Decades before Vince Gill’s country-pop smash When I Call Your Name put his name on the lips of country fans, Chet Atkins parlayed his own upscale country-jazz wizardry into highly respectable album sales. And in the years since Gill minted his megastardom, a handful of other hot country acts with hot licks have come along, first Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, and more recently Hunter Hayes and Charlie Worsham.
But at this point, Gill is the only modern guitar hero with his bronzed likeness hanging in the Country Music Hall of Fame, a custom-built studio at home, and his chops and creative drive still intact. So it’s not exactly like there’s a well-worn path for the 56-year-old, singing, songwriting and guitar-playing Nashville fixture to follow.
What Gill has done over the past decade is deliver one surprise after another, like his intentionally eclectic four-disc set These Days, his contributions to western-swing band the Time Jumpers, of which he’s a bona fide member, and the producing and playing he’s done on albums by everybody from LeAnn Rimes and Ashley Monroe to Joe Bonamassa, Johnny Winter, Lee Ritenour, Sonny Landreth, Little Feat, Alice Cooper and Atkins disciple Earl Klugh. The latest entry on the list is Bakersfield, the hard-grooving, honky-tonk collection of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens covers Gill and steel guitar studio great Paul Franklin released last year and just reissued with four additional tracks. (Click here at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store to purchase the Expanded Edition of Bakersfield.)
Gill has done his share of dueting, starring opposite Reba McEntire in a mini-movie of a music video for The Heart Won’t Lie, and harmonizing with such formidable country and pop voices as Patty Loveless, Kelly Clarkson and his wife, Amy Grant. But he’d never recorded an entire album’s worth of duets until Bakersfield. The fact that he tapped an instrumentalist instead of a vocalist to be his duet partner says a lot about his current priorities. (Hint: letting an inspired solo extend beyond eight bars is a whole lot higher on the list than chasing chart success.)
One other unusual thing about Gill? It was his choice to call up bright and early on a Monday morning and talk with MusicRadar about what he’s been up to between scouring liner notes for his favorite players’ names as a kid in Oklahoma and spotlighting some of those game-changers with Bakersfield.
Did the four songs you added to the Bakersfield reissue come from the original sessions, or did you have to go back in and cut more?
“We went back in to cut some more. It was fun, because it gave us a chance to revisit a couple of songs we’d talked about. Paul wanted to do I Threw Away The Roses. He said that was always his favorite. Another Buck song that I didn’t know that good was Tender Loving Care. I heard it again and I said, ‘I could sing that one. And being a ballad, it’d be great for Paul to annihilate,’ which he did. It has that great conversation between us, me on guitar and him playing the steel.
"I’d always wanted to do High On A Hilltop. That’s always been one of my favorite songs, period. I really didn’t associate that song with either Buck or Merle. That one I learned first from the bluegrass world. And come to find out it was recorded by both Buck and Merle and written by the great Tom Collins… I think the outro is two and half minutes long, or something like that. It’s as long as the rest of the song. Paul just weaves in and out and just destroys it."