He’s also learned that when you’re not the front man, your fingers get lazy.
During a typical Eagles show he’ll take a few solos, trade some licks with Joe Walsh and play some rhythm guitar, which is not like the firehose of improvised sound that comes out of Vince Gill’s hands during one of his own shows. “I haven’t played much in two-and-a-half years and I’m feeling the effect,” he said. “I’m not as nimble with my hands, it’s not as easy as it normally comes. It’s fighting me back like it never has before.”
So, he was asked, how long will it take to get back in shape? “About the time we’re done (with this tour),” he joked.
Be that as it may, Gill, 65, is glad to be getting back with his own band and his own songs, songs that have earned him 22 Grammy awards and sales of 26 million albums.
Known for his high pure tenor voice and his classic songwriting chops, Gill is also the quintessential Nashville guitar monster. In a vintage 1998 appearance on the music interview/performance television show “A&E Live,” Gill stands onstage, abashed, while the host takes an on-air phone call from Nashville legend Chet Atkins, who praises Gill’s skill and requests a rendition of “Oklahoma Borderline.”
Gill complies, and the pyrotechnics fly. “That was a daunting experience,” said Gill, reminiscing about performing under the eye of the master. “Those kinds of moments are daunting because you know who is listening. I realize he’s going to listen to me play, and, ah hell.”
Credit: John Shearer
Credit: John Shearer
Gill said he has gradually learned to play less. “I hearken back to my early days as a young guitar player in studio sessions. After one solo one day the producer came on (the talkback mic) and said ‘That was something. This time, just play me half of what you know.’ What a great lesson to learn. You’re supposed to play according to what is necessary.”
That’s what appeals to Gill about Joe Walsh’s playing. The guitar melodist, whose solo on “Hotel California” is a perfect work of art, has been a role model. “What I love about Joe is how patient of a player he is. He’s not in a hurry to try to impress you.”
Gill got his start as a member of Pure Prairie League in 1979, seven years after they scored their break-out hit “Amie.”
He was invited to join Dire Straits by Mark Knopfler, but in 1989 chose instead to form a band and tour behind his own songs. It was a good choice. “When I Call Your Name,” featuring his soaring tenor, won the Country Music Association’s Single of the Year and Song of the Year and the record sold more than a million copies.
“It was blind luck as much as anything,” he said. “The sure thing would have been to take that job (with Knopfler) but I decided to bet on me and take the chance, and I got the lucky break.”
Gill took advantage of a break in the Eagles tour to schedule some tours with his own band. That ensemble includes vocalist Wendy Moten (who Gill compares to Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight), and pedal steel player Paul Franklin, with whom he has recorded an album of classic Merle Haggard and Buck Owens covers called “Bakersfield.”
He had to postpone some of this summer’s shows when Christian/pop music star Amy Grant, who he married in 2000, suffered a serious concussion after a bicycle accident. “She’s doing great and all that memory stuff will be back to normal soon,” he said. “She’s a fast healer.”
Soon the time will come when Gill will once again be betting on himself rather than going on tour with a supergroup. He told Variety that his days with the Eagles are numbered. He has enjoyed playing with them, but he feels obliged to his own band, his own songs and his own audience.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to all those people and those crew guys who’ve been with me for 30 and 35 years and more,” he said.
7 p.m. Aug. 28 $42.75-$149.75. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.