Vince Gill wasn't sure he was the best choice to be honored during a special salute sponsored by the Recording Academy, the organization responsible for the Grammy Awards.
"You could give this award to Alison Krauss," he told CMT Insider prior to Wednesday's (Sept. 9) event at Nashville's Loveless Barn. "She's won more Grammys than maybe even Stevie Wonder, but tonight I'm just grateful."
Steve Martin, Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss, Michael McDonald and Gill's wife, Amy Grant, were among those paying musical tribute to the Country Music Hall of Fame member. Gill, who has won 20 Grammys, was presented the Recording Academy's President's Award in recognition of his career accomplishments.
"I think, more than anything, the fact that it's never been given to a country artist might mean more to me than any of it," Gill said. "I think that anytime someone from our world gets recognized for some work that they've done ... all of country music wins in a big way, and that's how I feel tonight."
While appreciative of the local artists who showed up at the tribute, Gill was especially impressed that Martin traveled to Nashville to perform.
"That's pretty sweet," he said. "I didn't know Steve was coming until just a couple of days ago. More than anybody, he's the guy that's made me laugh my whole life -- since I was probably 17 or 18 years old and he started with his standup routine and the arrow through the head and the banjo. Being a musician, I was interested right off the bat in Steve. I'd seen all his movies and read his books, and I admire him so much because I think the gift of laughter is the greatest gift you could ever give anyone."
Gill and Martin first met when they performed during a tribute to Earl Scruggs on the Late Show With David Letterman. They recorded with Scruggs on an all-star version of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" that won a Grammy for best country instrumental performance in 2001. Gill also made a guest appearance on Martin's recent bluegrass album, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.
"Vince delivered such great performance on that record, I would do anything for him," Martin said. "To me, it's like Earl Scruggs. I'd do anything for Earl Scruggs and Vince Gill." Regarding the depth of Gill's career, Martin added, "He's one of the great artists. The artists change different decades. He's been there for so long and delivered such solid music. It's very emotional music. He's just one of the great ones, I think."
Paisley said Gill is one of the artists he has always admired and tried to emulate.
"Inevitably, in the beginning of the career, I always got comparisons to the guitar players and the singers of the previous generations," he said. "Anytime somebody mentioned a Vince Gill or a Steve Wariner or Ricky Skaggs in comparing me ... was a victory to me because that's who I really wanted to be. I wanted to be those guys that rolled in on a bus and played the guitar and sang their songs. I couldn't think of a better compliment anytime than when somebody said that I had something that was similar."
Grant said her husband always gets more excited about the music itself than any awards he might receive.
"I'm so happy for Vince," she said. "And what I love about his reaction was that he's always thinking about how to pull people together. When he first started with music, he was a sideman, and he's always thinking about, 'What can I add to what somebody else is doing?' And to be here, I don't think there's anything in him that goes, 'This night is about me.' I mean, he really does think this night is about all of us."