After having won 20 Grammy Awards and 18 Country Music Association Awards and having sold more than 26 million records, country music legend Vince Gill isn’t afraid to try something new. Perhaps ironically, however, he delivered something new by revisiting the history of country music with his new album Bakersfield, the first duet album of his career.
A collaborative effort with pedal steel player Paul Franklin, Bakersfield pays tribute to the pioneers of the Bakersfield country music sound, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
Gill and Franklin selected a total of 10 songs to comprise Bakersfield, five each from the catalogues of Owens and Haggard. Each of the songs included on the record, including Owens’s Foolin’ Around and Haggard’s The Bottle Let Me Down , were originally released between 1961 and 1974.
Asked why he chose to pay tribute to the music of Bakersfield, Calif., at this point in his career, Vince says the reason is a relatively simple one:
“The songs on Bakersfield go all the way back to my childhood when I started to learn to play music. Those records were among some of my most admired. It is the music that both Paul and I cut our teeth on. We wanted to stick up for this timeless music but also wanted to pay tribute to the guys like Ralph Mooney and James Burton, who played on those records. They made some great music and were great players in their own right.
“When you talk about making music with a Telecaster guitar and pedal steel guitar, you need to look no further than the music of Bakersfield. I’ve always thought that it was the musician that made a record familiar long before the singer started singing. When it comes to making music, all instruments and all notes are equal and are of equal importance. You need the bass player and drummer as much as you need the singer.”
The friendship between Vince and Paul Franklin dates back more than 30 years, when the latter was on tour with Mel Tillis. Their friendship blossomed over the following three decades with Franklin performing on many of Vince’s records. Paul became a full-time member of Gill’s band after the 2007 passing of renowned pedal steel player John Hughey.
Thus far, the reception given to Bakersfield has been encouraging and shows that the public’s appetite for traditional country music remains strong. While many traditional country artists like Gill, Dwight Yoakam and more seem to struggle to find an audience for their music these days, Bakersfield debuted in the Top 5 country albums on the Billboard charts.
“It is great to see people excited by the record,” Vince says, reflecting on the success of the album to date. “I think that it is a reflection of the people that love this music being grateful to get a record steeped in such history.”
Acknowledging that the state of country music today is vastly different from where the genre started out, Vince diplomatically offers that there is room for everyone under the country music umbrella.
“Whatever Nashville is today, it is a city thats has always painted outside of the lines a little bit. Country music wouldn’t have stayed interesting if it had stayed the same all of these years. Bakersfield is merely our interpretation of what country music sounded like and felt like to us. Artists are making the records that they want to make these days. Neither Paul nor I are trying to bemoan the modern era of country music at all.
“The fact is, no style of music is the same as it was 30 or 40 years ago. That goes for country, rock ‘n’ roll and pop music. Every genre of music has arrived at where it is at these days because of the gradual evolution of the music. No matter what era of music you look back upon, great songs and great albums have consistently popped through. People tend to remember the best from any era of music.”
And though Bakersfield hasn’t even been out a month, Vince says he has begun writing songs for his next studio record. Stating that it is too early to tell whether the album will be as guitar-driven as 2011’s Guitar Slinger was, he is excited by the prospects.
“I spent last week in the recording studio with some amazing players. We had some fun with some new songs that I have written. The record is still in its infancy stages so I don’t quite know which direction it will take but I’d like the record to have a little more tempo to it. I’ve had such great success with writing ballads over my career that I’d like to try balancing out the ballads with material that is a little more upbeat.”
Article published in the August 23, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript