When Vince Gill joined the Eagles last month for his first rehearsal with the storied band, ahead of the group's two reunion shows at July festival gigs in New York and L.A., the country singer-guitarist had to pinch himself. "It was a surreal experience," he says, sitting on a couch in his home studio in Nashville, his 21 Grammys and vast guitar collection behind him. "Don's there, Timothy is there and I'm singing these songs. It was an amazing gift."
On July 15th at L.A.'s Dodger Stadium, Eagles members Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh will reunite for their first full show since Glenn Frey's death in 2016, for the Classic West concert, an all-star weekend of classic rock featuring icons like Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and Journey. Gill and Frey's son Deacon have been tapped to step in for the late co-founder, both of them adding vocals and guitar to the Eagles' already potent lineup. (They'll do it all again on July 29th at Citi Field in New York.)
Rolling Stone Country talked with Gill about which Eagles songs he'll sing – they're not all Frey tunes – how he's preparing for the shows and the possibility of a full-fledged tour.
You've known Don and Glenn for some time. How'd this opportunity come about?
Through management. [Eagles manager] Irving Azoff picked my manager Larry Fitzgerald's brain about my interest. From what I've been told by Don, I was the only consideration. But I didn't think they'd do it.
You mean reunite at all?
Yeah. When Glenn passed, that was Don's first response: "I can't see us playing without Glenn." With time, maybe they understood the impact of the legacy of these songs and thought, "It would be good for people to continue to hear these songs." But the only reason I'm getting this chance is because of the sadness that happened to Glenn. It is pretty bittersweet.
You were closest with Glenn, weren't you?
Maybe. But I really got to know Don a lot better when he made his solo record [Cass County]. I played and sang on it. Now we are doing a duet together for a tribute to Elton John. And Joe and I kicked around the idea of doing a Traveling Wilburys thing. We were headed down that path and then the tragedy happened to Glenn. I think everybody is trying to figure it out, and see if it even feels good to them or feels right.
"Country music never embraced the Eagles, yet they had as profound an impact as anybody that's ever been in country music."
To play together again?
Yeah. But with Deacon being a part of it, it's the most appropriate thing. He's blood and he's his son. That's healing in its own. I'm beyond flattered that of all the people who play and sing music, that they'd think enough of me to do this. I feel like I'm a great fit. The things I can do and the gifts I've been given really marry well. The impact they've had on all of music didn't miss me. It scarred me real good. A record of mine like When Love Finds You sounds like an Eagles record. They've been as big a part of my learning curve as the greats of the country and Western world.
We all talk about our history in country music and we respect Merle Haggard and George Jones. And I mean no disrespect when I say this, but the Eagles had a bigger impact in that more people chose to emulate them. You take any of the bands from the Eighties, Nineties or even solo artists, and you don't find many of them emulating George Jones or Merle Haggard. I find it interesting in that country music never embraced the Eagles, yet they had as profound an impact as anybody that's ever been in country music.
How did you prepare for your first rehearsal?
I didn't know what to learn, but I assumed learn Glenn songs. I don't know which ones Deacon was going to sing; which ones I was going to sing. That's what rehearsal was for. There's already three guitar players in the band before I get there, so I'm wading in. I was very minimalistic in what I was trying to do. There would be nothing worse than me just blasting in going 90 miles per hour.
What songs are you singing in the set?
"Lyin' Eyes," "New Kid in Town," "Take It to the Limit" and "Heartache Tonight."
Has there been any talk of past members like Bernie Leadon showing up to play?
I'm not privy to any of the inner workings. I speak when spoken to. I'm an old friend and all that, but I'm a newbie. I want to be a blessing to them. I want to be a real fun experience for them, because they can get serious. Their history bears that out. But that's OK too; that's why they're great.
Right now these are just one-off shows, but if they decided to tour, would you be willing?
Are you kidding me? I'd be the first one on the bus. They probably don't take a bus, but I'll drive myself. I'll take my own car. You couldn't dream this up to get to go play in your favorite band – the most important American band in history.