Interview: Vince Gill
Millions of albums sold, 21 Grammy Awards earned, and now a permeant fixture in The Eagles, Connoisseur sits down with Gill in Music City to chat about the country legend’s storied, four-decade career (as well as vintage Martins, of course...)
When inspiration strikes in the middle of the night — be it a lyric, a riff, or an entire melody — Vince Gill has a foolproof method for capturing the moment. “I go back to bed!” he laughs. “I don’t get up in the middle of the night to write songs. If you think about it at 2 a.m. and you can’t remember it at 9 a.m., it probably wasn’t that good.”
By 9 a.m., Gill will likely have returned from driving himself, in his only car, to and from breakfast at his favorite Nashville restaurant. He’ll enter his home studio, The House, where he will play back any ideas, “little snippets of songs and lyrics,” that he stores on the voice memo feature of his phone. “It used to be a cassette deck,” he says. “I knew how to hit ‘record’ on a cassette deck, it wasn’t that hard, but this studio stuff is way over my head.”
The trajectory of Vince Gill’s storied, four-decade career has been documented countless times, from his humble beginning in Norman, Oklahoma, to his genuinely humble present in Nashville. Along the way, he played in bluegrass bands, joined the aforementioned Pure Prairie League, worked with Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash, and was signed to RCA and later MCA Records. In 1990 he charted his breakthrough hit, ‘When I Call Your Name,’ the title track from his third solo album.
Thus began his steady ascent to country music superstar and beloved colleague to the Music Row community and beyond. His signature sound has graced countless sessions and live appearances, among them Sting, Eric Clapton, and Diana Krall. Since 2010, he has played with Nashville collective The Time Jumpers; in 2017, the Eagles recruited him, following the passing of founding member Glenn Frey.
He has what he describes as “an insane collection of instruments,” ranging from his first Gibson 335 to recent acquisitions, totaling some two hundred. Some are purchased, some are gifted to him, all are cherished and added permanently, not for sale or trade. They surround him in his studio, housed in a cabinetry system that stores instruments in felt-lined drawers that are much like guitar cases, in addition to those on stands. They’re there not for display, but to be played, used, and loved.
“I lost a bunch of stuff in the [Nashville] flood ten years ago, and it made me want to bring everything home,” he says, “so all my greatest pieces are around me. I want my guitars to get played all the time, rather than be locked away in cases in a warehouse somewhere where they have no life.
“Guitars mean something to me. I have one car, I don’t have other houses in other parts of the world, I don’t have a boat, I don’t have any toys. I just love old guitars and I love seeing them have a home. I’ll acquire a guitar, say, from someone who, maybe their husband passed away and he played his whole life and they love seeing me get his guitar because they know it’s going to continue being musical. It’s not going to go behind a glass case somewhere and never get played again. To me, none of these instruments have any value if you don’t play them and let them do what they were intended to do.
“I’ve never acquired an instrument that I didn’t love the way it felt in my hands and the way it sounds,” he says. “I have fifty or sixty prewar Martin guitars, and they all sound great and play great. I didn’t acquire something because I could get a good deal on it and then flip it in a couple of years and make some money. I wasn’t interested in that. All the different body sizes have a different thing they do. They sound different through a microphone than a big dreadnought. They’re not as booming, they’re not as loud, and they’re fun to paint with. You wouldn’t want to paint a painting with one color, and I feel the same way with instruments.”