April 15, 2010

Cover Story: Easy does it

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Vince Gill returns to Portland next week, but fans shouldn't expect the kind of concert he gave the last time he was here.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Vince Gill

Courtesy photo

IF YOU GO

VINCE GILL

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland

TICKETS:
$54 to $84. 842-0800; www.porttix.com

Surely you remember.

Gill, the affable guitarist who's also endowed with a sweet high-tenor voice, was touring behind a four-CD release, "These Days." He played a show at Merrill Auditorium in March 2007 with enough musicians to qualify as an orchestra.

The music ranged from traditional country, for which he is best known, to bluegrass, blues, ballads and full-bore rock.

With an intermission, the show clocked in somewhere around three hours. It was Springsteen-like in its length and energy.

In a phone interview last week, Gill, 53, said his current crop of shows are a bit more relaxed.

"I don't really plan too well, but with that tour, I kind of had to plan, because there was so much humanity up there, with 17 pieces," he said. "This current band isn't that big, but the theory is still the same. We play different songs every night, and we try to do what people want to hear."

This tour feels a little more casual than the previous one, because Gill is between albums right now. He's not on the road promoting anything. He's just out playing.

His record label recently released a collection of love songs, which simply involved repackaging ballads he has recorded over the years. He expects a new record to come out this summer or fall. He's written a bunch of new songs, and recorded many of them in his home, which he shares with his wife, singer Amy Grant.

"I put a studio in my house, which was one of the neatest things I could have ever thought of to do," he said. "I had never done it before, because my home life wasn't such that that was where I wanted to be musical, too. But being married to Amy and the technology and how much it's changed, you just don't need that much real estate to have a very good quality home studio."

Being able to record in his home means Gill stays busy with his music pretty much all the time, though it's not necessarily hard work.

"I feel like I am working, but there is also a sense of goofing off. There is freedom, because it doesn't cost $2,500 a day to practice," he said. "But even still, it's the same process as if you booked into an expensive studio. It's really just about finding musicians and gathering around and swapping ideas and trying to see what works."

Gill is staying busy in other ways as well. He just produced a record for LeAnn Rimes, and in February, he joined a Nashville Western swing band, the Time Jumpers. They play every Monday night at Nashville's Station Inn.

The band has been together quite a while, and Gill would often show up to watch, listen and occasionally sit in. Eventually, he signed on as a substitute player, and more recently committed to playing regularly. He grew up on Western swing in Oklahoma, so it's fun for him to return to his roots.

Playing in a club also keeps Gill grounded, and reminds him what it means to work for a living.

"It's just a little-bitty bluegrass club. We split up the money after the gig behind the amps, just like the old days. I like to joke, 'It's the only time I play in Nashville where I get paid.' Every other gig is a benefit," he said.

No one who knows Gill is surprised that he jams locally. Within the music business, he is known as one of the least pretentious and most approachable guys.

"I just love playing music," he said. "I don't know why some people have to think that if they do well they can't be what they used to be. I like being what I used to be."

Being a star opens doors. Being humble earns trusted friends. One of Gill's newest buds is rock guitarist Eric Clapton. Clapton is considered a rock god, and Gill is in the same company.

A few years ago, Clapton invited Gill to join him at his Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. Gill has earned a return invitation each year since, and will join the festival lineup on June 26. In February, when Clapton played in Nashville, Gill joined him on stage.

Getting to know Clapton and earning his respect has been a thrill, Gill said.

"It's kind of like hitting golf balls with Arnie Palmer. There's no way it could get any better," he said. "You couldn't dream it up. You sit there as a kid and you think, 'Someday I am going to get so good at playing guitar that I am going to be playing with Eric Clapton.' I got lucky. It actually happened." 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

 

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