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Vince Gill plays Turlock Community Theatre

(Laurie McAdam / The Modesto Bee)
(Laurie McAdam / The Modesto Bee)

Vince Gill is one popular guy.

In the past year, he has collaborated with George Strait, Little Feat, Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley, comedian Steve Martin and, come December, his wife, Amy Grant.

All that after continuing over the years to fit in a solo career that has earned him 26 million album sales, 19 Grammy Awards, 18 CMA Awards and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Gill spoke with The Bee from his Nashville home about his new tour, his Christmas plans with Grant and what it was like to tease Kanye West.

Q: This tour is scaled down from your last tour, which had 17 band members. Now you have three. Why did you downsize?

A: Well, I saw James Taylor do a one-man-band show a couple of years ago. It was just him and a piano player. I said, man, what a fun thing to do. I wanted to do something different.

I have a piano player, upright bassist and cajon (Spanish rhythmic instrument) player. It's proven to be really enjoyable for folks. It's just fun -- there's no set list, we play what we want and what people want to hear. It's very informal and easygoing.

Q: How is playing these more stripped-down shows different than the full-band shows?

A: It never really stomps too hard. In years past, you'd turn your amps up and everyone rocked pretty hard. This is so

laid back. We're playing the right kind of theaters and symphony halls, so it's conducive to play this way. If we were playing honky-tonks, it wouldn't work at all. But there's a listening spirit. I tell a lot of stories.

Q: Your last album was the four-disc "These Days," which went on to win the country album Grammy earlier this year. Could you have imagined that such an ambitious project would be so well-received?

A: Nah. I don't know that I had too many expectations. Once you start having expectations, that's when you have your feet kicked out from under you. The results of something are out of your hands. As soon as you learn to let go of it, the healthier you'll be.

Maybe people would have said, "Hmm, 43 songs, I'd preferred 10 or 20." I had no idea.

Q: You had a great line when you won the Grammy: "I just got an award presented to me by a Beatle. Have you had that happen yet, Kanye?" I'm guessing that was ad-libbed.

A: Very much so. I thought his speech prior to that was, um, very, very confident. Sort of, "I'm the greatest artist in the world and I own this place." ... Then when I was walking up there and I got the award, I said, "Man, I'm going to get an award from a Beatle (Ringo Starr)." The camera didn't show his first reaction, but Kanye was shaking his head no. He smiled later.

You've got to be careful when you take your chances with humor. But I guess it worked.

Q: You're well known for your collaborations. What is it about that kind of work you enjoy?

A: In all honesty, in my youth that's what I aspired to be, more than a singing star. I wanted to be a musician. That's what I wanted to do is play on people's records and be part of the process. I didn't care what role it took. It was something I always did from the mid-'70s on.

Although I've had great success, I didn't want to stop doing it. It really was my vision as a young man. I love doing it, playing and singing and being creative.

I don't have to be the guy up front to make it matter.

Q: I read you are working with Steve Martin on songs he wrote. Can you tell me about that?

A: I did it last week. He had written a bunch of songs. He is a serious banjo player; he is really quite good. He has decided to make a banjo record. It's mostly instrumental; there are three songs with lyrics.

(Bluegrass artist) Tim O'Brien sings one, (Martin) sings one and Dolly Parton and I sing one together. The song, "Pretty Flowers" was really sweet and just a joy.

When Steve first called me, I said, "Buddy, you've made me laugh for 30-plus years. I'd be honored to sing on your record."

Q: You and your wife are doing another Christmas tour together in December. Have these Christmas shows become a tradition for you?

A: The first ones we did in Nashville were in 1993, 1994. We haven't done one in a couple of years. But it's fun to go on the bus with my bride.

Most of the times, touring is a bit lonely without your companion. It's a lot of phone calls, "I miss you." "I miss you back."

Q: Interestingly, the night you play in Turlock your wife will be just up the road about 15 minutes in Modesto.

A: I'll get to see her? I saw that on the schedule but didn't know it was that close. That's awesome.

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