hancock.

Grammy followers may remember that Gill passed on an opportunity to perform on the telecast in 2008. It's common practice for every album of the year nominee to perform on the Grammys, but Gill balked at the live scenarios presented to him that year, as they featured the county vet performing a duet with Paisley rather than showcasing his nominated album.

Nevertheless, Gill was a willing participant in the awards, appearing as a presenter in 2008. All the drama happened a few months after Portnow flew to Nashville to discuss a perceived lack of country representation on the awards.

Yet all should be forgiven now, as the Grammys this year featured performances by Taylor Swift and Sugarland, and a country-tinged album -- "Raising Sand" from Krauss and Robert Plant -- won the top prize.

Look for the country goodwill to continue into 2010, with Swift's "Fearless" sure to score a bounty of nominations. The Grammy eligibility period for the 2010 telecast will come to a close on Aug. 31, and nominations are expected to be announced in early December.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Getty Images


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