Saturday night’s (Feb. 11) Grand Ole Opry wasn’t Jenny Gill’s first performance on the historic show, but it was an important night. It was her first Opry set where she delivered live selections of original material from her six-song debut, The House Sessions.
Unfortunately, her father, Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill, had to miss it. He was in Los Angeles for the 59th annual Grammy awards where he picked up his 21st Grammy for best American roots song for writing the title track of The Time Jumpers’ latest collection Kid Sister.
Vince did call Jenny from L.A., and they shared a laugh before she went onstage.
“You can officially put alcohol in them and take shots out of them now,” Jenny joked about her father’s Grammy collection during our CMT.com interview. “I’m probably going to do that to the 21st one when he’s not looking. Of course, he feels so honored and grateful. I think it’s so well-deserved.”
It can be both a blessing and a curse to come from country music royalty. There’s a lot to live up to when your father is a record-holding Grammy winner and your mother is Janis Oliver from Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Her stepmother is Amy Grant, with whom Jenny has toured as a backup singer for the last six years.
Jenny was born for a life in music, and there’s never been a better time for the powerhouse vocalist. Produced by Vince, The House Sessions offers 22 minutes of country soul that blends all her musical influences and evokes the attitude of a rising Bonnie Raitt. The collection is named after her her father’s home studio where it was recorded.
Fans will hear her upbringing in country with her lyrical storytelling in “Whiskey Words,” which was inspired by an ex full of empty words that staggered like a drunkard’s walk. She puts creative spins on love in “Look Where Loving You Landed Me,” “Lean On Love” and “Lonely Lost Me,” the latter of which features backing harmonies by one of her idols Sheryl Crow. “Your Shadow” is described as one of her most vulnerable tracks because it offers a glimpse of what it’s like to live with a famous father. The collection closes a funky spin on The Box Tops’ “The Letter.”
“It was a real battle to get ‘The Letter’ on this record,” she admitted. “Dad was not too excited about the idea of a cover. But I love the energy of that song and it’s that uptempo that I haven’t figured out how to write for myself yet.”
CMT.com: Was it a challenge to fit all your musical influences into 22 minutes of music? How many songs did you bring to the table for this collection?
Gill: I think we started out with 11. I don’t know why the other songs didn’t fit. They just didn’t feel right for this first project. That’s the fun of playing in the studio and discovering what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t want to put together a full length album with just filler in it. I wanted every song to mean something.
We let the band play what they felt and it just kind of evolved. Some songs are countrier and some songs have a heavy jazzy influence, but it really speaks to what I listen to. It’s just a lot of different things. I don’t know if that’s something that’s going to help me or hurt me. If people are connecting to it, that’s the goal.
Tell me about working with Sheryl.
It was such an accident. She just came over to the house to hang out with Amy because they’re buddies. I don’t know if there’s another phrase for cock-blocking that’s PG-rated, but I just totally cock-blocked their hang, like, “Hey, since you’re here, we happened to be working on my record.” I was thrilled that she took the time to do that for me.
She was so pro the whole time. We were trying to work out these background parts and dad was kind of guiding the direction. She just stopped and looked me straight in the eye and said, “What do you like?” I froze. It’s hard to see yourself as an equal with somebody you want to learn from. I just wanted her to do her thing, and it was magic, of course.
How did having your first child, Wyatt, inspire you to follow your dreams of making an album for yourself? Do you believe that the greatest gift that we can give our children is to show them what it’s like to follow your dreams?
I think it’s a big gift. I don’t know if it’s the best. I’ve only been a parent for two and a half years. So I have no idea what I’m doing, first of all. And second of all, that first year with him, I thought I was going to die because it was so hard. I just woke up one morning and looked at the last year I experienced and it became clear to me that I was capable.
After giving birth to my child, I felt like I could do anything if I put my mind to it and focus because that’s the hardest shit you will ever do. I truly felt like a rock star after he came along. I believed in my capabilities in a way I never have before. What I hope happens as an outcome, is he experiences the same pride for me that I have for my parents. I’m so proud of not just all their accomplishments, it’s what they give back to the community. There are all kinds of lessons that I’ve learned from them.
I hear a lot of Bonnie Raitt in your music. When did you first become a fan? How did you get turned on to her music?
I remember being on the road with my dad during the summers when I wasn’t in school. We’d pick out a song, work it up with the band and I’d do my one song at his shows. And we tried all kinds of things. We did Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan and “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter. I didn’t really grasp the full meaning of “Strawberry Wine,” but I was singing it anyway. I thought it was a great idea at the time — “Yeah! Let’s sing a song about losing your virginity while standing next to your dad at 16 years old.”
Bonnie Raitt was dad’s suggestion. I don’t know how it came about. He just looked at me and said, “You know who’s going to teach you how to sing?” And I said, “Who?” I thought he was talking about vocal lessons. He said, “Bonnie Raitt.” I said, “OK,” and started listening to her hits.
The way she effortlessly gets to a note and takes her time to get there. It’s like the best foreplay for a singer because she’s not trying too hard to impress you. She’s just cool and effortless.
How did working with Vince bring out the best in you as an artist?
I think anybody who works with him, you want to bring your A-game. He’s one of the best musicians we have. Amy jokes that he hears things only dogs can hear because his ears are so in tune. Dad’s really great to work with because he’s very patient if things are taking a long time. He doesn’t get frustrated. I think that comes from being an artist himself. It’s really easy to beat yourself up when you’re working in the studio, and he will help you to not beat yourself up.
What has the timing of your music taught you?
Patience is a good thing to have. My son is also teaching me that. Let things simmer and take your time. From the moment we started recording until now, it took a lot longer than I had anticipated. Deciding to start a family in the middle of that process didn’t help speed things up but Wyatt ultimately inspired the final push to get it out in the public. It all feels meant to be.