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Vince Gill is smiling.
"Things feel very peaceful right now," he says with a shy grin. "This is just the sweetest, kindest stretch of life."
Turning 46, Vince has the quiet, confident look of a man at peace with himself. At long last, after turbulence in his personal life, he has everything he could want — a loving family, his first new album in three years and a tour that he's doing his way.
Of course, his greatest joy is the latest addition to the Gill family, daughter Corrina, who just turned two years old.
"Corrina is a blast!" Vince exclaims. "And she's smart as a whip. She can already sing her ABCs and can string some words together."
And this month he marked a happy milestone – it was three years ago, on March 10, 2000, that he and Amy Grant tied the knot in a quiet ceremony on a ranch outside Nashville, then celebrated with family and friends at Amy’s house.
Also boosting his spirits is a new CD, Next Big Thing, which hit the stores — and the Top 10 — last month. Vince's wide-ranging musical influences, from country and bluegrass to R&B, are evident throughout the album's 17 tracks — including the title cut, already a Top 20 hit. Among other musical highlights, the album marks a return to the country-blue, melancholy sounds of his ‘90s hits “Never Knew Lonely,” “Tryin’ To Get Over You,” “Pretty Little Adriana,” “Worlds Apart” and “When I Call Your Name.”
That's a bit of a departure from his last CD, Let's Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye. Inspired by his then-recent marriage to Amy, Goodbye laid on the love a bit too thick and mushy for many listeners; critics complained that they liked Vince better when he had some lonesome in his voice.
"I like the blue side of music as much as anyone else," Vince admits, "but I wasn't feeling that way when I made that record."
But now he feels like he’s got his musical mojo back in place. "This new record has let me get my imagination back,” he says. “ The songs are about all sorts of things — they are kind of all over the map." Indeed, "Whippoorwill River" tenderly celebrates the father-son bond and the high-kicking "Old Time Fiddle" salutes Cajun music, while "We Had It All" is a Latin-flavored lament for lost love. Song for song, Next Big Thing is perhaps Vince's most wide-ranging album.
To what does Vince owe this sudden burst of creativity? "I think being settled has allowed me to feel like my old self again," he replies.
Vince has eased nicely into a more relaxed, hassle-free lifestyle since his marriage to Amy. He has spent most of the last couple of years off the road, playing stay-at-home dad to Corrina as well as Amy's three children from her previous marriage.
He also stays close with his 20-year-old daughter Jenny, from his first marriage to Janis. Jenny sings harmony vocals with her dad on his new song "Whippoorwill River" and appears as one of the backup singers in the video for “Next Big Thing.” The proud pop says that Jenny is poised to become the "next big thing" herself.
"I think Jenny might follow in my footsteps," says Vince. "Her voice is better than mine was at that age."
Vince reveals that, this time around, he's approaching fatherhood with a new commitment. When Jenny was born, Vince was a still-struggling singer who constantly worked the road. "I was gone almost all the time," he remembers.
But since the early 1990s, Vince has become one of country's most honored superstars, with a record-breaking 18 CMA Awards and 15 Grammys. Now it would seem that he has little left to prove.
"I don't have to go out and work my face off for the next 20 years and all that," he says. "I don't have to miss out on so much. So it's a totally different mindset. The fact that I have the majority of my work behind me makes me really at peace."
There was a time, however, when he thought he'd never be at peace. The turmoil in his life began when Vince divorced Janis in 1997. Prior to that, he’d struck up what he has called "a great friendship" with Amy, who was married at the time to singer/songwriter Gary Chapman.
"She was just so engaging," Vince recalls. "Amy is one of those people who really tunes into you when you're having a conversation. We just hit it off immediately."
But some fans and media speculated that they were more than mere friends. Their appearances at industry functions and charity events, such as Vince's annual golf tournament, The Vinny, raised eyebrows and provided plenty of grist for the rumor mill.
"A lot of people said that our friendship was inappropriate," admits Vince. "We tried to walk a pretty high road during that time."
After Amy divorced Gary in 1999, she and Vince were free to pursue a romance. But after announcing their wedding plans, the rumors circulated with a frenzy — some claiming that Amy was already pregnant with Vince's child when they married. It took several months to finally quash the false stories.
In the fall of 2000, Vince announced that the couple was indeed expecting — the following March. "Anybody can do the math," Vince proclaimed. "That makes a year from the time of our marriage. This should put all the rumors to rest."
The stories caused him a bit of unrest, because Vince had always enjoyed the image of a clean-cut good guy who never rocked the boat or sought the spotlight for himself.
"I don't think anybody is ever prepared for that kind of attention," says Vince. "It's really odd. But it has always felt very odd to me, anyway. I always felt like a pure musician who just stumbled into becoming popular."
Ironically, though, Vince became popular by giving fans a glimpse into his personal life through his songs. For instance, the ballads "I Still Believe In You" and "Look At Us" stemmed from ups and downs in his marriage to Janis.
Vince's album Let's Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye was filled with emotional love songs, reflecting the joy he had found with Amy. One of the hits, "Feels Like Love," speaks about a man getting a "second chance" at romance.
"That's really what it felt like with Amy," Vince happily agrees.
And that joy has certainly continued as the couple enters their third year of marriage. They're a romantic, inseparable twosome — on and off stage.
In Christmas of 2001, Vince and Amy performed together on a holiday tour. Then last year, Vince helped produce Amy's album Legacy ... Hymns & Faith and joined her on a six-week concert tour, playing guitar in her band. In turn, Amy sings backup on a song called “In These Last Few Days” from Next Big Thing. That's especially poignant for Vince, as the song details a man looking back at his life.
"Being 46 years old gives me enough experience to be a little bit reflective," he says Vince. "I've lived enough to be able to have that kind of perspective."
The song recalls a couple of other tunes in Vince's past. In 1995, he wrote "Go Rest High On That Mountain" about the death of his brother Bob, and composed "The Key To Life" after losing his father in 1997. "I told those stories after the fact," he explains. "For 'These Last Few Days,' I decided to tell the story before the fact. It's all about looking back. But I'm also looking ahead, even if I do feel the impact of mortality."
Amy's impact on the album went beyond her vocal talents. "She's a real supporter," raves Vince. "Just having someone to bounce ideas off was important. I needed her input."
Vince smiles at the suggestion of even more collaborations with Amy.
"We don't have to all of a sudden become Sonny and Cher," he laughs. "You know, I don't think either one of us wants to do that, because we've both invested a lot of years into our own careers. But we'll occasionally do a thing or two together here and there."
That won't include Vince's upcoming Back 2 Basics tour, however. Vince is trying to keep that tour as intimate as possible, performing at small clubs instead of gigantic arenas. During the summer, he'll hit the road for a series of one-man acoustic shows. "Just me and my guitar," he affirms. "We'll just play songs that fans request."
It's part of a promise he made to himself after marrying Amy. "I vowed that I would never go out on the road the way I used to, where I was gone for long periods of time," says Vince. "I want to keep writing more. That where I think I made my greatest strides with this album, in the songwriting."
Vince had a hand in writing all 17 songs on Next Big Thing. One of the most touching — and telling — is the ballad "Someday," which he wrote with pop star Richard Marx. "It's about a person longing to find love," Vince explains. "Someday, he'll find it."
Clearly, Vince's "someday" came three years ago when he exchanged "I dos" with Amy. "She is the sweetest woman in the world," raves Vince. "I could not be happier."
And that happiness, that contentedness, allows Vince to be more in control of his life and his music than ever before.
"There is just a sense of calm inside me now," he says. "I'm reorganizing my priorities. I'm not going to let my career lead me around by the nose anymore. I worked awfully hard for an awful long time — and this time, I want to do it my way."