Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An interview with... Vince Gill

An interview with the country music star before his Friday show in Salem

Vince Gill

Courtesy photo

In his concerts, Vince Gill says he likes to "include the audience, so that I'm not just playing at them."


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Vince Gill fans, get ready for something different. The Nashville, Tenn., music man is taking requests.

But please, Roanoke Valley -- don't ask for "Freebird" when Gill and his band come to the Salem Civic Center on Friday night.

"No, and I hate anybody that requests it," Gill said, laughing, when asked if his combo had worked up a version of the notoriously over-requested Southern rock classic.

"I always ask 'em, I said, 'Do you go to Skynyrd concerts and ask 'em to play my songs?' " he said last week. " 'I doubt it.' "

Gill said he likes Lynyrd Skynyrd "as much as the next guy." But that's what you get with Gill -- a good-natured jokester who can needle Kanye West at the Grammy Awards, but get across without sparking a feud thanks to his mischievous grin and Oklahoma drawl. He's always cracking wise on television, which made him a popular and longtime host of the Country Music Awards.

So expect plenty of stories Friday from Gill, who said he will "yak a lot" at the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra-presented Picnic at the Pops show. But he and his three backing musicians -- an upright bassist, a pianist and a percussionist sitting on the very versatile instrument called a cajon -- will deliver songs from his three-decade career.

He'll start out with newer songs, including some from "These Days," the 2008 Grammy Award winner for best country album, and then start playing what the fans want to hear, he said.

"I think a lot of times people yell out requests and never feel like they get 'em," Gill said.

He said he's been having fun with the format, even during the occasional maelstrom of 1,000 voices shouting simultaneously for different songs.

"There's still some playing that goes on, lots of solos and things like that," he said. "But what I tried to do with this show was include the audience, so that I'm not just playing at them."

Gill thinks the Salem Civic Center will be a great venue for this show.

"It's not a honky-tonk," he said. "It's not a big arena. It's not, 'Hey, let's stand up and light our lighters and yell and scream.' It's sit and listen, and applaud a little longer, and it's a little richer."

Gill has written too many hit songs to mention them all here. The first four that come to mind are "Liza Jane," "One More Last Chance," "I Still Believe in You" and a classic of the crying-in-your-beer genre -- "Nobody Answers When I Call Your Name."

The latter two display his aching tenor voice. The first two are vehicles for great guitar solos.

Gill is not just a country music guy who plays some guitar. He is a player whose depth inspired Eric Clapton to invite him to play his Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007. He recently sang and played with Sonny Landreth on that slide guitar wizard's recent CD, "From the Reach."

Add to that Gill's songwriting, and you get a trio of talents that got him inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year. Despite his recent Grammy win, Gill said he thinks the days of huge hit records and mega-arena tours might be over. "These Days" was a multifaceted affair, with an A-list of guest artists helping him out on his songs.

But Gill is a musician, so he continues to write and record songs. He has just built a home studio, and he's looking forward to seeing how the music business model evolves over the next few years.

He has a complex view of the music business, which takes into account the behind-the-scenes people, such as show and record promoters, who have made careers of it. He doesn't want to see the evolution of technology and the do-it-yourself spirit knock them out of work.

"I don't mind being part of the big machine" when it comes to people in jobs like those, he said, adding: "I know what my heart is like, and ... I don't think I probably would make that choice very often, where it could mean a bigger payday for me if I aced that guy and that guy" out of jobs, he said.