Vince Gill: Humble Country Star

Vince Gill
In the words of his song, the sun seems to shine on Vince Gill.

CBS News Correspondent Rita Braver found it could be because he's made a career out of being a nice guy.

Whether coaching at the "Mini-Vinny"— his annual free golf clinic for kids — or appearing on stages across the country, Vince Gill is known for his easy-going style and his smart, cut-to-heart-of-the-matter lyrics.

One article referred to him as the "hillbilly intelligencia."

"I couldn't even spell it, let alone define it," Gill laughs.

But behind the self-effacing manner is a keen wit that comes through stronger than ever on his latest album — especially in the title song, "The Next Big Thing."

"It's not only poking fun at everybody trying to find out what's the next craze is going to be, but its also as much about being able to look in the mirror and poke fun at yourself," he explains.

Vince Gill has been a big thing in country music for a long time. He's won 15 Grammy Awards and 18 Country Music Association honors — including twice being named Entertainer of the Year. He won Song of the Year four times.

He says the song "Go Rest High on That Mountain" is precious to him because he wrote it for his brother. And "I Still Believe in You," was special because it was a collaboration with Ricky Skaggs and Steve Warner, which was written by Gill and John Jarvis.

Along with the fame, Gill has a fair share of fortune, including his house in an upscale area of Nashville, Tenn.

"[The house] is neat and its paid for," he says. "So, even if I never sell another record, I've got a place to live."

At age 46, Gill still seems a bit surprised about how his life has turned out. To hear him tell his story, it's been an almost accidental career.

"I didn't have big dreams of stardom," Gill explains. "[It] all just kind of fell into place as the years went on."

He recalls not having a career goal. Gill says his music just evolve over time.

He grew up in Oklahoma — his dad a judge and his Mom a homemaker. Virtually self-taught, Gill mastered the guitar while still in high school. And singing just came naturally for him.

"From early on, when I was 17 or 18 years old, I never worried about making a living," Gill says. "I played well enough so that I can do a little bit of everything. And I'll always have the ability to work."

Gill started out in bluegrass and country. But before long, he moved to California to join a rock group called "Pure Prairie League." The group had some top ten hits, including "Let me Love You Tonight."

But Gill didn't like touring 250 days a year. So he quit and moved to Nashville at the urging of a very important fan, who spotted Gill playing a gig.

"Vince has the smoothest voice," Tony Brown says. "It's like it's got a texture that is just unbelievable."

Brown is now one of the most successful producers in country music. But, Vince Gill was one of his first "finds."

"Gill helped me make my breakthrough," Brown says. "He was bound to make it, eventually. I mean how could you keep someone that good down."

It took a few years and a few flops, but in 1990, "When I Call Your Name," which was first recorded with Patty Loveless, was a No. 1 hit on the country charts.

It's the tale of man who wanders through an empty house searching for his lover, who had left — leaving only a note.

Gill followed the song with a string of hits such as the rousing "Liza Jane" and the romantic "Look at Us," which quickly became a staple of anniversary parties.

Gill says it was odd to suddenly be in the spotlight.

"I tell the story on stage all the time about these two little old ladies," he says. "I'm walking through the mall and I'm coming to meet them and one turns and looks at me and does a double take. And she punched her friend. She said, 'That looked like Vince Gill.' And the other woman never even turned around and looked, she just said, 'he wishes!'"

His new album has lots of those wistful laments Gill became famous for. The musician says he loves the blues aspect of music. But, he says most of the songs he performs are not autobiographical.

"Most people would be dead if all the songs were true," he says. "I really think that the craft is about having a great imagination and being able to tell a story for three minutes."

But the story of his romance with Amy Grant could be the stuff of a Vince Gill song. He says there was an innocent connection with Grant when he first her. They were both in separate relationships, but they did become friends.

"I remember telling him, 'God, if I had just been a guy, we would've been best friends,'" Grant says. "That's really how I thought."

They both ended up leaving their first marriages, and their friendship blossomed into love. They were married in 2000 to the consternation of some in the world of Christian-country music, where Amy Grant began. Some stations even stopped playing her music.

They say the controversy and treatment they got from their marriage was hard to handle sometimes.

"It was people attacking my character and attacking her character," Gill says. "It was just awful to watch … and I just want to stick up for her, and say, 'Man, how can you say this?'"

Together, they weathered the storm. They're now the proud parents of two-year-old Corrina. They all go on the road together. Gill sometimes plays guitar in Grant's band, and she joins his concerts.

After almost 30 years in the business, Vince Gill takes his music very serious, but not himself.

He says, "It's fun to finally get to that place where you can look back and go, 'Boy, was I an idiot when I was 20. Boy was I an idiot when I was 30.' I'm still at idiot at 46, but it's fun to write about it,"

Gill says after 30 years of performing, he would like people to say his music was decent. But, whether he likes it or not, Vince Gill will be remembered for some of the biggest hits in the history of country music.