Vince Gill hadn't veered off the road in nearly five decades.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Country Music Hall of Famer — along with the rest of the live music industry — to pump the brakes in the spring of 2020.
"I don't think I'd had a break in 47, 48 years, I guess, where I wasn't working, traveling and playing live and doing all the things that I normally do. So, just to get shut down and stay home and all that was quite an exercise in 'How am I gonna fill this time?' But I think it was OK. I didn't mind it, I kind of enjoyed it in a lot of ways, but I've suffered because of it," Gill told The Oklahoman with a wry chuckle.
"It's fun to just jump back in the middle of the deep end ... and play my songs. And to try to figure out how to play the guitar again has been the biggest challenge. I haven't really played much in two, three years. So, it's a struggle, but it's kind of a fun struggle, trying to get my hands to link up to my brain. ... But I'm finding my way."
The acclaimed singer, songwriter and musician, who was born in Norman and raised in Oklahoma City, is finding his way back home this week. He is slated to play in concert Aug. 11 at The Cove at Tulsa's River Spirit Casino Resort and Aug. 12 at OKC's Civic Center Music Hall.
And living through a pandemic hasn't changed his homecoming ritual: relishing the first moment he steps on Okie red dirt, visiting his mom and sister and dining at Ted's Café Escondido.
"I don't know how you can improve on that in any way shape or form. Maybe go play golf with some of my buddies out at Oak Tree, but other than that, that's a great day," he said with a chuckle. "There have been some times where we went to Ted's twice: If you go early, you can go late and still make it work. ... Those tortillas are worth it."
Vince Gill returns to OKC for the first time since adding to record Grammy total
His two-night home-state stand will mark the first concerts Gill, 65, has performed in Oklahoma since he won his 22nd Grammy Award in 2021. He earned his 22nd golden gramophone trophy for best country solo performance for "When My Amy Prays," from his latest studio album, 2019's "Okie."
"It was very unexpected, because that record came out right about when COVID happened, and so it quickly went away. The record got put out, but I couldn't prove it. The cool thing about the Grammys over the years is that it's really interesting how it doesn't necessarily always gravitate towards the biggest hits as being the songs that they deem worthy of a Grammy or worthy of being nominated," Gill said.
The Oklahoma native had already earned the title of the male country artist with the most Grammy wins with 21. Last year, he added to that record with his latest win, which came on his 47th career Grammy nod.
"You think you're never gonna win the first one, and you think you're never gonna win another one. So, I guess (I'm) just grateful — and then what the song's about's really powerful."
Grammy winner pays tribute to his wife, Kennedy Center Honoree Amy Grant
Gill wrote "When My Amy Prays" as an emotional ode to his wife, Grammy-winning contemporary Christian and adult contemporary singer-songwriter Amy Grant. She will perform a Midwest City concert Oct. 20 at the Hudiburg Chevrolet Center at Rose State College.
"A lot of people would look at me being married to Amy Grant and think 'Oh, well, he must be the most devout Christian that there is.' And I don't know that I am. I didn't grow up in the church world. ... What I like most about that song is the honesty in it and the willingness to tell the truth … that your perception of what I am may not be correct,” Gill said.
"I like a world that's filled with the truth — that feels really good to me these days."
Grant, who has been recovering from a bicycle accident that landed her in the hospital, recently was announced as one of the recipients of the 2022 Kennedy Center Honors. She and the other recipients — Oscar-winning actor and filmmaker George Clooney; legendary soul singer Gladys Knight; Cuban-born American composer, conductor and educator Tania León; and iconic Irish rock band U2 — will be celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors Gala, Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C. The ceremony will later be televised on CBS.
"It was really cool to see that happen to my girl. The Kennedy Center Honors are really special, and nobody deserves it more," Gill said, noting that his other December plans with Grant include teaming for a dozen "Christmas at the Ryman" shows in Nashville, Tennessee.
"I've gotten to honor three or four people over the years and sing for them — and it's awesome. I got to help with (Merle) Haggard, Dolly (Parton) and even the Eagles. I think what's gonna be cool is I'm not gonna sing for my own wife. I think I just get to go sit in the box."
Oklahoman to be honored with 'CMT Giants' TV special
Grant isn't the only one who will be celebrated with a TV special: Singer Wendy Moten, Gill's tourmate, revealed Aug. 4 to the sold-out crowd at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium that he will be honored with the 90-minute special "CMT Giants: Vince Gill," debuting at 8 p.m. Sept. 16 on CMT.
The special will feature a star-studded lineup of performers and storytellers, including fellow Oklahomans Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood, plus Brad Paisley, Chris Stapleton, Cody Johnson, Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Keith Urban, Rodney Crowell and Sting.
Launched in 2006, "CMT Giants" is regarded as CMT’s premier honor celebrating the careers of country music’s most legendary artists
“From his timeless song catalog, numerous awards and unmatched musicianship, to the respect and camaraderie cultivated among his fellow musicians, and of course, his signature sense of humor, we can all agree Vince is a true titan in country music,” said Margaret Comeaux, CMT’s Senior Vice President of Production, Music & Events, in a statement.
“He is a true ‘artist’s artist’ who has touched fans worldwide with his music and songwriting, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to bestow him with our most esteemed ‘CMT Giants’ distinction.”
Vince Gill keeps writing new music and touring with the Eagles
In between honors, Gill has solo dates booked out through the end of August, and in September, he picks up touring again with the Eagles. Gill has been playing with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers regularly since 2017, joining the lineup after founding Eagle Glenn Frey died in 2016.
"I'm grateful for them validating my 50 years of doing this — in all different kinds of ways. I've played bluegrass, I've played rock 'n' roll, I've played pop music, I've played country music, I've played a little bit of everything. I played in a swing band for 10 years. I just love music," Gill said.
"I'm basically a hired gun for those guys. ... But it's still all about the gift of trying to play your best and sing your best and show people a great time."
Plus, Gill recently collaborated with Texas country standout Wade Bowen on the ballad "A Guitar, A Singer, and A Song," from Bowen's forthcoming album," Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth" and has been writing new songs that have been cropping up in his concerts.
"I'm never gonna quit making records, and I'll get back in there and make these turn into records at some point," he said. "I've done a bunch of new songs in the show that I've been writing since COVID happened ... so that's been a lot of fun to see what kind of songs show up — and they've got some depth to them. You just feel different at 65 than you do at 25 or 30 — and the songs reflect that."
But he said he is taking a page from the Eagles playbook and ensuring that his solo shows feature mostly his big hits and signature songs like "Go Rest High on That Mountain," "When I Call Your Name," "Liza Jane," "I Still Believe in You," "Don't Let Our Love Start Slippin' Away," "Look at Us" and "Pocket Full of Gold."
"A song from a couple of records back, 'The Old Lucky Diamond Motel' is inspired by Route 66, and it talks about El Reno and Ted's Escondido ... and (is) just trying to tell a great story," he said.
"It's just the things I love and hopefully the things people love — and that's a nice combination."
VINCE GILL IN CONCERT
With: Wendy Moten.
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 11.
Where: The Cove at River Spirit Casino Resort, Tulsa.
Tickets and information: https://www.riverspirittulsa.com/entertainment/
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall, downtown OKC.
Tickets and information: https://www.okcciviccenter.com.
'CMT GIANTS: VINCE GILL'
"CMT Giants: Vince Gill" premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 16 on CMT.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Vince Gill heads back to Oklahoma hometown for shows in Tulsa, OKC