Holly Gleason Bonnaroo death #vivaroo Bonnaroo 2015 Guy Clark Prada Dada The Zelda Chronicles Zelda pet loss Alex Bevan Emmylou Harris Lee Ann Womack the Wonderspaniel Aerosmith Ali Berlow Bruce Springsteen Dwight Yoakam Eddie Montgomery James Taylor John Oates Kenny Chesney Matraca Berg Patty Loveless Tom Petty Vince Gill Andy Langer Bob Dylan C. Orrico Cleveland country music Dan Baird Dawes disco Donna Summer Earl Scruggs Earth Wind & Fire Ed Helms Jackson Browne Jim James Johnny Cash Lilly Pulitzer Lou Reed Lyle Lovett Michael Stanley Mumford & Sons Music pop music punk Reggie Watts Rita Houston Rodney Crowell Ronnie Dunn Sam Bush Sherman Halsey Steve Popovich Tim McGraw Townes Van Zandt untimely death WFUV Willie Nelson " supermoderls " THE LITTLE PRINCE "Faith "The Voice 27 Club 9/11 addiction Akron Allen Brown Allison Krauss Allman Brothers Almost Famous Americana Amy Winehouse Andy Parker Ann Upchurch Anna Nicole Smith Antoine de Saint-Exupery Ashley Capps Atlanta Rhythm Section Authenticity Bangles Barbara Bush Beatles BeeGees Belle & Sebastian Big K.R.I.T. Bill Bentley Bill Johnson Billy idol Black Prairie bluegrass Bluegrass Situation Bob Seger Brenwtood Vets Britney Spears Buddy & Julie Miller Cameron Crowe Carnival Music Cat Powers Catherine Deneuve CBGBs Celebrity Culture Charlie Sexton Chris Mad Dog Russo Chris Stapleton Chris Whitley Christopher Hanna Cindy Crawford Clash Clive Davis CMA Awards CMA Duo of the Year Cobain cowpunk Cultural Icons Cyrinda Fox Dan Einstein Dan Fogelberg Dan Tyminski D'Angelo Danny Joe Brown Danny Morrison David Bowie David Byrne David Gleason Dazz Band death of a pet Del McCoury Del McCoury Band Delaney & Bonnie Dennis Kucinich Dick Clark Dignity Dolly Parton Doobies Doug Dillard driving Dylan Elegy Elle King Elton John EMI Music Eric Clapton ESQUIRE facing the inevitable Fame Whores father fathers & daughters Feank Yankovic Fellini feminism festival film Flatt + Scruggs Foals Forest Hills Stadium Frank Sinatra Funk Brothers Garth Brooks Gary Stewart Gary W Clark Gary Wells George Bush George Harrison George Jones George Michael George Strait Gerald LeVert Gil Scott-Heron Glenn O'Brien golf Grammy Awards Grammy mourning grief Guitar Town Guster heartbreak heartland hippies HITS Hot Chelle Rae Hozier I Will Always Love You iconic death integrity Jack Johnson Jackie Kennedy James Brown janet jackson Jason Aldean Jason Isbell Jeff Bates Jeff Hanna Jewly Hight Jim Halsey Jimmy Jam Jimmy Webb Joan Didion Joe Diffie Joe Ely John Bassette John Fullbright John Hiatt John Hobbs John Leland John Prine Joni Mitchell Joplin Joyce Reingold Kacey Musgraves Keith Knudsen Ken Weinstein Kentucky Headhunters killing spree KKen Weinstein Las Vegas Leon Russell Leonard Cohen Levon Helm Life Little Feat loss Lowell George Madonna Marlene Dietrich Marshall Chapman Mary Chapin Carpenter Matt and Kim Meatloaf Merle Haggard Midway Midwest Montgomery Gentry moonshiners Morrison mourning MTV music festivals Music Row My Friend Bob My Morning Jacket Naomi Campbell Nas Nathan Bell Nei Young nihilism in pop music Nile Rodgers Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Oct. 1 Of Monsters and Men old huard Nashville Palm Beach Parliament Funkedelic passion Patsi Bale Cox Patsi Cox Patti Davis Paul McCartney Paul William Phil Walden Philip Bailey places polka pop culture Preservation Hall Jazz Band press conferences Prince Princess Diana Purple Rain Radnor Lake Ramones Ray Price Rayland Baxter Reeves Gabrels Retirement Rhiannon Giddens Richard Corliss Richard Gehr Richard Pryor Robin Gibb Rock & Soul Superjam Rust Belt Ryan Miller Sarah Godinez scenes Scooter Caruso sex Shiela E smells Solange Knowles songs songwriiter songwriter spoiled rock stars Springsteen Steve Earle Steven Tyler Stevie Nicks Stevie Ray Vaughn Stevie Wonder stinky goodness Sturgill Simpson Sue Whiting Tammy Wynette Tammy Wynnette Tangiers Tattoos & Scars Tears for Fears Terry Lewis THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN The Bluegrass Situation The Bodyguard The Dreaming Fields the Hermit Club the Kentucky Headhunters the Players the Shaker Heights Country Club the things that matter the wonder spaniel thoughts Tim Hensley TIME Magazine Tin Machine tragedy Trixie Whitley Troy Gentry University of Miami Valerie Carter Verdine White Village Voice Waffle House Walker Cup Waylon Jennings Wendy Pearl WHAM! Whitney Houston Whitney Houston death Wilco Women's Western Golf Association Wonderspaniel Wu Tang Clan WVUM Ziggy Stardust

In Praise of Vince Gill

March, 1990. Vince Gill's genuflects at California country's high altar: North Hollywood's legendary Palomino Club, where Merle and Buck, Emmylou and Jones all did time from time-to-time. A sleazy, greazy kinda bar -- it's either played as homage to the heritage or for the low-ball guarantee to cover expenses and some West Coast hillbilly cred.

For Vince Gill, just off RCA -- then home of superstars Alabama, the Judds, KT Oslin and Sylvia, it was absolutely the latter. The former Pure Prairie Leaguer (the voice of their AC hit "Let Me Love You Tonight") and free agent Cherry Bomb (the band shared by Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell and Albert Lee) was a shoulda that hadn't. After all, he had the voice of an angel, played guitar like the devil, was pretty enough and seemed easygoing.

Once the old cigarette smoke and cheap booze was gone, Gill and his crew needed to mount a not-so-new Silver Eagle and ride north to Cal-country's crucible: Bakersfield. For the singer/songwriter, it was a moment when the future was fixin'-to-be-defined. In many ways, it was an all-or-nothing roll, and it was okay by the lanky Okie.

Signed by Tony Brown -- an alum of Elvis, Emmylou and the aforementioned Cherry Bombs -- to MCA Records, Gill had finally made the record he'd wanted. And as the white lines fell beneath the wheels, he played that record that was his heart, his soul, his hand on the rock.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was on that bus -- a lost acquaintance who fell into his life in the name of golf back when I was a kid and he was a Prairie Leaguer only to have my destiny changed in the name of rock criticism. "Almost Famous"? I lived it -- and if I was the boy writer, he was the inadvertent rock star/catalyst. Time had passed since my senior year of high school and his trajectory was more horizontal; I'd spent four years being the West Coast call for Rolling Stone, Creem, Musician and others. But I missed that hillbilly boy with the blues who could fire'em up and burn an ache to cinders.

So the tape played and the moments passed. We listened once, then again. It was a startling record: unburnished heartbreak sung in a sweet tenor haunted with lonely. It evoked the desperation of Merle Haggard, with a bit of Bob Wills' swing, plus the jocular spirit radio like. If it were a different world, I thought, it could work.

But the world was brutal. To reinforce that truth, the gig was a bowling alley lounge where the soggy carpet smelt of stale beer, the naugahyde of the bar stools was cracked and peeling, the juke box stopped at '79 and the formica on the tables was chipped like a cheap manicure.

Standing beneath a sign that read, "Tonite VINC GI L," the conversation was reinforced by the tableau's bleakness. "I love your writing, but nobody gets it… If they wanted that, it would've happened," I said wincing, guilty, the voice of hard truth. "Maybe that Reba duet (the two-step friendly 'Oklahoma Swing') will work…you know, use her momentum to break. But 'When I Call Your Name'? They hate sad stuff, especially sad stuff that's classic country music.

"And that 'Never Knew Lonely'? My god, they want shiny, happy -- not the depths of despair."

It's a long story… "When I Call Your Name" topping the country charts. But one of Nashville's finest moments. And it created the dichotomy that defines Vince Gill's legacy.

Vince Gill is a good guy, with a rapier wit, no need to suffer in the open or flex his artistry, so it's easy to make him Kenny Rogers. Mr. Middle America with an awards show gig, a set of golf clubs, a willingness to help out and a gift so profound, it's effortless. How good can he be?

After all, we like our redneck romeos wild-eyed, swaggering and spitting and looking for trouble. Vince Gill's too tame, too well-spoken the naysayers argue. But that negates the utter naturalness of his affinity for traditional forms. When the Hargus "Pig" Robbins cocktail piano slinks through the ever-after come-on "If You Ever Have Forever In Mind," it's testimony to a lost time when country came out of bars with broken hearts and shattered promises…

Ditto the cheaters' waltz "Pocket Full of Gold" that was remorse and recrimination bathed in pedal steel and burnished with high lonesome harmonies. Or the searing "Go Rest High (On That Mountain)" intertwining his battered valentine high tenor with Patty Loveless' raw holler grit and Ricky Skaggs' bluegrass whine that's as mournful an Appalachian elegy as the Carters, the Louvins or the Stanleys ever mustered.

Even at his most pop -- the sleek "Whenever You Come Around" or the good-natured purgatory-(maybe) -raisin' romp "One More Last Chance" -- there's still the truth of the moment that demands witness. Real life is like that. It ain't fancy and it isn't always profound.

Gill -- who plays Gund Arena with wife Amy Grant as part of their Christmas tour, another move neither Hank Williams Sr. or Jr would make the naysayers can grumble -- understands that. He's so not so full of himself he's going to miss the simple joys that make surviving the valleys or climbing the mountain worth it.

Indeed, he don't much care what the critics think. Which is a shame. Because when conventional wisdom misses albums like The Key or High Lonesome Sound, it deprives country's legacy not more watered down pop-lite country crooners, but a writer/artist who enriches the genre with a deep sense of what matters about a musical form that's suffering an identity crisis.

Vince Gill is the real deal, a country singer from the inside out. He weeps with the best rather than embracing two dimensional emotions that're pure Hallmark rather than landmark. He offers fans songs to define what they may not have the vocabulary or introspection to explain.

-- Holly Gleason

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Member Account Required
You must have a member account on this website in order to post comments. Log in to your account to enable posting.