A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. Look for more of my interview with Vince next week.
Vince Gill plans a busy autumn
The Oklahoma native is marking the release of a new album with venerated Western swing band The Time Jumpers, collaborating with fellow hall of fame talents on a star-studded project honoring the late Hank Cochran and planning not one but two fall shows in his home state.
“That’s the neat thing about all these years of doing what I’ve done is the whole point of it is to collaborate with somebody. I never enjoyed playing music by myself. I wanted to play it with somebody … so it’s like a conversation. If you’re all by yourself, it’s just talking to yourself,” Gill said in a phone interview from his home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this week.
The Oklahoma native is giving his fans plenty to talk about this autumn. He is marking the release of a new album with venerated Western swing band The Time Jumpers, collaborating with fellow hall of fame talents on a star-studded project honoring the late Hank Cochran and planning not one but two fall shows in his home state.
After nearly 30 years as a solo artist, the former member of Byron Berline’s Sundance, Pure Prairie League, Rodney Crowell’s Cherry Bombs and more is back in a band. Gill, 55, officially joined The Time Jumpers in 2010 after many years of playing with the renowned Nashville ensemble.
He said performing in a band isn’t that different than making your way as a solo artist: The keys are still playing your best and respecting your fellow musicians.
In the case of The Time Jumpers, playing your best is a tall order. Gill’s name may be the most recognizable of the group, but it consists of some of Nashville’s top studio musicians. Since the band started playing its regularly Monday slot at the famed Station Inn bluegrass club back in 1998, stars as bright and diverse as Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Kings of Leon, The White Stripes, Bonnie Raitt, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Kelly Clarkson and Robert Plant have jumped at the chance to hear The Time Jumpers.
Back in spring, the Western swing outfit made the leap from the Station Inn to the much larger 3rd & Lindsley nightclub in downtown Music City, and on Tuesday, The Time Jumpers will mark another milestone with the release of their self-titled album on Rounder Records. It is the band’s first studio record.
“I think people at home — you know, in Oklahoma and Texas — will eat this band up. … It’s an 11-piece Western swing band that primarily does Western swing music like Bob Wills used to do with triple fiddles and accordion, upright bass and two electric guitars,” said the Norman-born and Oklahoma City-bred singer/songwriter/musician.
“This is the kind of thing that’s born out of the love of the music.”
The Country Music Hall of Famer can say the same for his contribution to country singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson’s upcoming album “Livin’ for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran.” To salute Cochran, the late, great songwriting legend who died in 2010, Johnson collaborated with a veritable constellation of music superstars, from Alison Krauss and Merle Haggard to Elvis Costello and former Tulsan Ronnie Dunn.
For the homage, Gill teamed with Johnson and Leon Russell, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and fellow Oklahoma native, to cut Cochran’s “A Way to Survive.” Country Music Hall of Famer Willie Nelson joined the trio of Johnson, Gill and Russell for “Everything But You.”
“Any opportunity to hang with the best of the best, you don’t turn that down if you have a lick of sense,” Gill said of the Cochran tribute, due out Sept. 25 on vinyl and Oct. 16 in other formats.
Naturally, that isn’t the first time in the past few months Gill has lent his voice to a star-studded country collaboration. In June, his old pal Crowell and New York Times best-selling memoirist Mary Karr released their album “Kin,” which featured Gill, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris and more. Gill poured on his best high-lonesome tenor for their slow waltz “Just Pleasing You.”
“That’s a neat record that Rodney made,” he said. “The songs he and Mary wrote are really neat. She’s an author, writes books, and he pulled her into a songwriting world, and man, killer stories. They were just unbelievable.”
Oklahoma fans are sure to hear some killer stories when Gill takes the stage at two home state events. On Oct. 6, he will reunite with Berline and play the master fiddler’s Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie, and on Sept. 16, he will headline the grand opening benefit concert for the Hudson Performance Hall at his alma mater, Northwest Classen High School.
The Northwest Classen auditorium was originally built in 1954 when the school opened, but it has been transformed into an intimate performance hall. While the renovations were funded in part by the MAPS for Kids initiative, 1973 graduates Cliff and Leslie Hudson donated $500,000 for additional upgrades, including the installation of state-of-the-art sound technology. The Sept. 16 concert will fund an endowment and additional amenities.
“I’m thrilled to death that they thought of me. A lot of folks have come through that school that have done well,” Gill said. “Plus, any opportunity to come home and visit my mom and my sis and go to Ted’s, I’m gonna take it. I tell you, it’s always time well spent.”
As much as he enjoys collaborating, the busy musician intends to keep his own solo career thriving, too.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t make two or three records next year. Different things. I really got a million ideas of things I want to do,” Gill said.
The Hudson Performance Hall at Northwest Classen High School grand opening benefit concert
Featuring: Vince Gill, The Mojo Men with Rick White and Bill Maxwell.
When: 2 p.m. Sept. 16.
Where: Hudson Performance Hall, 2801 NW 27.
Tickets and information: 840-2146 or www.NWCFriends.org.
Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival
Featuring: Vince Gill, Kruger Brothers, Byron Berline Band and more.
When: Oct. 4-6.
Where: Festival grounds on Cottonwood Creek, State Highway 33 at U.S. 77, Guthrie.
Tickets and information: 282-4446 or www.oibf.com.