GUTHRIE — Byron Berline flipped to Page 254 of the 1976 Greater Oklahoma City phone book.
Locating the surname Gill, he started making calls.
At the time, Berline, a three-time National Fiddle Champion, was living in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California and involved in a band called Sundance. They were looking for a lead singer, preferably a tenor.
He'd heard and introduced himself to a young man at a bluegrass festival in Kentucky. All he knew of the talented 19-year-old was that his name was Vince Gill and he was from Oklahoma City.
Berline had grown up in Grant County along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. So, they had Oklahoma and a love for music in common.
While visiting his father-in-law in 1976 at Guthrie, Berline grabbed the phone book. There was no Vince Gill so the fiddler started dialing, and kept dialing.
About the 45th listing under Gill was J Stanley Gill.
“I was calling and calling and Vince's dad answered the phone,” Berline said. “I said, ‘Is this Vince Gill's home?' He said, ‘Yeah, but he's not here. He's playing in Birmingham.' I knew the place he was playing, so I called.”
That led not only to a musical relationship, but a friendship that still thrives between Vince Gill and Berline, who since 1995 has lived in Guthrie. Gill, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., and five years ago was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, is scheduled to be the headliner of the 2012 Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, performing the last day of the Oct. 4-6 event in Guthrie.
“I gave him a chance to do something, got him exposed sort of, then you really do it all on your own,” Berline said. “It's like Bill Monroe and The Dillards gave me an opportunity. You have to take it from there.”
Sundance had been looking for a lead singer for two months, but Berline and fellow band member Allen Wald had remembered Gill. So Berline placed a call to Birmingham, Ala., and Gill said he was interested.
Berline asked the young man to get familiar with an album the band had cut and then come out to California to try out.
“I was so young, 19 years old and going to California was pretty heady,” Gill said. “It was so massive.”
At Berline's house was an attached garage that served as a music room. Gill, who had played in bluegrass bands while in high school and afterward, got his guitar out and began.
“He starts singing a couple of songs off of that album and I said, ‘Man I've heard enough,'” Berline said. “I said, ‘As far as I'm concerned, you've got it.'
“I always knew he was going to be a big star. He had the talent, but it also takes a lot of perseverance.”
Living in California provided Gill an opportunity to meet so many music greats. The first gig he played with Sundance was at the famed Troubadour club in West Hollywood. Berline introduced him to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Gill's jaw dropped.
“It was just the greatest thing that ever happened to me to get to move out there to be exposed to the musicianship of so many different kinds of music, great jazz players, great rock players, everything,” Gill said. “It was so happening in the mid-'70s in Southern California.”
Gill remained with Sundance until joining Pure Prairie League in 1979. He was the lead singer on Pure Prairie League's pop hit “Let Me Love You Tonight.”
Gill hosted the Country Music Association Awards every year from 1992–2003. He was CMA's Entertainer of the Year in 1993 and 1994 and Male Vocalist of the Year from 1991-95. He has won 20 Grammys for his singing, songwriting, producing and instrumental talents.
Gill was at the first Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in 1997 and returned in 2002.
This year, he plans to bring his bluegrass band with him to Guthrie.
The primary goal of the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival is to support youth through music scholarships and continuing music education opportunities. And Berline is thrilled to welcome a dear friend back to the event.
“Vince has never changed,” Berline said. “I think that's part of his upbringing his mom and dad instilled in him.
“And, he's from Oklahoma. People from Oklahoma appreciate what people have done for them. He doesn't forget that.”
To see a video about Byron Berline, Vince Gill and the upcoming Blue Grass Fest, scan the QR code below or go online to NewsOK.com.
If you go
Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival
• When: Oct. 4-6
• Where: Guthrie
• For more information: Go to www.oibf.com/