Vince Gill was buzzing. The Country Music Hall of Famer had taped an episode of CMT's Crossroads with Sting the night before, and he still hadn't come back down to earth.
"I feel like I'm about eight feet off the ground," Gill said, calling from New York. "The whole thing was over so fast that I was crushed when it was [done]. I was having so much fun getting to be a rock star up there!"
Gill, whose new studio album is aptly titled Guitar Slinger (preview five tracks below), grew up in Oklahoma, but Nashville proudly claims him as one of its most revered citizens. Gill has won a staggering 20 Grammy awards, the most of any male country artist; he also has 18 Country Music Association Awards and is regarded as one of the top guitar players in any genre. But then again, his talent has always transcended musical format. That's why Mark Knopfler asked him to join Dire Straits years ago — to which Gill said no thanks.
Artist: Vince GillAlbum: Guitar Slinger
This year, he played guitar on the new Alice Cooper album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and he co-produced LeAnn Rimes' set Lady & Gentlemen, out now. Or as Gill put it, "Look at [whom] I've chosen to collaborate with in these 35 years: it's all over the stinking map."
On his new album, he still brings the haunting, lonesome tenor that has made him instantly recognizable on such hit songs as "Whenever You Come Around" (which was written about wife Amy Grant when they were both still married to other people), "I Still Believe in You" and "Go Rest High on That Mountain," but he gives his guitar playing equal measure for the first time.
When asked what took him so long, he paused before answering, "I think my demeanor and personality is somewhat [averse] to showing off. I don't like people that do it, so I don't ever want to do it myself." With the extended guitar solos on the album, Gill said he worried a little that he was showboating, but he explained, "I still think I'm following the muse in that I serve the song."
Lyrically, Guitar Slinger tackles death, illness, homelessness, faith and redemption — topics that Gill, 54, admits he wouldn't have previously handled with the poignancy and potency that he does now.
"I've lived a lot of life up to this point," he said. "Amy and I talk about it all the time. We're about two-third done, so you know you're on the backside of time.
"I'm not drawn to fluff," he added. "I like that melancholy side and that blues side of music, I always have. It's the thing to me that really creates emotion. If there's no emotion in it, I don't want to hear it, you know."
Not that Guitar Slinger doesn't have its upbeat side: The album's sweetest song, "True Love," a duet between Grant and Gill, celebrates their union.
"Amy really wrote that song," he recalled. "When we do it, she says, 'Here's a song that Vince and I wrote about him,'" he added with a loud laugh.
Gill is slated to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012. He's hoping for a placement next to that of his wife, who received her star in 2006. But if not, his request is to be beside "somebody cute."
"Jennifer Aniston's cute," he joked. "Maybe I'll be beside Jennifer Aniston."