Vince Gill doesn't just possess one of country music's most versatile voices; he's also one of the genre's most nuanced guitar players. Yet as he'll readily tell you, he's not solely a country picker. His influences run from Atkins and Watson to Clapton and Page. "I fancy myself more of a chameleon guitar player than most people will perceive," Gill tells Rolling Stone Country. "So it may surprise people when they see me play with Gregg Allman or hear me play the blues or rock & roll." In his own words, Gill, who has played at every one of Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festivals, opens up about 14 of his favorite players. —Joseph Hudak
"I loved Led Zeppelin and trying to learn those solos. Some may perceive, 'Oh, that's the country guy, he's not going to know that stuff.' But that was my childhood. When you were at school and wanted to be cool with the girls, if you could show up and play 'Stairway to Heaven,' you were a shoo-in."
"Joe was one of those guys in my teenage years, whether it was 'Funk #49' or 'Rocky Mountain Way' — those early records from James Gang and his solo records — that's what I played in my high school band. I love the patience he plays with. He has such a sleazy breezy cool approach to the way he plays that he's not in your face. Lazy cool. To me, he's probably the most underrated rock guitar player in history."
"Sonny has reinvented a new way to play guitar. And he doesn't just play slide. He's doing stuff behind the slide and ahead of the slide. It's like algebra to me. I couldn't figure it out in a million years, but it completely kills me to hear him play. His intonation is frighteningly good."
"What kills me the most about Derek is the precision of his intonation. Usually slide players go all over the place and eventually get there, but Derek's precision is mind-numbing to me. And what's cool about it is it never loses its soul. It's precise, but still equally moving, because he's such an emotional player."
"My most sponge-soaked years were the early Sixties and mid Sixties. I spent hours in my room learning how to play 'Sunshine of Your Love,' trying to make the guitar distort, make the strings wobble and vibrato. Eric was at the head of the class then and things haven't changed much! He's still at the head of the class. What I've really discovered is the common bond between all these people is humility, how down-to-earth every one of these people are. None of them are cocky or arrogant, and maybe that's why they don't have to be, because they're so gifted."
"My first love of the guitar came from the way Chet played it. I can't play anything like him, but it's like learning to walk — he was kind of there. And I always had those records and listened to them and marveled. He played with his thumb and his fingers, a much different style than I ever learned. He's the most effortless looking and sounding guitar player I ever heard."
"There is probably a side of Albert that moans and groans because I took so much of the way I play from him. The way he plays really speaks to me. The few gigs I had early on in my career were dominated by him, so I had to follow in his footsteps, playing with Rodney Crowell and with Rosanne Cash. We became great friends back in the Seventies, and I think he forgave me for playing so much like him. Yet as much as people think I do, I don't. He's much different."
"He was the inspiration to Albert. It's the chain, how the link works. I knew James, but I didn't know everything I know about him now. Because I didn't know who played on Haggard records or on all these iconic solos. You'd see James playing with Elvis, and that was a great chair for James and the guitar, but he also played 'Suzie Q,' and played with Ricky Nelson way back in those days. So I had heard him forever, but didn't know it."
"Paul was as good a guitar player as the other two. John was the great rhythm provider, and George had this great knowledge of these memorable hooky unmistakable parts. It's not unlike Creedence. John Fogerty wasn't a guitar player who would blow your mind, but all those parts were. I think in all these years, what you learn later in life is the gift is unhinging and economizing and editing."
"Dean is a session player in L.A. He's played on Steely Dan albums and is probably the most recorded guitar player around town. He's played on everyone's records. He has a brilliant mind. To me, guitar playing isn't all about the shredder who can play you 80,000 notes; it's the guy who can play a succinct part with four notes that will be more memorable than the 400 the guy with the whammy bar just played you. His versatility in what he can do is, to me, the most impressive thing."
"He's an original guitar player. He plays unlike anybody I've ever heard. He plays with such a reckless abandon and sense of humor, yet he's the swingingest. We call what Al does 'the stink.' And he gets mad at you if you can play it pretty good. He got mad at me one time: 'Nobody beats my demos — you did.' But he is so much more versatile of a guitar player than people know. They hone in on NRBQ and that wacky thing, but he's a beautiful player."
"I have a great history in bluegrass and flatpicking and there were others who came along after Doc: Clarence White, Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, a lot of world class guitar players. But Doc was the first of the flatpickers. He probably inspired the world of bluegrass guitar more than anybody."