At 62, there are a few things Vince Gill knows for sure.
He knows he can be an emotional wreck. He knows he adores his wife, singer-songwriter Amy Grant. He knows he’s making the best music of his life, and that he loves pushing his grandchildren on the swings, and that social media isn’t his cup of tea.
“Words can hurt,” he says casually just days before his Sept. 12 tour stop in Chicago. “They wound you a little bit. But I’m no longer afraid of it. Half of the people that give a rip have an opinion that they don’t know anything about. [Laughs]. I communicate for a living, and that’s not going to be in a tweet.”
The longtime member of the Grand Ole Opry lets his music do the talking. And at no other time has that been as evident as it is within the 12 songs he co-wrote for his new album “Okie.”
“It’s probably my most truthful album by far,” reflects Gill of the album that follows 2016’s “Down to My Last Bad Habit” and 2011’s “Guitar Slinger.” “Over the years, certain albums had a tune or two, but this record in its entirety tells my stories. This whole album just has me at my most vulnerable.”
Gill’s vulnerability and his “guy next door” realness combined with his insane talent has provided him a life and a career that has earned him more Grammys than any other male country music artist.
“I couldn’t have recorded this album 20 years ago,” admits Gill, who also has found a home in recent years as a member of the Eagles. “I hadn’t had enough life experience. I wouldn’t say that I am wiser, but at this age its all about owning your own mess. I don’t have to posture myself in any way.”
Indeed, woven through the lyrics of the introspective songs that make up “Okie” are Gill’s recollections and viewpoints on everything from teen pregnancy to faith to always finding the time to love your mama.
“A lot of these songs have years on them,” says Gill, who kept many of these songs tucked away in a desk drawer. “‘Red Words’ is an old one. ‘A Letter to my Mama’ has a good 18 years on it. I guess I really had to find the right record to put it on.”
And then there is “Forever Changed,” which delves into the real-life brush with sexual abuse he experienced back in junior high.
“I was never satisfied with how I wrote that song lyrically,” admits Gill. “When I first wrote it, it had some judgment to it and I had to make sure that I got that out.”
And in a world seemingly split between too many people who bury their feelings and too many people who make too many of their feelings known, Gill says he’s proud to communicate for a living, through his music.
Could a book be just around the corner?
“I’m pretty sure I have to read a book before I write a book,” Gill chuckles. “There is a side of me that says no one would want to read about me. I’m a pretty transparent guy. There is not much to figure out about me. I’m who I am, so writing some sort of autobiography would probably be pointless and silly.”
The fact is that, at this point in his life, he’s happy and peaceful and fairly content.
“I got some good fortune,” he says. “I’ve had a little bit of luck, but put in a whole lot of effort, you know? I didn’t plan out my life. I reacted to my life. I answered the phone when it rang and I always tried to improve myself. And at 62, I’m still trying to improve. I still want to be a better person. I certainly don’t want to waste time.”
Because he, too, knows life moves fast.
And in case anyone is wondering, country music is going to be OK., he says.
“I don’t worry so much about what direction country music is going to go,” Gill says quietly. “It is what it is. There is no point in worrying about it. I mean, I had people like Little Jimmy Dickens and Minnie Pearl probably looking at me as I was coming up and not being sure if I was right for country music. It happens. I won’t be that person trying to tear down that up-and-coming kid. I know that for sure.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.