Growing up a budding guitar player, Vince Gill idolized Chet Atkins. That led him to discover the records that guitar wizard Atkins made with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Because of the association, the orchestra, says Gill, “were like rock stars to me.”
The Grammy-winning country star had the privilege of playing with his hero Atkins, and on Wednesday, he will realize a long-held dream when he joins the Boston Pops to kick off their season. “Getting to play with them is a very big deal,” he says by phone from his Nashville home.
It is but one of many, many deals that the singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer is making these days.
Opening Night at Pops with Vince Gill
The artist behind such hits as “Whenever You Come Around” and “Go Rest High on That Mountain” — a moving version of which he and Patty Loveless performed last week at George Jones’s funeral — is seemingly chasing every opportunity coming his way.
From a Christmas season tour with wife Amy Grant, to producing Ashley Monroe’s stunning recent album, “Like a Rose,” to performing at Eric Clapton’s all-star “Crossroads” benefit at Madison Square Garden one day, to his own all-star benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum “All for the Hall” in Nashville a few days later, no one can accuse Gill of getting lazy.
He even continues to hold down his regular gig almost every Monday night at the 3rd and Lindsley nightclub with the all-star instrumentalist collective the Time Jumpers, whose 2012 release was nominated for a Grammy. And he made a quick cameo on a recent episode of the ABC drama “Nashville.”
We caught up with the Oklahoma native to talk about playing with the Pops and all the other irons he has in the fire.
Q. Although this is your first time with the Pops, you have played with an orchestra before. Do you have a sense of which of your songs work best in this setting, to maximize the opportunity at hand?
A. I only have so many songs that are orchestrated. I’m bringing a very small band, and I prefer to really have it be about the beauty of the orchestra. It’s probably going to be all ballads. It will be a beautiful night where the orchestra will shine even moreso than I. I’m just going to be their lead singer for a night.
Q. Did you play in the orchestra or the school band as a kid?
A. A little bit. I took violin lessons as a little boy and played in grade school. They had a pretty good music program and you see less and less of that. As economics of school systems are struggling and hard to fund, you usually see the arts go first. That’s unfortunate. I took piano lessons and that’s the one thing I regret most, I think, in my life is that I quit. I got a mean teacher in sixth grade so I ran to play guitar. (Laughs.)
Q. Speaking of which, you recently played Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” guitar summit at Madison Square Garden with a slew of accomplished players like Albert Lee and Jeff Beck. Even at your skill level, do you get intimidated or are you just a kid in a candy store?
A. Everybody’s intimidated, that’s what’s freaky. (Laughs.) I’ve learned that every musician is insecure, for the most part, and I think everybody goes into that with great trepidation thinking, “An awful lot of great guitar players are going to hear me. I sure hope I play good.”
Q. So do you and Keith Urban employ the buddy system to support each other?
A. That’s what those things have been about more than anything else, camaraderie and collaborating. The first night I got up and played with Eric on two songs. So that makes it more fun. I never wanted to learn to play music to play by myself, that’s never been much fun. Every time you play with somebody, that’s the point. It’s like having a conversation. It’s hard to have a conversation by yourself. It’s the same thing with an audience. If they don’t respond and it’s a one-sided conversation, you’re left feeling deflated. You want it to go both ways, the same with playing music.
Q. A few nights later you did the “All for the Hall” benefit in Nashville, again with Urban, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, and more . . .
A. What’s really funny is to see the kids — you know, I call ’em kids, they wouldn’t like it but like a Jason Aldean or some of these guys — they turn around and see me playing from a total throwdown rock place, bending strings and all that stuff, and I can see the light going off in their eyes going, “Wow, I thought he was a country singer.” (Laughs) So that’s a fun night for me.
Q. I happened to catch a recent Time Jumpers set. You seem happy as a sideman as opposed to the star. Plus you all got nominated for a Grammy, that must have been gratifying for a group of journeyman musicians.
A. Heck yeah, that band is seriously great. The real beauty of what’s happened to me in playing with that band is that it’s made me a better guitar player over the last couple of years. I’m 56 and I’m still trying to figure stuff out, so playing that kind of music is a little different for me. It’s making me learn where swing and jazz and some of those things come together. I had a really fine guitar player that came to the show last night and she told me, “Your guitar playing is even better since you’ve been playing with these guys.” I’m getting to be what I always wanted to be, a guitar player.
Q. You’ve been working on a Merle Haggard-Buck Owens tribute album with your Time Jumpers pal, steel guitar player Paul Franklin. Where are you in that process?
A. It’s done. I think [record executive] Mike Dungan and the folks at Universal are going to put it out. It’s great news.
Q. And I hear you’re also at work on a bluegrass album?
A. I’m hoping so. I’m trying to get [fiddler] Stuart Duncan to help me make a great bluegrass record. We’ve been great friends [for many years]. And Mike wants [me to make] a record to go chase the country world with, so I’m going to start on that real soon. I’m in a pretty creative place these days and having an awful lot of fun. Life’s pretty great.