In a pleasant coincidence in scheduling, country music legend Vince Gill is performing at the Foellinger Theatre just a month before his wife, pop/Christian music superstar Amy Grant, visits the Honeywell Center in Wabash for a concert of her big hits.
Gill and Grant, who celebrate 20 years of marriage next year, are a definite power couple, but each has retained a very humble and accessible demeanor over the years, even as they have each conquered their respective corners of music stardom.
Rising Star in the ’70s
Gill first came to attention in the late 1970s as the singer for Pure Prairie League, a gig he earned after having served as the group’s opening act. That put him in contact with some of the biggest names in country and pop music of the day, people like Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, and Rosanne Cash.
“Rodney and that crew became my tribe,” he told American Songwriter earlier this year. “They were the people I was drawn to, even before I got to California. The first time I heard Emmylou’s voice, she was singing harmony with Linda Ronstadt on ‘I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.’ I heard this voice I’d never heard before, so I went and bought the record and thought it was Dolly Parton using a fake name. I actually convinced a few of my friends of that!
“Shortly after that, I was knocking around a record store and found Pieces of the Sky. I heard that record, heard Rodney’s songs on it, heard the way Emmy sang … and I think that was the first time in my young life that I thought, ‘I see what I want to do.’ I felt pointed for the very first time. Then, two years later, I ran into them. That’s the beauty of playing music. It leads you into these friendships.”
His star continued to rise as he found further success in a country music world that was crossing over into a more mainstream and pop-oriented direction. The Norman, Okla., native settled in Nashville and signed with RCA Records in 1983. By 1990 Gill had become one of the most recognizable names in country music, joining fellow performers like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson as the most successful men on the charts. Within 10 years his star had faded somewhat, finding comfort in the attention now paid to performers like Tim McGraw.
As Gill told American Songwriter, his approach to his career has never really changed regardless of his level of success.
“I just put one foot in front of the other, which is what I’ve always done. I just answered the phone when it rang. I didn’t have a master plan, and I still don’t. I like winging it. I don’t sit there and analyze where I need to be in five years or 10 years. It’s always been about being in the moment. It just suits me, and it’s not an ultra-conscious decision. I just live.”
Working with his wife
Although he and Grant had a crossover hit, “House of Love,” together, they didn’t become romantically involved until several years later following the dissolution of their respective marriages.
They continue to record and tour separately but often work together, particularly around the holidays when they sometimes tour with a Christmas show.
As if that weren’t enough, Gill’s solo career and his work with Grant, he recently added one more high-profile band to his resumé when Don Henley asked him to replace Glenn Frey with the Eagles.
Gill was no stranger to the music of the Eagles, having recorded a version of Timothy B. Schmit’s classic contribution to the Eagles catalog, “I Can’t Tell You Why,” on the Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles album. That album, a collection of Eagles hits covered by country music performers, is often credited with bringing the members of the Eagles, apart for the better part of 14 years by that time, back together for the Hell Freezes Over tour that saved the Eagles from the brink of extinction.
Following Frey’s death, it seemed for a time that the Eagles were completely done. But despite the absence of one of their key members, Henley decided to continue on, replacing Frey with his son Deacon on guitar and Gill on vocals. Taste of Country asked Gill how he felt about the job.
“Just gratitude that I was the guy they decided would work. Just that. Because Glenn was a great friend, and in my heart of hearts I wish I wasn’t doing it. That would mean Glenn would still be around, but life is what it is and you just go do what you can do because of what happens. Those songs deserve to live on as long as they can.”
Gill was also asked whether this will be a regular commitment, something that will continue into the future.
“I’m the new guy in, I don’t have a vote. I just do what I’m told and life goes on pretty peacefully that way. I have no idea how long this will get to go on. I think they enjoy having me in the band and want me to stay as long as they want to do it. I think until they hang it up I’ll probably be around.”
Tackling social issues
But it’s his solo music that will be taking center stage at the Foellinger, and his upcoming album Okie (which will be released on August 23) tackles social issues, like the #MeToo movement, which he might not have imagined addressing earlier in this career.
As he continues to evolve, record, perform, and join one of the biggest bands in music history, Gill obviously has no plans to back off, based on an interview earlier this year with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“It’s something I’ve always loved doing and will always continue to love doing,” he said. “I’m just grateful people still call. It’s interesting when you get some years on you. You want to stay relevant, and when people reach out and want you to be a part of something, it feels pretty special.”
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