Vince Gill: ‘I Owe Country Music the Majority of My Success’

By Brian Ives 

Vince Gill will be touring through the end of the year in support of his latest album, Down to My Last Bad Habit, an album that runs the gamut from blues (“Make You Feel Real Good”) to adult contemporary (“I Can’t Do This”) and, of course, country (notably on “Sad One Comin’ On (A Song for George Jones)”).

Gill has stretched all over the artistic map over the course of his career, but he’s glad to still be regarded as a country artist.

“I owe country music the majority of my success,” Gill tells Radio.com. “I still want to be known as a country music singer, but the genre has changed over and over and over. The perception of what country music is, and the reality of it, are two different things. Everyone has the eras that they like, and are inspired by, I certainly do. I enjoyed the era that I liked the most even more than [I liked] the era of my success. There were a lot of neat records made in my era, but the ones that really shaped what I love and what I want to do are more from my past.”

And who are the artists that shaped him? “I love Ray Price and Buck Owens, west coast stuff. Merle Haggard was always my absolute favorite artist of all time, and always will be. There’s still a lot of young people who are inspired by that generation. It’s less and less [than it used to be]. A young kid today that’s a 25 year old artist [knows] maybe 15 years of history. You look back to the year 2000, and that’s been his experience, it’s what he learned [from].” But he’s not a “Get off my lawn!” guy. He reasons, “Everyone does what they love and [country music] changes and it evolves, it’s all good to me.”

Gill has also evolved over the years: “I’ve always been a musician first. I started out playing bluegrass music in my teenage years, and then I was in a country-rock band, Pure Prairie League, for a while. I went from bluegrass to fronting a rock band. Then I became a sideman for great [country] artists like Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash, being their guitar player and harmony singer. Then I got a record deal and I wanted to be a country singer like Merle Haggard. I’ve done a little bit of everything.”

In his early years, he also turned down a pretty sweet offer from a arena packing rock band: “I think there’s been a few times in my life where I probably made a decision or two that I look back on and say [to myself], ‘Why on earth did you do that?’ I’d been a solo artist, I started in about ’83, and made my first record then [Turn Me Loose was released in 1984]. I spent about seven years struggling, I couldn’t get radio to play my records, I couldn’t get a hit.”

Related: Play “Six Degrees of Vince Gill”

“And about six or seven years into that stretch, I got an offer from Mark Knopfler to come join the Dire Straits. It would have solved all of my financial problems. I was struggling to pay the house note, and keep food on the table. It was a tough stretch. This would have solved all that. But then I said to myself, ‘Well, if you do that, that’s kinda like admitting failure. You’re gonna bail on what you tried to do for a good long time.’ And I said to myself, ‘If you don’t believe in you, who’s gonna?’ So I turned down the sure thing. Lo and behold, [my] next record was a carer record, [1989’s] When I Call Your Name, and on a dime, things flipped and just went the other way. It was amazing.

He admits that he sometimes thinks about what could have been: “Deep down, I wish I could have done that [joined Dire Straits]. I regret not getting to do that. But I made the decision that I thought was the right one for me, and got lucky.”

Of course, his solo career has done quite well. You can catch him on the road for the rest of the year. Check out his tour dates at his official website.

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