Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill will perform in the city where he was born tonight at Norman's Riverwind Casino.
While he has sold 26 million albums, earned 20 Grammys and sung with some of the brightest stars in the music business, Gill said tonight's show, along with Saturday's concert in Tulsa and a Jan. 28 performance in Thackerville, will look familiar to folks who saw him play more than three decades ago in his native state.
“Well, gosh, I'm not doing anything a whole lot different than I did 35 years ago when I lived there,” he said with a laugh during a phone interview last week from his adopted home of Nashville, Tenn. “I play and I sing and I crack jokes. And I have a killer band. It's arguably one of the best bands on the road, and some of the players are pretty esteemed. ... They play on a lot of the hit records that everybody makes. I don't know why they want to come travel around with me, but they do, and I sure feel lucky.”
For Gill, who grew up in Oklahoma City, 2010 was filled with ups and downs. In May, for instance, he watched floodwaters devastate Nashville. A few days later, he gave away older daughter Jenny Gill at her wedding, which “made all things good.”
His plans for the new year involve new music: He will release the follow-up to his 2006 Grammy-winning four-CD album “These Days” sometime in 2011.
“The running gag is ‘How many songs are on this one? Do you have an eight-CD record?'” he said, laughing. “I just showed up with the songs I showed up with for this new record. And at this point in life, to me, the real success is measured in my own improvement, not in how many records get sold or if they get played on the radio. My records don't get played on the radio as much as they used to; I wish they did, but they don't. I never quit hoping that will happen again, but if it doesn't, that's OK, too. It never has defined the results of these records.
“The last three or four records I've made, I've felt like I made great strides in improving — better songs, better singing, better playing, better grooves, better feel, better sound. ... There's so many ways to find yourself getting better at what you're doing. It may not get noticed like it did before, but you can't let that be your barometer and your definition of whether it's good or not.”
The forthcoming album, which he has yet to give a title, will be just one CD, but he can hear improvements in his songcraft.
“It's what was in my heart. There's some really beautiful songs on here, there's some really sad songs on here, and good, make-you-think songs.”
While “These Days” featured an array of guest stars including Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, along with fellow Oklahomans Trisha Yearwood and Katrina Elam, Gill is keeping his 2011 album strictly a family affair. His wife, Amy Grant, and Jenny Gill will again sing with him on the new album, but they aren't the only ones.
“My daughter Corrina, who is 9, is making her singing debut on this record, singing with me. You know, she watches an awful lot of Disney Channel, and I'm trying to steer her to the blues side of music,” he said. “And I had this song, this friend of mine, another friend of mine, that last year had a real rough stretch and unfortunately he murdered a woman and then took his own life a short time after that. He was one of my golfing buddies, and I wrote this song for him called ‘Billy Paul.'”
He played the song in the car one morning while driving the girl to school, and she wanted to hear it again.
“I played it again, and by the time it was finished, she was back there just singing like a bird. ... She was really taken with this song, and it's a song about the whole of what happened. You know, very dark. So I had this idea of what it would be like if she sang on it. It would either be really haunting or really horrible,” he said with a laugh.
“So I took her into the studio, and she sang along with me, and it's really haunting. So, I wanted to get just a little bit of Disney Channel out of her brain, and now to have her first song be a murder-suicide ballad in the great tradition of country music, I asked Amy, ‘Is this really wrong?' And she was like, ‘No it's really great, it's really awesome.'”
Although he left Oklahoma in 1975 to pursue his musical ambitions, Gill still thinks of returning to his native state, even for a series of concerts, as “coming home.” Over the holidays, he spent time at his mother's home in Oklahoma City watching OETA and learning more about the state.
“I learned a bunch of stuff I didn't know,” Gill said. “It makes you feel glad you're from there, you know. ... There's something about a lot of these Okies that I really like. I'm really proud of where I'm from, and anytime you see one doing great, you just kind of swell up with a little bit of ‘way to go.' You know, it makes us all look good.”