Busy country singer Vince Gill goes solo for latest tour stop in Reno
When in Reno, country singer Vince Gill will play "I Still Believe in You" and "Liza Jane," along with newer songs.
With 20 albums under his belt and as many Grammy Awards — more than any other male country music artist in history — Vince Gill puts the "pro" in prolific.
He's just finished recording a collection of new songs for a studio album he plans to release early next year. He performs Monday nights in Nashville as part of a longstanding side project called The Time Jumpers, a Western swing ensemble that plays the kind of music Bob Wills popularized in the 1940s and '50s.
The musician is also traversing the country as a solo act through December, ending with a series of Christmas concerts in Nashville with the help of his singer-songwriter wife, Amy Grant. For Gill, it's business as usual.
"I've been traveling and performing for over 40 years," he said in a recent interview. "I've always been drawn to music. It's spoken to me in ways I can't explain. There's only so much time left, and I've got so many songs I want to write. I want to live this as hard as I can."
Gill has next set his sights on Reno, where he has an Aug. 29 stop planned at the Grand Sierra Resort. The audience can expect to hear "a little bit of everything," from a handful of new material to a whole passel of Gill's career-defining songs. That includes crowd-pleasers such as the wistful "I Still Believe in You" and the toe-tapping "Liza Jane."
He'll also perform songs from his 2013 release "Bakersfield," a tribute to Bakersfield sound pioneers Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The album, recorded with renowned pedal steel player Paul Franklin, features tunes such as Haggard's 1965 lament "The Bottle Let Me Down" and Owens' 1966 honky-tonk classic "He Don't Deserve You Anymore."
Gill credits the guidance of a longtime collaborator, producer Justin Niebank, for helping create a retro ambience to the album.
"Justin has really big ears," Gill said. "He did a good job of listening to things and figuring out how music was put together back then."
In an age in which the border between pop and country is decidedly porous, the Oklahoma-born musician is most proud of bringing an older style of music to a new generation, whether it's through the "Bakersfield" covers or his Time Jumpers gigs.
"I don't think the traditional elements are very well represented these days, but a lot of people are crazy about it," Gill said. "We play it out of reverence—to honor these musicians and stick up for country music."
But though the album is sheer homage, he adds that he and Franklin "didn't have much interest in a sound-alike record." Back in the day, the presence of strings tended to be more spare. "Bakersfield," by contrast, emphasizes the play of guitar and pedal steel, highlighting both instruments with some lively solos.
Gill is also known for the play of two voices. He's a veritable duet king, paired with everyone from Tammy Wynette ("I Wasn't Meant to Live My Life Alone") to Gwyneth Paltrow ("Country Strong"). A rendition of "I Will Always Love You" he performed with Dolly Parton and the country torch song "The Heart Won't Lie" with Reba McEntire are among his most famous vocal collaborations.
Asked why his pipes are so sought-after, Gill is humble. "I'm a high singer. Girls like to sing with me because I'm in their range," he said. And he likes to be invited, whether his presence as a vocalist or guitarist is requested and whether his role is front-and-center or just one part of a tapestry of sound.
"I love collaboration," he said. "It's always the most important part of the music for me, the best part of the process."
Having sold more than 26 million albums worldwide, it's likely Gill will continue to be invited to places. And where he goes, fans show up.
"I've got a loyal following that seems to like what I do, and it's never been very young. Every cute girl I've ever met has said, 'My grandmother is crazy about you,'" he joked. "My audience is settled. They know what they like. They're not jumping around to this and that."
Gill knows what he likes, too. He's a booster of country up-and-comer Charlie Warsham, who's signed to Warner Brothers and has opened for Gill. He also keeps going back to a particular influence, one that might come as a surprise to some.
"I can't ever get tired of Ray Charles. He's the best singer ever. He's got the most soulful voice," Gill said.
Another soulful voice, that of Time Jumper vocalist Dawn Sears, was silenced this past December when she died of lung cancer at age 53. While Gill says he and the band are "still reeling" from the loss, the band will be releasing an album soon.
As always, Gill has kept his spirits up through music, which surrounds him whether he's on the road or with family. Jenny Gill—his daughter with his former wife Janis Gill of the country-duo Sweethearts of the Rodeo—is a singer-songwriter in her own right. She also, it should be noted, made Gill a grandpa a year ago with the birth of her son, Wyatt.
And then there's Corrina, his daughter with Grant, who he said is already "eaten up with music" at age 14. "She's better than all of us," Gill said.