Vince Gill has eye on Bluegrass Homecoming

If digital recording sites had a bin for remainders—products that didn’t live up to the hype or sales—they’d be filled with projects by country stars who, for one reason or another, tried the bluegrass route at some point in their careers.

It’s usually not for lack of talent on the part of the carpetbaggers, but for not understanding that playing country music with bluegrass instruments doesn’t make the music bluegrass.

Vince Gill won’t have that problem when he comes back to bluegrass, which he says he will do at some point. “I was bluegrass first,” he reminds. “I’m part of the family.”

Don’t get too excited just yet. There’s no firm date for Gill’s return after several decades of country stardom and 21 Grammy awards. But the mere fact that he’s talking about it—as he did with me recently—is exciting news while fans wait for the new festival season to get into full swing.

“I’ve always kept my ear in the world of bluegrass,” Gill said during a recent phone call to talk about his guest slot on Darin and Brooke Aldridge’s latest CD, Faster and Farther. “I only got to spend couple of years (in the bluegrass world), but I always thought I’d come back and do another record. I still want to, and some day I will.”

Gill’s dabbling in bluegrass covered a chunk of the mid-1970s, including stints with Bluegrass Alliance, Boone Creek (with Ricky Skaggs) and Sundance, led by Byron Berline, before he hooked up with Pure Prairie League for a few years, then launched a long and fruitful solo career in country.

Gill gets why bluegrass audiences don’t go for imitators from the country world. He feels the same away about some of those projects. But he did offer some friendly advice for some of the self-appointed gatekeepers of bluegrass:

“I think it’d be much more beneficial if they were a little more accepting” of music that doesn’t fit a narrow definition of traditional bluegrass. “It reeks sometimes of arrogance. We all have our curmudgeon tendencies, but it’s got to change. It can’t be emulating somebody over and over.”

For his part, instead of limiting himself to chestnuts that have been cut over and over again, Gill said he wants “to try to write some new songs that sound old.”

But aside from dipping toe into the old “what’s bluegrass” argument, Gill had nice things to say about the bluegrass community. “I’ve always been impressed in bluegrass by how nice the people are,” he said. “I’m glad that’s how I grew up to be.”

With his typical brand of self-deprecating humor, he also noted that he’s fortunate to have found success: “I’m glad this all worked out, because I wasn’t very handy, and I’m allergic to hard work.”

I, for one, wish that Gill’s return to bluegrass had something firmer than “someday” in the equation. But that mere fact that there is an equation is, in itself, is worthy of a late-winter smile.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.

  • Gary Gibson

    Im a big fan of anything Vince Ginill does! He has come to the DC area (Birchmere) several times, along with a stellar cast of bluegrass pickers. Hasn’t done it in the last few years due to his other collaborations, but it was as great, and has blue grass as any one could get!! Will be seeing Gill next week (March 2) with the Time Jumpers!!

    • Mitchell Reynolds

      Lucky guy! Paul Franklin is on every record with a steel guitar coming out of Nashville, but it’s just a turnaround or fill. With the Time Jumpers, Paul (and Vince, and all the guys) gets to take a ride of a verse and chorus or two. Spectacular. Saw Vince at ROMP a couple of years back with Jeff White and Jim Mills. No country hits, just classic grass.

  • Bruce Brown

    Don’t forget “Here Today,” a great one-off album from Rounder, circa 1982.

  • Jon Weisberger

    As the previous comments show – or, more precisely, begin to show – the statement that “Gill’s dabbling in bluegrass covered a chunk of the mid-1970s” is a woefully inadequate representation of Gill’s decades-long, ongoing participation in making and popularizing bluegrass music. Perhaps it’s his own relatively recent (at least in comparison to Gill’s) arrival in the bluegrass world that leads Morris to overlook such additional salient items as Vince’s co-hosting of the very first IBMA awards show; his 1997 IBMA Song of the Year award (as both writer and artist) for “High Lonesome Sound,” the title track of a 1997 album; his producing, earlier that year, of an all-bluegrass Grammy Awards show segment that paid tribute to Bill Monroe; his frequent bluegrass performances on shows ranging from the Grand Ole Opry and Bluegrass Nights At The Ryman to the All-Star Bluegrass Celebration TV specials; the bluegrass selections on his epic, Grammy-winning 4-CD set, These Days, recorded with members of the Del McCoury Band, Michael Cleveland and others; and his appearance as a guest not only on Darin & Brooke’s great new album, but on countless others – both vaunted and obscure – over the 4 decades that have passed since the mid-1970s.

  • Rkrafft

    Here are two ancient concerts from the Live Music Archive, with the 18-year-old Vince Gill. Boone Creek, March 1976
    Lazy River, August 1976
    He was a bluegrasser then. With lots of Texas swing and Gram Parsons influences mixed in. Little treasures, these recordings.

  • Barry52

    What’s wrong with us curmudgeons? When one of these newer versions of bluegrassers write a song that touches the heart like “Angel Band” or “Fields Have turned Brown” I might sit up and take notice. Or a instrumental like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” There is a reason those songs and bands are emulated. And remember, it was Mr. Gill who said he wanted more than a house on wheels and that is why he left what little bluegrass he ever did.