Keith Urban Country Stars Pay Tribute to Vince Gill at BMI Awards - Rolling Stone
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Keith Urban, Other Country Stars Pay Tribute to Vince Gill at BMI Awards

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If you’re looking for great country music bromances, look no further than the one between Vince Gill and Keith Urban. Gill was honored at Tuesday night’s annual BMI Awards in Nashville with the “Icon” lifetime achievement award, and the highlight of this dinner every year is the all-star musical tribute to the honoree. Urban led a band of the city’s best session musicians through a selection of Gill classics, in an example of one of the genre’s very few true triple-threats — singer, songwriter, shredder — giving it up for another.

Urban sang a stunningly strong version of Gill’s biggest ballad, “I Still Believe in You,” as if the song were his own, as well as jamming out on the barnburner “Liza Jane.” Gill protege Ashley Monroe joined Urban for “Whenever You Come Round,” followed by Michael McDonald putting a soulful spin on “When I Call Your Name.”

Said Urban from the stage, “You’re a singer’s singer, Vince, a songwriter’s songwriter, and as best as I can see — and Amy testifies to it every time I see her — you’re a husband’s husband. I don’t want to marry you, Vince, I’m just saying,” he added, as wife Nicole Kidman looked on, presumably relieved. “I don’t live in that state.” 

The big non-lifetime winners at the BMIs included Rhett Akins, honored as songwriter of the year for co-writing seven of the past year’s 50 most played tunes, including “Boys ‘Round Here,” “Hey Girl,” and “When She Says Baby.” The award for the most played song of the year went to “Wagon Wheel,” as performed by Darius Rucker and co-written by Bob Dylan and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Keith Secor. . “I’m really glad to have just a little piece of Bob Dylan to share with all of the songwriters that are here tonight,” Secor told us shortly before learning that his tune had won the top award.

Gill gave a touching and funny acceptance speech in which he talked about his early days in Nashville as well as what he learned post-stardom. He spoke of many years ago approaching another BMI Icon winner, Bill Anderson, and asking if he could write songs with him — to Anderson’s shock, since he’d pretty much given up writing and assumed he’d been forgotten by younger generations. Gill challenged the mostly young-ish writers of the winning songs to do what he’d done and hook up with some older tunesmiths. Songwriter of the year Akins was listening to that, as he used his speech to ask Gill to collaborate with him.

Gill got a lot of laughs from the industry crowd, even as he occasionally expressed some unpleasant truths. He Ashley Monroe — whose latest album he produced — “a beautiful soul, and the voice to go along with it. The great mystery of life is why they won’t play her records. That’s the dumbest s—- I’ve ever heard of in my life!”

He spoke of his nascent experiences as a songwriter, the last of his triple talents to really fully develop. “It took me a long time to figure out how to write good songs. My voice always overshadowed everything else I did, whether I could play or whether I could write songs. I’d sing ‘em pretty good and it would fool people.  They’d go, ‘Oh, I like the voice. I don’t give a s—- what he says!’

“Rodney (Crowell) and Emmy (-lou Harris) were unbelievable,” Gill elaborated. “They were the ones that first inspired me to try to write a song. I think I’d written six or seven songs, and I joined Pure Prairie League as a 20-year-old kid. We were getting ready to go make a record right after I joined the band. They said ‘Have you got any songs?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I’ve got six or seven.’ Those dumb-asses recorded five of them!”


Gill reminisced about his friendship with one of country’s most legendary songwriters, Harlan Howard, singing on his demos for $10 a pop when he first got to town, along with their mutual love of White Russians. “He told me ‘Kid, you might be one of the best singers I’ve ever heard.’ I said, ‘Oh, thanks, Harlan.’ He said, ‘And you’re a hell of a guitar player.’ I said ‘Thank you.’ ‘And… you’re a pretty good songwriter.’” A pregnant pause for that damnation with faint praise to kick in. “I said ‘Okay, I understand what you’re saying.’ It was really great constructive criticism, and it made me try harder.”

On the red carpet, we asked some of the attending singers and songwriters for what had impressed them about Gill over the years…

Rascal Flatts

Gary LeVox: “His heart and him as a person are bigger than any hit he’s ever had. And as a singer, that tenor voice I’ve heard since I was little, and it did something to me. I’ve always been inspired by great singers, and Vince was probably the first one on the list growing up.”

Jay DeMarcus: “It’s hard to believe he’s 70. [Kidding] It really is. I was blown away by that… No, the guy can do it all. But my favorite memories are on the golf course with him. I‘m privileged to play with him probably a couple of times a week. I love those moments of sitting beside him in the cart and just talking about life. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met.”

Lauren Alaina

“I sang ‘Go Rest High on That Mountain’ at my uncle’s funeral. He was a huge Vince Gill fan, just like my whole family is. He’s just as genuine and nice as he is crazy-talented.”

Old Crow Medicine Show’s Keith Secor

“One of my favorite Vince moments was the realization that the place I like to play golf for about $6 a round is a place that Vince Gill gave to the city of Nashville — a gift called Vinnie Links, at the Shelby Park. He made golf accessible to young and old. I’m just really glad that he set up this golf course that kids can afford to play golf. And I’m there too, because I’m a cheapskate.”

Dustin Lynch

“Vince has been a huge influence on me. No one can do it like Vince. He’s a pretty good golf player, too. Not as good as me, but that’s all I’ve got against him. I can take his lunch money on the golf course.”

LoCash Cowboys’ Preston Brust

“I love everything he sang on every album. Remember that song he did for the Maverick movie with Mel Gibson? I’m sorry, I’m a little bit of a stalker of Vince Gill. One of our favorite moments with Vince, was when we were on Man Versus Food (on the Travel Channel). Vince’s favorite show is Man Versus Food. He and his daughter watch it together. So when we were doing the show, we sat down to eat these ginormous steaks, live on the show. And just on the other side of our table is Vince and his daughter, and they’re just there to watch. Then he jumped in the episode with us and helped us conquer the steak. He said, ‘Call me the Buddha. We will finish the steak.’ He made us rub his belly.”

Sugarland’s Kristian Bush

“When we first came to town in Sugarland, we got a record deal but we didn’t take any advances for our record, so we didn’t really have a lot of money. We had to survive through the making of the record. And Vince gave us a gig opening for him for four or five weeks during that time. And I’ll never forget it, because we kept looking at him going ‘Well, you know, we’re good for nothing here! We can help you sell no tickets. Nobody knows who we are.’ And he goes ‘Yeah, but I love your music.’ So I try to carry that forward. I’ll take out opening acts that I’ve never heard of that I just like… I was so nervous when we first went out on the tour, because he would come out and sit at the soundcheck and watch us, and I was like ‘Look, this is where I’m supposed to make my mistakes, at soundcheck, and get it right during the show.’ But I just learned that a man like that listens to everything. And a man like that also puts his money where his mouth is. He was able to help us when we needed it most, and that’s exactly who that guy is.”

Rodney Atkins

“I still remember trying to learn how he sang those licks on ‘Pocketful of Gold.’ But o one of the first times I was in town, over at Masterfonics, I was in the studio recording and my son was tiny. I heard somebody saying ‘Hey little buddy,’ and I thought, ‘Somebody’s being really nice to Elijah.’ I walked around the corner and it was Vince, and he was just over-the-top friendly. I hadn’t been in town very long and that made such an impression. That’s what you hope for when you get to Nashville.”

Scotty McCreery

“Obviously ‘Go Rest High on That Mountain’ is a classic that will go on forever and ever and is timeless. One of the songs I’ve dug of his lately is a song he put out just in the last couple of years, ‘Threaten Me With Heaven.’ I have that on repeat on my iPod and play it all the time.”

Josh Turner

“I’ve known Vince for a long time, because when I got signed to MCA, he had already been with MCA for a long time. I’ve been able to call him up on several occasions and ask him for his advice on the business side of things. He inducted me into the Grand Ole Opry, so that’s my favorite Vince Gill moment.”

Thomas Rhett

“I think everybody’s a Vince Gill fan. I went to Lipscomb University down the road for college, and obviously Vince went to Belmont. We used to yell Vince’s name at Lipscomb-versus-Belmont basketball games, because he would always be there sitting in the front row.”

Chris Young

“I could literally talk about him all day. I saw him back at Starwood, and he kicked his whole band off and played a song and sounded better than his record, and I thought, ‘I want to make people feel what this dude is doing to this crowd right now. I want to do that.’… My best story I have about him, on the Opry one night, they were doing a bunch of Hank Sr. songs, and I sang my couple songs and came off, and Vince was like, ‘We need (to fill) more time. Do you want to sing a Hank Sr. song together?’ I’m like ‘Uh, yeah,’ and he walks out and goes ‘Hey, I was just talking to my friend backstage…’ And the whole band is looking at me going, ‘What song? Key?’ So I was having to yell at ‘em on the side of the Opry, but I went out and sang ‘Hey, Good Lookin’’ with Vince Gill.”

Holly Williams

“He saw me play at the Opry and said ‘I’m really a fan and love your lyrics and song subjects; let’s write some time.’ I called him and said ‘I’m back from babyland [Williams recently had her first child], so let’s get together and do this.’ We’ll have at least one song on my new album that we wrote together. What I love about him besides his brilliant songwriting is what a fan he is of artists. He’ll call on your phone and say ‘Hey, come use my studio’ or ‘Let’s write a song today.’ He latches onto people that he loves, and puts me on shows, so he’s just been a huge blessing. I adore him. I don’t know how to pick a favorite — probably ‘I Still Believe in You.’”

Frankie Ballard

“I’m a guitar player, so whenever I think of Vince, I think of guitar. He’s been one of my guitar heroes.  Obviously he’s a singer, and songwriter, with a beautiful wife — the guy’s got everything going for him. But he shreds the guitar. He’s bad-ass.”

Gloriana’s Rachel Reinert

“The first song that we ever covered as a band was ‘Aimee’ by Pure Prairie League. And we sang ‘Go Rest High on That Mountain’ at a friend’s funeral. It’s an incredible song and it speaks the most perfect message for that type of situation. That’s why we do what we do as songwriters.”




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