David Banks, NPR Online
Vince Gill in NPR's Studio 4A
David Banks, NPR Online
Cover for Vince Gill's CD 'Next Big Thing' (MCA)
Vince Gill has been a respected figure in the country music scene for decades, a can't-miss hit maker whose signature sound combines the pop feel of modern country acts with a deep love and respect of traditional country music soul and instrumentation.
For his latest album, Next Big Thing, Gill pushes the boundaries of country to include elements of rockabilly, Texas cantina twang and even a Beatle-esqe ballad or two. He pays tribute to his own heroes, including country legend Merle Haggard.
Gill sat down recently with NPR's Melissa Block to play some numbers from his new album and a couple of older favorites — no band, no backup singers, just Gill and his guitar. The stripped-down approach showcases Gill's songwriting abilities, and his knack for penning lyrics that are emotional without being overly sentimental. Gill also proves to be a talented guitarist with a versatile voice.
There's another familiar-sounding voice on Next Big Thing — Gill's 20-year-old daughter, Jenny Gill, herself an aspiring musician.
"What I really love most is that 'blood harmony' like the Everly Brothers have," Gill tells Block. "When you hear that blood sing together, it's like nothing else in the world. And I've waited all these years to hear that — it's really inspiring to hear that voice in my kid."
Gill says he sometimes has to fight the urge to be a bigger part in his daughter's music career. "If you want kids to learn what you know, you've got to go let them make their own mistakes," Gill says. "You can't learn anything if you don't go make a mistake — and I've made plenty. I feel my daughter has to go out and make her own mistakes."
Despite the pop feel of some of the songs on Next Big Thing, Gill doesn't want to be included with the group of "new country" artists whose work seems closer to mainstream pop than Hank Williams. He says his first love will always be the "old-time" feel of the country music legends he listened to growing up.
"The kind of fiddle playing I love is that old-timey, old-school kind of playing," he tells Block. "I'm not real crazy about the new ways they play fiddle these days — it's like Jimi Hendrix on the fiddle."
One of the tracks on his latest CD, "Young Man's Town," voices the frustration of getting pushed aside by a new generation. It could be a song about Nashville, Tenn., where established artists are compelled to make way for younger acts — acts who often don't give country music veterans the respect they deserve.
"I love to watch the kids coming along," Gill says of new artists making a splash in Nashville, the heart of the country music industry. "The best advice I ever got was 'Be gracious on the way up, be gracious on the way down.'"