Vince Gill Ready to Fly Solo for Summer Tour: ‘I Know I’m Better Than I Was’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Contrary to possible recent appearances, Vince Gill’s greatest hits are not “Take It to the Limit,” “New Kid in Town” and “Lyin’ Eyes.” Audiences will have a chance to be reminded of that this summer when the Country Music Hall of Famer, who’s been a part-time member of the Eagles for the last five years, heads out for some concerts with his own band for the first time since before the pandemic.

The initial shows will take place in July and August (see a list of dates, below). “I knew that the guys weren’t going to work in those months,” Gill tells Variety, meaning Don Henley and company, “and I said, ‘You mind if I go out and do some dates?’ They said, ‘Of course not.’ And so I’ve got a lot of guys who have played with me for most of their lives, and they could stand to make a little money and come back to work. Everybody’s so excited just to get to play again, travel around and tell the same dirty jokes. I mean, we’re old enough now that everybody’s forgotten them and we can retell ‘em.”

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It was not just the pull of the Eagles keeping him off the road, of course. “That pesky little virus thing — I mean, nobody could dream this stuff up. It dawned on me in the middle of the pandemic that I hadn’t had a break in 47 years,” Gill says, charting that time back to when he was the fill-in singer for another country-rock group, Pure Prairie League. “I had always traveled, always toured, always played, always worked, and never, ever stopped. It was a real interesting thing to have happen, and I didn’t spend all my time practicing. I found a blessing in the break, and it was OK. But I miss singing all those songs that I’ve come up with over the last 40, 45 years, so I’m pretty fired up to go out there and so some of them again.”

Really, the last time anyone heard him singing his own material at all was at the very beginning of quarantine, in March 2020, when the Grand Ole Opry wanted to keep its historic streak of Saturday night radio broadcasts going and called him in to do some appearances with Rodney Crowell, Brad Paisley, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris ad Reba McEntire with no audience and little crew. Other than that, it will have been the better part of a three-year gap by the time he opens in Greensboro, NC on July 7.

But for his fans who also happen to be Eagles fans, it may not seem like he’s been away that long, even if they’ve seen him singing “Try and Love Again” on the “Hotel California” full-album tour, and not “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away.”

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity and a good hang,” he reaffirms of his five-year tenure helping fill the late Glenn Frey’s shoes (and to an extent, Randy Meisner’s). “Everything about it is something I just can’t even believe it’s happened, you know, and I’m grateful for it every time I get to go up there and continue to be a part of keeping that song catalog going. It’s an amazing accomplishment Don and Glenn and Joe (Walsh) and Timothy (B. Schmit) and all those guys made” — and being ever the gentleman as well as historian, he adds. “and all the former guys that played — Randy, Don (Felder) and Bernie (Leadon). I would have never believed that that would happen, and sadly it only did because of a tragedy and losing Glenn. I’ve got a really healthy perspective of it, and I know I had nothing to do with any of it other than from this day forward. So I can’t get the big head about it.”

And yet the enthusiasm with which he’s greeted every night on tour with them, before he ever sings a solo note — from crowds that seem to have some recognition they have country music royalty in their midst — can’t be head-shrinking, either.

“The first gig that I did with them, I could feel the apprehension in the crowd, and it made total sense,” Gill says. “‘Take It to the Limit’ was the first song I sang, and I could feel after the first chorus everybody just take a deep breath and go, ‘I think it’s gonna be OK.’ I honestly could feel that from them; it was really palpable and really quite beautiful.”

But it’s not his life’s work, or something he could do exclusively indefinitely. “I couldn’t do that. I’ve invested most of my life in my career and those songs. I’m more than willing to chip in and help out and do this gig with Don and everybody. But I feel like I have a responsibility to all those people and those crew guys who’ve been with me for 30 and 35 years and more, and people that have bought those records and listened to ‘em and love the songs. It’s a two-way street. I can’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m doing fine, I don’t need to do that anymore.’ ‘Cause that’s a whole lot of who I am, you know? My songs were tailor-made for me to sing and for me to play, and the melodies are such that I do what I do best on a lot of those songs. So I miss that.”

Gill cut a new album during the pandemic — a second collaborative album with the great steel guitar player Paul Franklin. It’s a sequel of sorts to the “Bakersfield” album of songs by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens the duo put out in 2013; this one is an album of Ray Price songs. But Gill definitely won’t be putting it out before the summer tour and isn’t even sure it will be his next project to be released, since it’s been a few years since his last album of originals, too.

In any case, Franklin will be part of the band this summer (except for some opening dates he’ll miss because of sitting in with Chris Stapleton in a hometown show at a Detroit stadium). Other players include long time members Billy Thomas on drums, John Jarvis on keyboards, Jimmie Lee Sloas on bass and Wendy Moten on vocals. Besides being a member of the Time Jumpers, the band that has been a side project for Gill in the past, Moten will be familiar to many from being the second-place finisher on “The Voice” in 2021.

There will be one void, though, in his touring unit since his last time out: long time guitar tech and childhood best friend, Benny Garcia, who died of pancreatic cancer shortly into the pandemic. Longtime fans know this was no average crew member. Will that create a different feeling in being on the road? “Yeah, just a broken heart,” Gill says bluntly. “He passed in May of 2020, and (the Eagles) went out and did some dates in the summer and fall of ‘21, and just having somebody else bring me guitars was weird, you know? A lot of people probably don’t know, but we’d been inseparable since we were in sixth grade, and played in our first bands together and went on our first dates together. So I didn’t just lose my guitar helper guy. I lost my best friend.”

These kinds of sadnesses aside, there are some aspects of getting older that Gill relishes — like his surety that he’s kicking ass more than he used to. He feels like he’s in the midst of a personal musical renaissance, even if he doesn’t get the chance to put that on display as often, or necessarily to as big an audience as when he was one of the reliable chart-toppers of country. He knows, and that’s good for something.

“I’ve written so many new songs and I’m so excited about it and fired up,” Gill says. “I’m always feeling creative. That never goes away and it never will. Even if there’s not a vehicle for some of these songs, I’m gonna write ‘em and I’m gonna sing ‘em, and this is what I was meant to do.

“You know, it’s interesting in this part of your career, when I feel like I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done, and it goes largely unnoticed, in comparison to other times of life. But that’s OK. Because I feel like I know in my heart that I’m a little bit better than I was. It really feels good to not see it kind of slip and go in the opposite way. Someday it will, just because of life and how your body will eventually kind of give up on you a little bit, and you won’t be able to do the things you do to breathe the way you do and push air in the way you used to, and your hands won’t be nimble and whatever. So I know it’s coming, but I’m gonna run pretty hard till it does.”

Although this summer run is a short one, he promises there are more Vince Gill headlining shows to come in other parts of the country. “Absolutely. This is not my farewell solo summer tour,” he laughs.

In the meantime, seasonal tradition will be followed as he joins wife Amy Grant for a dozen holiday shows at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in December. He doesn’t mean to get anyone’s hopes up for a “Liza Jane”-style boogie at those concerts, though. “You know, we’re just singing Christmas songs. We don’t sing very many of our own songs per se. So that’s its own thing, and it’s fun. And I get to watch my girl shine and that’s a great way to spend a night. She’s really good at that — way better than me at that Christmas stuff. So I’m just riding her coattails in the Christmas season.”

Vince Gill’s summer shows:

7/7 Greensboro, NC Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts
7/8 Columbia, SC Township Auditorium
7/9 N. Charleston, SC North Charleston Performing Arts Center
7/10 Augusta, GA Bell Auditorium
7/14 Birmingham, AL Alabama Theatre
7/15 Mobile, AL Saenger Theater
7/16 Montgomery, AL Montgomery Performing Arts Centre
7/17 Huntsville, AL Von Braun Center
7/20 Rockford, IL Coronado Performing Arts Center
7/21 Davenport, IA River Center – Adler Theatre
7/22 Des Moines, IA Des Moines Civic Center
7/23 Omaha, NE Holland Performing Arts Center
7/28 Charlotte, NC Ovens Auditorium
8/12 Oklahoma City, OK Thelma Gaylard Performing Arts Theater
8/13 Ft. Worth, TX Billy Bob’s Texas
8/14 Memphis, TN Orpheum Theatre
8/26 Dothan, AL Dothan Civic Center
8/28 Atlanta, GA Fox Theatre

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