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If you like Vince Gill's story, you might also like:
Johnny Cash,
Sheryl Crow,
Lauryn Hill,
Quincy Jones,
Naomi Judd,
B.B. King,
Wynton Marsalis,
Johnny Mathis and
Stephen Sondheim

Vince Gill can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

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Vince Gill
 
Vince Gill
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Vince Gill Interview (page: 4 / 7)

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  Vince Gill

You've received a lot of awards. We want to ask for your perspective on awards and fame. By the way, where do you keep your Grammy Awards?


Vince Gill: Well, I just think that if you're the guy winning the awards, you think they're the greatest things in the world. If you're not winning them, you think the guy winning them is not any good! You know, it's pretty true. But I really hope and believe that in the majority of cases it's a result of the work. It's just a result of good work. And no different than you painting a painting and everybody looks at it and goes, "I love it!" That's a result of good work. Fame was interesting for me in that your anonymity was gone. And that's -- be careful what you wish for. There's an element of that that is great, and there's an element of it that's horrible. Just which way do you choose to react to it, you know? Because -- and I think I spoke earlier about the years of struggle were a great learning curve for me, because I watched people react to success -- some reacted favorably, some reacted, I thought, poorly. And I saw enough of it to go, "I know I don't want to act like that."

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


I don't like arrogance. I don't like a guy beating on his chest that just scored the touchdown, "Look at me, look at me!" I like being just one of the flowers in the vase. I don't enjoy a lot of attention. And nobody will believe you when you say that, but I'm a little bit shy. I don't have a problem putting a guitar on and playing and singing in front of 15,000 people, but in front of two or three I might be a little more uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, I really like people. So I never ran from it. I basically ignored it in a sense that I wasn't going to let it change who I was. Whatever the consequences are for doing that, I'm okay with.


Somebody wants a picture, somebody wants an autograph, that's no big deal. That doesn't bother me. It never has. And you know, I didn't want to be a recluse, I didn't want to run from anything, I didn't want to all of a sudden be thinking I was something that I wasn't. And that comes from the fact that I knew I was a musician. I came at things from a musician's perspective first. And I knew that musicians I liked, they wouldn't act that way, so I didn't want to. I married a woman that is the same, and that's been a great gift, because she could care less how successful she's been. She's the same -- always. She's constant in that. She's kind of oblivious to it in a beautiful way, and I try to be too. You know, we just, well okay. We did okay. Don't jump up and down. And I've always felt that God blessed me with some great gifts, you know, and I can't deny that there's a beautiful voice and great hands and great ears that allow me to play and tell stories that people like. I get on well with people and they like these songs. They like the way I sing, and that's not me going, "Oh, great for me," but I realize those are God-given and they're special. But the difference being is that doesn't make me special, it's only the gift that is special. And I think that's what I see people have a hard time really differentiating, is the fact that success, or notoriety, or fame, or lots of money, or power, or any of those things unfortunately -- people -- it affects them in a way that they think they're a little bit better than they were or something.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


I never liked seeing that very much. So I run as hard as I can from it.

Was religion a big part of your household when you were growing up? Now, as a dad, is religion part of your household?


Vince Gill: Growing up, religion was not a huge part of my household. We went to church for a pretty good while, and then my brother had an accident -- car accident -- and it was pretty traumatic for the family, and very devastating to him. He was in a coma for months, and not expected to live. And I don't remember, I don't even know if that's when we quit going to church, but I kind of feel like it. That's what happened. I think sometimes, when something really tragic happens, people either run to God or run away from God, and I think my family had a tendency to maybe run away. And I still sought out a bit of church life, even just as a kid, teenage kid. Some of my buddies went to church, and we played on the ball teams. So church had a great -- it was a great experience for me. But maybe more because of athletics than sermons, you know. I don't know. I don't remember enough to know.


Vince Gill Interview Photo
Vince Gill Interview Photo


After I took off and got out of school, I had no church life to speak of. And then, as you have children, as you get older and you hopefully gain a little bit of wisdom and whatnot, I've found myself getting back into a church life. I don't think that I was ever a non-believer, it just didn't make a lot of sense for me to wind up in church, because I was never home, and I was never home on a weekend. So church life was not something that I could really accomplish. And then Amy (Grant) and I got married nearly ten years ago, and... I'm back in the church house! Thank God! But I think, as you travel the world, you realize everybody's got to believe in something. It doesn't have to be one thing. It's not the right thing (or) the wrong thing. I always felt like I'd rather be forgiven than be right. I got in my heart what I feel is the way to act, the way to treat people, and (if) people are kind to each other and friendly and fair and all that, that would solve most all the problems right there.


We were discussing music earlier, and you said it might be indefinable.

Vince Gill: Sure. I love the analogy of there is no definition of it.


Count Basie said it best. He said, "There's two kinds of music, good and bad." You either like it or you don't. And it's so subjective, because what you like, I may not. What he may like, I may not. Vice versa. And that's what's so beautiful to me about music is that there is no score at the end of it. There's no bottom line to it. Whether you're -- you do something with math and then there's a solution to the problem. You do something with the budget and there's a solution to the problem. There's an end to the book. With music, it's just floating up there in the air. Especially live music. I love live music because it's just experienced at that moment. And I really am a -- I like to live in the moment. I love the moment. I'm not too concerned about tomorrow and I don't get too worked up over yesterday. I like to experience what's right in front of me, and I don't like to plan stuff. And that's what I love about music. There's really no result in a sense -- of a fact or an answer or a solution -- most things have. And it's kind of like golf in a sense, because golf has a score, but it could always be better and it could always be worse.


Is there a difference between musicians who can play by ear and musicians who read music?

Vince Gill: That's a great question. I don't know how I would interpret it, other than, I think all musicians can hear music. I enjoyed meeting some of the folks here. Joshua Bell is a great violinist, world class, and one of the young girls was at Julliard, and I asked her, "Are you able to play by ear? Are you able to improvise?" She goes yeah. And I said that's rare for a trained player. A lot of trained players can only read the page and they're playing by sight first and foremost. I think I play by feel and by hearing. I think they're both equally as beautiful. I don't think one is better than the other. So I don't know the answer to that, to be honest.

Could you tell us more about the importance of hearing, and listening to others, in your musical process? You spoke earlier about the democracy of music.


We had a lesson in church, Sunday school, it's been several years ago, and it really just stuck with me. There was a go-around question that everybody in the class would answer. They said, "Okay, you have to give up one of the following, what will you give up? Your ability to speak, your ability to see, or your ability to hear?" I was the only one on the whole class that said the ability to hear. Because they said, "Oh it's better to be silent, I'd rather not speak," or "I'd hate to not see, and the beauty of this and that." And I go, "It's a slam dunk for me. If I can't hear, I'm dead," because the world speaks to me through my ears more so than my eyes. And I think that your eyes will lie to you. Your eyes will judge something before you ever know what it is. But your ears won't. And if I have my eyes closed, I don't know whether a man's wearing a tuxedo or he's dressed in rags. I don't know if he's white, I don't know if he's black, I don't know anything about him. And I think that's why I love music so much, and I'm not sold on videos and the music becoming a visual entity. I liked it when I put on a record and I saw my own pictures, I saw the story. It spoke to me through my ears. And so my ears are -- they're kind of the center of it all. They're what tell me what to play. I try to play like I would sing, and then sing like I would play.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


My ears tell me to do all that stuff. As far as music, to me, being a democracy -- music without language doesn't have anything attached to it that defines it. It's just sound. Once the language is on it, and it's in Spanish, you may not know what they're saying, so then it's different. But just in its raw state, to me, it's honest and it's universal. It's so many things. We claim to live in this democratic society, and we kind of do, but we certainly could improve it. That, to me, is what music is. It's just people going, "Let's all do this together," and it creates this. I'm just glad I can hear!

You've recorded with an impressive list of people. What is it that makes your voice fit so well with so many different artists, with Dolly Parton or Reba McEntire?

Vince Gill: Once again, I hate to keep belaboring the point of my hearing and my ears, but that's what points me. My ears are listening to what it is, and they're telling me, "Do what's appropriate. Do what fits." And to me, that's the exercise. Do what enhances what that other person does. It's interesting, the majority of the work that I've done -- arguably 90 percent of it -- I'm just part of the supporting cast. It's not always a duet. I'm not always a featured, equal performer, and therein lies the difference. It's my job to go in there and help build this building, and put it together. Each job is different. Like in singing a duet you do a different job than when you're a harmony singer or when you're the guitar player. And you just know what your role is before you get started. Once again, your ears tell you that. You just kind of do what you're supposed to as much as anything.


I hear the difference between jazz and bluegrass, between country music and rock and roll. And whatever it is that you're doing, you want to do what honors that in the most authentic way. That, to me, is what music should be, is authentic. It should be honest, and it should -- you know, you don't want something on something -- well, it's trying to be this but you're making it -- all of a sudden you're sliding it in a different way. So I feel like that my job always in that role was to honor what it is you're doing. When I'm singing with Diana Krall in my latest record, I'm trying to sing like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra and those guys, and honor that big traditional pop kind of thing, and croon like that. And then when I'm singing with Del McCoury, who's the greatest bluegrass singer in the world, I'm trying to make it high and lonesome and twangy. And so that whatever I'm doing honors the genre, that it's trying to fit in, and my ears still are kind of the pointing. And you've got to be a bit of a chameleon, you know. I'm proud in looking back at my career that I feel that my talent level is much broader because I don't just do one thing.


Your wife aside, who do you most like to write or play or perform with?

Vince Gill: Oh man, great question! Great question. I have the greatest admiration for the most gifted people. Just recently I got to work with Allison Krauss, Michael McDonald, people like that. I love being around the best of the best. There is nothing more inspiring than being around greatness. It's beautiful.

Vince Gill Interview Photo
Coming to these seminars, symposiums, and these things that we do with the Academy of Achievement are inspiring, you know. They're life-changing. I'm hearing things and seeing things that I never would have seen before. I know for a fact I never would have gone to that orphanage like I did yesterday, or heard this man speak that was in prison. When you're only caught up in your own little piece of world and you get a really nice dose of what else is going on... man! I've got songs flying around in my head about what I've experienced. I want to go home and sit down and sing a song about Rosie Mashale, the girl that runs the orphanage, and Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. You get around these people that have done really beautiful things and you're inspired.

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This page last revised on Aug 31, 2009 16:19 EDT
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