Vince Gill – “Guitar Slinger” Cut By Cut

With “Guitar Slinger” in stores and online to purchase today, what better way to celebrate the album’s release than to read about the songs from the artist who created them! With that in mind, here’s Vince’s own ‘review’ of the songs and how they came to be!

“Guitar Slinger”

(Writer: Vince Gill)

“I like songs with tempo to have a bit of wit to them. There are certain songs that are well-suited for lots of guitar playing. With those kinds of songs, I just want a great feel so I can play a lot. It’s the same thing with the feel of this song. But it’s funny because it’s all about this guy who is a nightlife kind of wild child. It’s about me and Amy, in a sense. It says, ‘Well, I was living the life of a guitar slinger/Womens and wine and whiskey for dinner/Oh, I knew I was in trouble the first time I seen her/ I went and married that contemporary Christian singer.’ To me, it’s very, very funny. She heard it and just shook her head and said, ‘You’ll say anything.’
“In the process of recording, the flood came and wiped out a big part of my collection of guitars and amps that I’ve been buying. I had 30-40 guitars and 30 amps that were lost in the flood. In the last verse, it has a reference to the flood: ‘Well, there’s a few licks left in this guitar slinger/ Even though half of my stuff’s in the Cumberland River/ Well, now all I really need is just one six stringer/ Yeah, I might have slowed down a little but buddy, I can still bring her.’ It’s got a great sense of humor. It’s fun and it feels great. I always want the lyrics to make you chuckle.”

“Tell Me Fool”

(Writers:  Vince Gill and Pete Wasner)

Bekka Bramlett sings on this with me and we’ve been friends for a long time. I love singing with her, about as much as anybody. She heard this song and said, “Hey, way to stick up for the girl.”  It’s that kind of sentiment – “What did she ever do to you?”  That was actually the original title. It’s about this guy who goes out and roars and does all of the things that he shouldn’t. “Tell me fool, what did she ever do to you?“

Threaten Me With Heaven

(Writers:  Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Dillon O’Brian & Will Owsley)

“Threaten Me With Heaven” was written with my wife Amy and Dillon O’Brian and Will Owsley. Since the song was recorded, my friend Will took his own life. So the song has a profound impact on me now. 

In my lifetime, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” has been the song that helped a lot of people through their grief. I think this one will in turn hopefully do the same thing. It’s a powerful, powerful song.  It’s unique to see every single soul that hears it respond.  I feel like it’s the crown jewel of the record.

“When the Lady Sings the Blues”

(Writers:  Vince Gill & Pete Wasner)

I wrote that with my old partner Pete Wasner, and we also wrote “Tell Me Fool” together. We’ve been making music and traveling and writing songs together for 30 years. We have always had a great kinship musically. More than anybody, when we play together, we know exactly what the other one is going to do.  It always feels right to play music with him and write songs with him.

When I was 13 or 14, we had a little movie theater a block from my house.  One of my favorite movies at that time was Lady Sings The Blues with Diana Ross.  At that time, I had never heard of Billie Holiday.  Anyway, I saw that movie 50 times.  I was just mesmerized by this music and became a huge fan of that bluesy big band sound. I was a young sponge and I couldn’t get enough of it. 

I wanted to pay tribute to Billie, so the last verse finds a way to use some of her song titles like “God Bless This Child” and “Ain’t It Nice What A Little Moonlight Can Do When The Lady Sings The Blues.”

There’s a lot of bluesy guitar playing on it. I feel like my guitar playing on this record has taken a step up. It’s interesting now, 30-something years into a career, that people are really starting to get a great sense of my guitar playing.  It’s almost as much a guitar record in spots as it is a singing record. This is one of the tracks that is kind of funky and Little Feat-ish or Steely Dan-ish with a lot of guitar playing on the end of it.

“Who Wouldn’t Fall in Love With You”

(Writers: Vince Gill & Ashley Monroe)

This is a haunting-sounding record and I love the way it sounds.  I wrote this song with Ashley Monroe, one of the really great young kids to turn up in town.  She is a writer well beyond her years and a great singer with a one-of-a-kind voice. Together we wrote some of my favorite songs on this record. I asked her to come and sing on it and it’s the kind of thing that every time somebody hears it, they ask, “Whose voice is that?” It’s really compelling. It’s like a cross between Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss.

“When Lonely Comes Around”

(Writers: Vince Gill, Will Owsley & Amy Grant)

This is another song that I wrote with Will Owsley. Will was one of the most musical guys that I had ever known. It just devastated me that he took his life last year.  I was talking to my friend Joe Glaser, who repairs guitars in town. We both tried to help Will through his struggles.  We were talking the other day and said, “Man, I wish he could have hung on. He had a couple of songs on this record and he might have been helped.”

Once again, a whole lot of that melody came from Will — those chord changes. The changes are very Beatles-esque. Amy came and helped us finish the song.  Will played and sang on it. It’s special to me in that it attaches me to a dear friend who isn’t here anymore. I can still hear him play and sing a little bit.

“True Love”

(Writers:  Vince Gill & Amy Grant)

“True Love” is a song Amy had written about me and I asked her if I could write a bridge for it with changes. It’s mostly her song, with just a little help from me. She was sweet enough to say that we wrote it together.  It also was the first thing we recorded in our new studio, so it’s really special. She did not want to do it as a duet. She has trouble with how slow I like to do some songs. She says, “I can’t sing that slow.” “Yes you can. I promise you that you can.” It’s really beautiful. There’s a little piano part that John Hobbs did that is very reminiscent of Norah Jones — very smoky.

What I love about this song is our daughter Sarah sings on it. Her voice has really got great character. It’s a compelling voice. She sings the answers with Amy and it’s hauntingly beautiful.

“Bread and Water”

(Writers:  Vince Gill & Leslie Satcher)

 “Bread and Water” is the story of a homeless man who finds a kind place and face to help soothe his aching soul.   It’s a moving song that is loosely based on my brother. He struggled mightily in his life.  It’s a song about forgiveness.

My band that travels with me played on that track and they did a fantastic job. We’ve been playing it live for several months and had a great arrangement that we all loved.

“The Old Lucky Diamond Motel”

(Writer:  Vince Gill)

Where I grew up in Oklahoma, Route 66 came right through our back door, basically. We spent a lot of time hanging out on that road. That’s the road where my brother had his really bad wreck. Route 66 had those old great roadside motels that had a restaurant and swimming pool, and they would advertise the swimming pool in neon as you were driving past. There are so few of these places left. They are a part of Americana to me.

So this song is a story about this fictitious place I call The Old Lucky Diamond Motel, where there are two gals, Lucille and Madonna, slinging cheese enchiladas and smoking non-filtered Pall Malls. It’s a Guy Clark kind of song, and I don’t mean that braggingly. It’s very picturesque and very much a story song. There’s a reference in there, “just east of El Reno,” which is where my brother had his wreck, and “next to Ted’s Escondido,” which is a restaurant I go to all the time now. It’s a tip of the hat to one of my favorite restaurants, but it wasn’t there when I was growing up. It talks about this goofy little place of cowboys and Shriners and old five-and-dimers and teenagers and two-timing lovers.  It has a verse in there, “Room 23 was the first time for me/A stripper named Rita Cantrell/I spent all my money on that sweet Spanish honey/at the Old Lucky Diamond Motel.” (That part’s not true!) 

The guy is reminiscing about the beauty of this old place, and they are tearing it down and a piece of America fell. “I am all for progress, but God knows that I miss the old Lucky Diamond Motel.”

“Billy Paul”

(Writer: Vince Gill)

It’s a true story that happened a year or so ago. Billy Paul was a friend of mine that caddied out at the golf club where I play golf. We had been friends for 20 years. Unfortunately he took a woman’s life and then took his own. I was crazy about him. I wanted to understand how it happened. He meant enough to me to write a song about him. “What made you go crazy, Billy Paul? Was it true love or too much alcohol? Was your back all the way against the wall? What made you go crazy, Billy Paul.“  It’s a story song that talks about redemption and has a spiritual side to it, even as dark as it is.

My  daughters  Corrina and Jenny sing on this with me.  It sounds like a Haggard record, maybe reminiscent of the song “Leonard” that Haggard wrote about Tommy Collins or Waylon’s  “Clyde.”

 “If I Die”

(Writers:  Vince Gill & Ashley Monroe)

I don’t think I’ve written a song in years that has had the most immediate impact with people that this song does. I wrote this with Ashley Monroe and she had the start of it, “If I die a-drinkin’.”  Then I said, “That song would be interesting if it went from drinking to something different.  If it wasn’t all about that.”  So it went from, “If I die a-drinkin’, that is just who I am,” to, “If I die a-cheatin’, I will live with the shame.”  Then I said, “This could be really neat if it went the complete opposite way. If I die a singer, the last song I’ll ever sing is ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’” The last verse is, “If I die a-praying to Jesus on my knees, everyone I’ve ever loved will be waiting there for me.” It goes from what you think is this drinking song to this really powerful ending.

I sang this at the Ryman last year after we had just written it. The place went nuts in a way I hadn’t felt in years and years and years. They wouldn’t stop clapping. I don’t know what it was about this song that spoke to people, but it did in the most profound way.

“Buttermilk John”

(Writer: Vince Gill)

This is a tribute to my longtime pal John Hughey, the steel guitar player on all of my records from 1990 on and he played with me on the road. He passed away four years ago. It’s a tribute song to him and his wife Jean.  They had a wonderful relationship. They were the kind of couple you aspired to be like. They always went everywhere together. If John had to run to Walmart, Jean went with him. They were never apart. A few years before he passed, he had retired and didn’t want to travel anymore.  The year that he died, I talked him into coming out on the road one weekend to fill in for someone and he brought Jean. They just sat on the couch everywhere we went, holding hands.

His nickname was Buttermilk John because he loved buttermilk and cornbread. It’s about our relationship and their relationship. He was a father figure to me. This is the first record I made without him, and I think it’s one reason why I took so long to make another record. I knew I was going to make it without him, and it was going to be hard. Paul Franklin is a world-class steel guitar player and he played a three-minute fade of just steel guitar. It’s ridiculous how good it is.  He played a lot of John’s stylings. Paul now plays with me on the road and we play together in The Time Jumpers.

The record (song) has all of the Time Jumpers playing on it and most all of my band playing. All of the people that knew John — so it’s a big cast.  This is our send-off to him.