As legend has it around the Grand Ole Opry, Roy Acuff – the show’s patriarch and a member for well over five decades – once got a little bit upset with a certain newcomer to the business. In an interview earlier this year, Vince Gill recalled that moment.
“It was during a TV taping that we were doing out at the Opry. There was a cast of thousands, and it was stand around and wait – just like TV can be. So, I just laid down and fell asleep. I don’t really know if it bothered him or he was just commenting,” Gill said. Fortunately, once the singer released his 1990 smash “When I Call Your Name,” he had Acuff firmly on his side. Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry House, the show discarded its’ usual format to celebrate Gill’s silver anniversary as an Opry member. The evening began with a clip from the night Gill was inducted…..by none other than Acuff. “We were such great friends, and he was so kind to me. He loved what I did, and I just have so many memories of the conversations we had at the Opry.”
The night proved to be a celebration of the man who might very well qualify as the modern-day Marty Robbins. Whether it be Country, Pop, Rock, Bluegrass, or Western Swing, Gill can do it all – just like Robbins (though he never has done a Hawaiian song!). All throughout the show, many of Gill’s best friends and collaborators in the business stopped by to pay homage to the Country Music Hall of Fame member on the evening of his historic milestone.
The first guest during the evening was the angelic Ashley Monroe, who gave a female take on Gill’s 1994 hit “Tryin’ To Get Over You,” before teaming up with the singer, also her record producer, on “You Ain’t Porter (You Ain’t Dolly),” from her current album The Blade. Gill noted how proud he was of Monroe, and vowed to keep being a champion of such artists.
Next up was the legendary Bill Anderson. While “Whisperin’ Bill” has enjoyed close to 60 years of hits as a songwriter, in the early 1990s, he began to feel like the business had passed him by as a tunesmith. A friend suggested that he contemplate co-writing, and Gill was one of his first calls. He admitted that he was a little nervous in approaching the five-time CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, but as he got Gill’s answering machine (which began with the greeting ‘You’ve reached ‘Whisperin’ Gill’), he knew that he might have a shot. The two ended up writing a pair of songs during that session, with “Which Bridge To Cross (Which Bridge To Burn)” becoming a number one hit. Anderson performed the song as Gill sang harmony.
One of the next guests took Gill back in time to Fan Fair 1985. She stood in line to get the then-RCA recording artist’s autograph, telling him that she was about to sign a recording contract, and she would be singing with him soon. By 1988, Gill sang harmony on her first number one hit “Timber, I’m Falling In Love,” and the artist, Patty Loveless returned the favor two later with her harmonies on “When I Call Your Name.” As was par for the night’s course, Loveless assumed the lead on the CMA Song of the Year – as well as the song that took the prize four years later, “Go Rest High On That Mountain.” Performances have been far and few for Loveless the past couple years, but it’s more than time for a new record.
Longtime friend Rodney Crowell joined the singer to perform “Oklahoma Borderline,” which the pair wrote with their late mutual friend, Guy Clark, and delivered an exquisite version of “Till I Gain Control Again,” a 1982 hit for Crystal Gayle. The singer’s oldest child, Jenny, made an appearance to salute her father with “When Love Finds You” and the sweet “Jenny Dreamed Of Trains,” which Gill wrote with Clark for his 1997 album High Lonesome Sound.
Without a doubt – the evening’s highlight was when Gill’s wife, Amy Grant, came out to the stage. She joked about taking a copy of his I Still Believe In You disc from a friend who had “got the CD for buying three T-Shirts” – not knowing who he was. She immediately invited him to duet on their 1994 Pop hit “House Of Love,” that wound up sparking their romance and subsequent marriage. But, Grant saved her best moment for her second song, delivering an absolutely stunning performance of “Whenever You Come Around.”
Rounding out the evening was a presentation to Gill by the Opry’s Pete Fisher, an emotional tribute from temporary band member Charlie Worsham, and a fierce set from The Time Jumpers, the western-swing band that Gill is a part of every Monday night at Nashville’s 3rd and Lindsley. Gill also carried on the Marty Robbins tradition in another sense. The first show of the night – scheduled to end at 9pm, ran to about 9:40, which meant the second one didn’t begin until about 11pm. Needless to say, with the amount of great music and history taking place, I don’t think there were any complaints at all.
Earlier this year, when the Opry announced plans to honor Gill with such an evening, he said that words can’t describe what the WSM Radio show means to him.
“I love the spirit of that place, and the value of family that it feels like out there. I’ve made some great friends out there, and it was always inspiring when some of the old guard realized that you were reverent toward what they had done, that it meant something to them. I really do have a great respect for those people who were out there doing it before me.”