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100 Greatest Men: #38. Vince Gill

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He spent most of the eighties struggling for recognition, but thanks to his smooth ballads and country’s suddenly expanded audience, Vince Gill emerged as one of the biggest superstars of the nineties.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, he followed in the footsteps of his musician father, but while it was a hobby for his dad, it became Vince’s life mission.  His ability to play several different instruments and his talent for harmonizing earned him a place in local bands, and he moved to Kentucky and then to Los Angeles seeking out further opportunities.  An audition for the Pure Prairie League in 1979 resulted in him becoming their new lead singer, and Gill had his first taste of success when their single, “Let Me Love You Tonight”, topped the adult contemporary charts and cracked the pop top ten.

He left the band to join Rodney Crowell’s backing group, Cherry Bomb, only a few years after he had played a similar backing role for Ricky Skaggs.  His time with Cherry Bomb connected him to Tony Brown, the musician and record executive who signed him to RCA in 1981.   For the next several years, stardom remained just out of reach for Gill, who managed to score just three top ten hits with the label.  He was better known for his session work as a guitarist and as a harmony singer, with his distinctive vocals appearing on #1 hits by Rosanne Cash (“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”) and Patty Loveless (“Timber I’m Falling in Love.”)

When Brown left RCA for MCA records, Gill followed shortly thereafter.  In 1989, he released the dramatic ballad “When I Call Your Name”, featuring harmony vocals from Loveless. The record made him one of the genre’s hottest stars, setting up a decade of dominance at radio and retail.  Throughout the nineties, Gill racked up a stunning run of hits and big-selling albums, with I Still Believe in You selling more than five million copies on the strength of four #1 hits.

Gill alternated between rave-ups that featured his guitar prowess and power ballads that brought country’s traditional heartache sound into the late twentieth century.  Despite his new  popularity, he still did as much session work as ever, happily accepting offers to sing and play on the albums of anyone who requested him to.   He became known as the genre’s leading gentleman, and his quick wit led to him hosting the CMA awards for more than a decade.  Because of both his talent and his work with other artists, Gill dominated the two award shows voted on by his peers, winning more than a dozen Grammys and CMA awards.  He is tied with George Strait for the most CMA Male Vocalist trophies, and holds the record for the most wins in the Song of the Year category.

As radio support slowly dwindled toward the late nineties, Gill focused on making ambitious albums, most notably the four-CD set These Days, which earned him another pair of Grammys and a platinum award.      He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, and he was one of the youngest inductees in history to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.  A marriage to fellow singer Amy Grant has kept him focused more on family than music in recent years, but he still tours regularly and remains an Opry staple.  His most recent set, Guitar Slinger, hit shelves in 2011 and earned him multiple songwriting nominations for the lead single, “Threaten Me with Heaven.”

Essential Singles:

  • When I Call Your Name, 1990
  • Look at Us, 1991
  • I Still Believe in You, 1992
  • Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away, 1992
  • Whenever You Come Around, 1994
  • Go Rest High on That Mountain, 1995
  • Worlds Apart, 1996
  • If You Ever Have Forever in Mind, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • When I Call Your Name, 1990
  • I Still Believe in You, 1992
  • When Love Finds You, 1994
  • High Lonesome Sound, 1996
  • The Key, 1998
  • These Days, 2006

Next: #37. The Louvin Brothers

Previous: #39. Faron Young

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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