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Interview: Vince Gill Discusses His Aptly Titled New Album, 'Guitar Slinger'

Interview: Vince Gill Discusses His Aptly Titled New Album, 'Guitar Slinger'

And if you’re the Jeff Beck of country music, Brad Paisley must be the Steve Vai.

Brad is a really close friend of mine. He strikes me as a youthful guitar player. He plays a lot. I’m an economist. I feel like we’re polar opposites as players. That doesn’t take anything away from the gift he has to be able to do those things. They don’t appeal to me because I never have liked it that much, but we’re great pals. When he went to college, he got some scholarship money that I helped provide for that university. He’s a great kid and great friend and I’m really proud of his success.

What type of gear did you use on Guitar Slinger?

I have a pretty insane collection. There’s a handful of go-to guitars. There’s a 1953 Telecaster I’ve had for over 30 years; that’s probably a signature-sounding instrument that I’ve played most everything on for the most part.

It has the real chicken pickin’, real identifiable Fender Telecaster sound. I recently got a 1959 Strat that was bought brand new by Duane Eddy, and it’s so cool. His son sold it to me. He gave it to his son because he said, “I’m never gonna play a Fender Strat.” But he bought it brand new at Fender in 1959. It’s a vicious-sounding guitar.

I’ve got a bunch of old ones, a ‘54 and a ‘58 — a bunch of really good years. There’s something about the sound of it that’s really special. I want the guitar that fits. I want the guitar that sounds like the sound I play. There’s a 335 on the record on a ballad called “True Love.” There’s a Les Paul on “Threaten Me With Heaven,” the long rockish-type solo at the end.

I always use different amps. I have a wide selection of old amps, including a lot of old Fender tweed stuff. I have a ’59 Bassman; they have such a one-of-a-kind sound. I’d never played through one before, and I knew Eric would play through something like that. He would play in middle position on his Strat, and I would always say, “How does it sound like that?”

I put my Strat in middle position and crank it up and it’s just a little bit clanky. A friend of mine, Danny Nader, who lives in Cincinnati, just gave me this Bassman. He said, “I never use it. Please take it and use it.” I plugged in and I said, “Oh, there it is.” It went ahead and crunched in all the right frequency places that were missing, and it’s an amazing sounding amp.

There’s a new amp builder out of North Carolina named Phil Bradbury. His amps are called Little Walters. They’re just old technology. It’s really just simple, great parts, hand-wired, and it’s just a great, pure-sounding thing. So I’ve got a little bit of everything.

As far as acoustics, I’ve got a lot of great old Martins from the '20s, '30s and '40s that really just sound so much better than newer stuff. Some guys like toys, but that’s what I’m addicted to: finding nice guitars and putting them in my collection.

I have some old Gibson stuff. I found an AJ-38 or 37, advanced jumbo, which is the rarest of the Gibson acoustics, and a couple of great SJ-100s. Once again, I’m trying to fill a sonic space with the right sound. I have some archtop stuff. There are times you only want to take up a certain frequency when you’re recording. Not every guitar has to be loud and big and wide. Everything’s different, and I’ll go through a bunch of different ones and find the one that sits in there just right. I chase it pretty hard, just the right sound.

What are you playing on “When the Lady Sings the Blues”?

That’s the '59 Bassman and the Strat.

Did you ever consider recording a blues album?

You know, I would if I, at some point, thought I could really pull it off. As a player, I really dance around all these things and I don’t know that if I really tried to do a whole project of something like that if the authenticity would stay intact.

That’d be so important to me that the real blues guys wouldn’t listen and laugh at the white guy trying to play the blues. I may make an instrumental record someday or a blues record with somebody. I got to play on Sonny Landreth’s last record and Joe Bonamassa’s last record, and I did a thing with Johnny Winter, “Maybelline,” on his new album. I haven’t heard it yet, I don’t even know if it’s finished.

Yeah, it’s on my iPod.

Is it? We should go listen to it. I haven’t heard it. [Note: I gave Gill my copy of the new Johnny Winter CD, Roots, after the interview.]

What guitarists have inspired you along the way?

It’s pretty diverse. As a little kid, I think the first person I remember being completely blown away by was Chet Atkins, how seamless he made the sound of playing the guitar. He made it so simple. You never saw him fight the instrument or try to overpower it. He had such a touch, it was unbelievable. And I couldn’t play like him, that’s the other thing.

There was no way a 6-, 7-, 8-year-old kid could comprehend what the hell he was doing with his thumb playing the bass notes and the melodies. He made me play a lot of golf.

As I got older, I was obviously listening to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and The Stones and all the records of the day. So all those guys would be influences, and Eric and Jimmy Page and Keith. As a kid, I was a sponge trying to soak all this stuff up. I like folk singers. Then I started playing a lot of bluegrass music at 15 or 16. Then it was flatpickers, guys like Doc Watson or Clarence White, Tony Rice, guys like that. I was pointed in a whole new world and a whole new way, and I started finding guys like Larry Carlton, Robben Ford and those kind of folks.

I bought so many records of people I’d never even heard of. I would read the liner notes and go, “Oh, Larry Carlton played on this record, it would be worth buying just to hear what he does.”

As my career started, I started to get out playing in bands. I think my ears were good enough to point me to what was right and I started playing different instruments, and because I could sing, that’s generally what people would choose me for. Then I’d be in the band and they would be like, “Well, we need a mandolin player,” and I would be like, “OK, I’ll play the mandolin.” “Now we need a banjo player,” “OK, I’ll play the banjo a little bit.” I was always just good at plugging in the missing holes.

You played with Ricky Skaggs too, right?

That’s exactly right, around 18 years old. I moved to Kentucky, played with him for a short time. It was a great learning experience. In the world of bluegrass, that was about as good as it can get with Ricky. We were all really young, you know, trying to get going, and there wasn’t a lot of work and wasn’t a lot of jobs and I was the last one in, and they let me go. That’s why I moved to California and that really changed everything. I met guys like Albert Lee, he’s so good. I probably learned as much of a style of playing from him than anybody. I really liked playing in that kind of world.

Aren’t you on stage with Albert Lee on one of the Crossroads Guitar Festival DVDs when he plays “Country Boy”?

Yeah. We knew each other in the ’70s. We used to jam around together and play together back then. He was a really gifted musician.

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