If Vince Gill had only had the success he found with the Pure Prairie League, it would have been impressive. If he'd only had a couple of number one country records, it would have solidified his place. But 20 million-plus albums sold later, more Grammys than any other male country artist in history and an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame tells you Gill has been nothing short of one of the cornerstones for this brand of music. We caught up with Gill as he was nearing a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, a spot you can catch him most weekends, still playing the songs that people love while working on creating new favorites for the next generation of fans.
Humana: What keeps you going when you could have called it a career a long time ago if you wanted to?
Gill: I just can't fathom not playing music, I couldn't even entertain the thought of retiring. It's such a part of my being, it's the one thing that's spoken to me my whole life. What keeps me doing it is I'm getting better at it—I may have had my biggest chart success in the past but I'm a better singer and songwriter, a better guitar player than I was then. You know what else? It's never felt like work—you never have to grow up! I get to change every song, I could make every concert different.
Humana: What are some important things you know now that you didn't when you were younger?
Gill: Figure out what you don't need. As much as anything, you should learn what not to play and what not to sing. Learning to edit yourself is a skill to work on. When I was trying to climb that ladder, you're a sponge, you have all this stuff that's in you and you spend the rest of your life weeding out what you don't need. That's the gift to me.
Humana: We heard a story that you were thinking about quitting and Eric Clapton helped convince you not to? Did that really happen?
Gill: I was struggling a little bit with my place, it was the first time in my career that things slowed down, that my albums weren't being played. Clapton told me, "I'm only inviting guitar players that I like and I want you to play with me." Here's the greatest guitar player in the world accepting me. We did these shows called the Crossroads Guitar Festivals and he even recorded one of my songs. He's playing in Nashville and asking me to sit in. I was up there with an icon and people at breakfast said, "I saw you with Eric Clapton!" Those kinds of things motivate you.
Humana: What do you do to unwind when you're not playing music?
Gill: Play a lot of golf. Love being in tournaments and even got to play Augusta National! The Masters is there every year and the first time I played it I knew how to play every hole. That's what comes with watching it so many times.
Humana: How have you handled the road with having a family and the commitments that come with it?
Gill: You put both feet forward and do the best you can. I'm glad I can limit going out on the road now to when I want to. I was a different father in the beginning—I had to go out and accomplish and make my place. That meant I had to be gone. With (daughter) Karina, the hard work was already put in so the parameters are very different. But I can stay busy without being on the road as much, whether it's philanthropy or producing someone else's record. I can work as a guitar player or sing for someone, so I still have a full plate. Most weekends at the Opry I'm playing on a Friday or Saturday night. Just try to keep the priorities in order and just keep it sane.
Humana: What do you think the future holds for you in music?
Gill: When I was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame most people said you can go and relax now. I say now go earn it. That induction said I'm worthy so show them how you are. Now I may not be as nimble or I may lose my mind (laughs), but you see how many records George Jones has made, a record every six months. Look at Willie Nelson. There's a pretty big wealth of stuff if you go for it. That's what I'm going to do!