Country singer Vince Gill often falls back on his innate senses of modesty and good humor whenever the subject of his extraordinarily sweet and aching high tenor voice comes up. “Being able to sing like a girl,” he once told The Times, “has allowed me to have a very nice life.”
Self-deprecating humor aside, Gill is one of the most respected singers and instrumentalists in the world, as comfortable on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville as he is playing to a football stadium of rock and blues fans, as he did in 2004 as the personal guest of Eric Clapton at the British guitar hero’s first Crossroads Blues Festival in Dallas.
A 20-time Grammy winner, one of the most honored musicians in the history of the Recording Academy's annual awards ceremony, Gill has worked with a who’s who of country, rock, pop, blues, folk and jazz musicians over the course of a career that spans four decades.
Brought up in Oklahoma on bluegrass, country and folk, Gill moved as a teenager to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music, despite his parallel facility for golf — the sport he still plays obsessively today.
“A hard-core bluegrasser moving to L.A. to make it,” Gill told The Times several years ago. “That’s what a genius I was.”
Although he struggled financially for many years, Gill relished the musical friendships he made in L.A. with artists including Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Bonnie and other members of the progressive roots-country music community that was thriving far west of the country music capital.
He was drafted to be in the country-rock band Pure Prairie League, singing lead on its 1980 hit “Let Me Love You Tonight,” but left to join rising singer-songwriter Crowell’s band, the Cherry Bombs.
“People saw me leave Pure Prairie League, being the lead singer and writing songs, to go be Rodney's sideman, and said, 'Ooh, are you crazy?'” he said. “But I didn't think I'd ever get another chance to play with musicians like [those].”
Indeed, his passion for collaborating has been one of the hallmarks of a career that’s made him one of the most respected figures in Nashville, where he relocated in the ‘80s to pursue his burgeoning solo career.
That also started fitfully, but soon Gill’s name was regularly at the top of the country charts with such hits as “When I Call Your Name,” “I Still Believe in You,” “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” and “Tryin’ to Get Over You,” among 55 charted singles since his first in 1984.
For Gill, who also has served stints on the board of the Country Music Hall of Fame and was a longtime host of the annual Country Music Assn. Awards show, a life in music has never been about grabbing his own time in the spotlight.
“I've been lucky,” he said. “I've got a lot of Grammys on the shelves, but more than half of 'em are because I collaborated with somebody else. To me, that's the whole reason to do it. There's nothing better than playing music with somebody and sharing that experience."