Before he became one of country music’s leading men, Vince Gill left his mark on the genre as a top-shelf instrumentalist, logging time in Pure Prairie League’s late-Seventies lineup and Ricky Skaggs’ backup band. As the guest on this week’s installment of Walking the Floor, he happily geeks out with podcast host Chris Shiflett about guitar gear, Joe Walsh’s soloing ability and the superiority of Fender’s 1953 Telecaster.
“As a player, I try to play something I would sing,” he says, talking to Shiflett about his more-or-less approach to guitar riffs. “And then when I’m singing, I try to sing something I would play.”
Currently pulling together plans for a solo album while continuing to tour as the newest member of the Eagles, Gill sounds inspired and gracious in this episode, like a man who’s worked hard for his success but still counts himself lucky. Here are several highlights from the episode, along with the biweekly Walking the Floor premiere.
Although he rarely plays the instrument himself, Gill is a big fan of the pedal steel.
“To me, it’s the one instrument that can emulate a human voice better than any other,” says Gill, who released the Bakersfield album of country classics with longtime steel player Paul Franklin in 2013. Decades before the album’s release, a young Gill shaped his approach to the guitar by listening to pedal steel players. “A lot of my guitar styling was emulating steel guitar — how the bends worked, and bending down and up,” he remembers. “Everything about it was so musical and, like I said, reminiscent of singing.”
He doesn’t plan on giving up the Eagles gig any time soon, although he sorely misses Glenn Frey, whose spot he’s been filling since 2017.
“I don’t think it’s a real stretch that I’m in this band,” he says. “The way I play, the way I sing … it makes pretty good sense.” That said, performing with the Eagles does come with a steep price. “It’s a great thrill,” he adds, “but the only reason I’m getting to do it is because something tragic happened.”
Even so, sharing guitar duties with Joe Walsh has been pretty fantastic.
“I love playing with him,” Gill says of the Eagles’ shredder. “He plays with such great restraint, and that’s what I like. A lot of patience.”
Although a devoted guitar collector — “I should be on an episode of Hoarders,” he says, referencing the size and scope of his gear stock — Gill has never gotten into guitar pedals.
“I’m not a pedal guy,” he tells Shiflett. “I feel like if it doesn’t start as a really great sound from the source, just plugged in with a little bit of reverb … [then] a pedal isn’t going to help.” On the other hand, Gill does own an overwhelming number of acoustic and electric guitars, all of them featuring different electronics and construction techniques. For him, it’s the instrument itself that makes the most difference. “I look at gear and guitars and all that stuff like a painter would look at the colors of paint that he has to paint with,” he explains. “You wouldn’t wanna paint with one color all the time. So I like every kind of possible gear. I like every conceivable kind of pickup. Because I never know what kind of color I’m gonna want to paint with.”
During the 1980s, he turned down an offer from Mark Knopfler to join Dire Straits, choosing to give his solo career one last shot. It worked, with Gill becoming a Top 10 artist by the decade’s end.
“It was funny because I wasn’t making any money to speak of,” he says of his reason to pass on Knopfler’s offer. “Session work was keeping me alive. Jingles and things like that. [Joining the band] would’ve solved everything. It would’ve been a great payday. But I told Mark, ‘I just got a new record deal, and if I bail on it, it kind of would be like admitting failure.” The tides turned with 1989’s When I Call Your Name, which went double platinum. Years later, he’s proud of that gamble. “I turned down the sure thing and bet on myself, and it flipped right after that,” he says.