“Now that I’m almost 60, all I want to do is play [guitar],” Vince Gill told a gathering of journalists and music business folk Thursday afternoon (Dec. 10) at the Standard at the Smith House, a swanky restaurant and bar in downtown Nashville.
Gill is actually a few months shy of his 59th birthday, but there’s little doubt that he’s become country music’s most eloquent and impassioned elder statesman.
The event was organized to preview selections from Gill’s upcoming album — Down to My Last Bad Habit. It was sponsored by Google and culminated with a formal dinner. Many of those attending wrapped up the evening at Gill and Amy Grant’s Christmas concert at the Ryman Auditorium.
Seated on the hearth of an unlit fireplace in the small, cozy meeting space, Gill introduced several cuts from the new album while ruminating about his career and continuing goals.
He wrote or co-wrote the entire album and co-produced it with Justin Niebank.
“I’m always excited at having new music,” he said. “It never gets old.”
He cited the thrill he felt 42 years ago in his native Oklahoma City when he heard his first song beaming out from the radio.
Before turning to the album, Gill showed the crowd a few treasured artifacts marking his long musical journey.
These included the guitar he first learned to play on, the first guitar he owned, a papier mache dachshund he made as a child (“proof that I was not meant to be an artist”), a picture of him playing the guitar Duane Allman used on the first two Allman Brothers albums, a helmet from the Folds of Honor charity he supports and the first of his 20 Grammys.
“I never had the aspiration to be a star,” he said. “I always feel more comfortable when I’m working with someone else.”
When singing harmony with other artists, he added, “I was always trying to be Phil Everly to whoever I was working with.”
His daughter, Jenny Van Valkenberg, accompanies him on “Reasons for the Tears I Cry” from the new album, while his and Amy Grant’s 14-year-old daughter, Corrina, chimes in on “One More Mistake I Made.”
He called Worsham “about the most talented artist [I’ve seen] since I came to this town.” Worsham sings harmony with him on “When It’s Love.”
By Gill’s assessment, “Make You Feel Real Good” is the “funkiest” song he’s ever recorded. “I felt like I was channeling Howlin’ Wolf when I did this,” he said. “It could be the new Cialis theme song.”
There’s only one true “country song” on the album, Gill said. And that one is clearly “Sad One Coming On (A Song for George Jones),” in which he enlists Krauss’ estimable talents.
He took time out to praise the Grand Ole Opry, of which he’s been a member since 1991 and which he dubbed “the crown jewel of what defines this city.”
He also told a story about the Opry’s legendary Little Jimmy Dickens, who was known for his frolicsome ways as well as for his diminutive 4-foot-11 stature.
It seems that Dickens and the nearly-as-short fiddler Kenny Sears had “gotten into the wine” and were feeling pretty good about themselves as they strode down the hall together backstage at the Opry.
“I don’t know about you, Sears,” the ebullient Dickens spouted, “but I feel 5-foot-4.”