Interview: Vince Gill talks The Time Jumpers, the Western swing supergroup’s new album and modern-day country music
A version of this story appears in Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman. To read more of my interview with Vince Gill, click here. Look for even more of my interview with Vince and my “The Time Jumpers” album review Friday.
The Time Jumpers carry forward the sound, spirit of Bob Wills
Oklahoma native Vince Gill, who is playing two home state shows this fall, is part of the 11-piece Western swing band, which released Tuesday its self-titled Rounder Records debut.
To hear Vince Gill tell it, the members of The Time Jumpers may not have stars in their eyes, but they have plenty of swinging songs in their hearts.
Western swing songs, that is.
“You know what the cool thing is? This is a band of people that have done this their whole lives. This is a band that we don’t have stars in our eyes; this is something we’re doing because we love it. And it’s really neat. It’s a neat project, it’s a neat band,” the Oklahoma native said in a recent phone interview from his home in Nashville, Tenn.
“It’s full of great musicians that just want to play great music. Do we want to get on a bus and go tour and have hits? Probably not. And is that gonna happen? Probably not. So, it’s really a win-win for us. You know, we’re having a ball.”
In an era when slick electric guitar odes to pickup trucks and catchy sing-along party anthems dominate mainstream country radio, The Time Jumpers are making music in the spirit of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Released Tuesday, the 11-piece Western swing band’s self-titled album also dabbles in other classic genres, from the smoky jazz torch song “Faint of Heart” to the bouncy cowboy song “Ridin’ on the Rio.”
There’s even yodeling.
“It’s really hardcore traditional country music that you don’t hear too much of anymore. Man, it’s a blast. The only thing you gotta watch is, you know, with an 11-piece band you gotta a lot of toes to worry about stepping on,” Gill said with a chuckle. “It’s an unbelievably talented bunch of musicians, so it’s a big step up for me musically to play with a band of this caliber and to play the music that I kind of grew up on back home.”
It doesn’t take much prompting for the Norman-born, Oklahoma City-bred singer/songwriter/musician to wax eloquent about The Time Jumpers’ throwback sound — from the triple fiddles and accordion to the upright bass and two electric guitars — or its superb lineup. For casual listeners, Gill’s may be the only instantly recognizable name in the group, but the Rounders Record bio that describes the band members as folks who have “made major contributions to the richness and vigor of country music” isn’t exaggerating.
For instance, Paul Franklin, whom Gill calls “arguably the best steel guitar player in the country these days,” earned a Country Music Association Award nomination last week for musician of the year, while singer/acoustic rhythm guitarist “Ranger Doug” Green fronts the Grammy-winning “comedy and Western” band Riders in the Sky.
“Everybody in this band has something that they do regular for their living for the most part. This is the kind of thing that’s born out of the love of the music,” said Gill, who is playing a benefit show Sunday at his alma mater, Northwest Classen High School, and headlining next month’s Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie.
The Country Music Hall of Famer’s solo career has yielded platinum-selling, chart-topping, Grammy-winning success, but he also has experience playing in bands, from Byron Berline’s Sundance and Ricky Skaggs’s Boone Creek to Pure Prairie League and Rodney Crowell’s Cherry Bombs.
“It’s always about just playing your best, being respectful of the other musicians and the democratic process and work of everybody banding together to make something good,” Gill said.
The Time Jumpers started out in Nashville in 1998 as an assemblage of stellar studio musicians who just wanted to play together. Since Monday evenings were the slowest of the week at the Station Inn bluegrass club, they were able to nab a weekly gig then and there. Put that much musical talent on one stage in Music City, though, and people will take notice. Earlier this year, the Western swing outfit made the leap from the Station Inn to the much larger 3rd & Lindsley nightclub in downtown Nashville to accommodate the crowds clamoring to see their Monday night shows.
Stars as bright and divergent as Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Kings of Leon The White Stripes, Bonnie Raitt, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Kelly Clarkson and Robert Plant have jumped at the chance to see The Time Jumpers.
Big-time musicians also have turned out to play with the band, and Gill started out sitting in with The Time Jumpers. He officially joined the group in 2010, and the ensemble recorded its new album in his home studio. The follow-up to their 2007 Grammy-nominated live album “Jumpin’ Time,” “The Time Jumpers” is the group’s first studio effort and Rounder Records debut.
“It’s still got a live spirit to it. Anything we did, we cut as an 11-piece band and did it live. Then, a fix or two here and there, but for the most part it’s live performances just captured in a studio setting,” Gill said.
Several of the band members wrote or co-wrote the album’s nine original songs, with Gill contributing five of the final 12 tracks. He and his cohorts didn’t want to simply cover old Wills tunes, but they tried to craft timeless songs in that vein.
“Like ‘New Star Over Texas’ is a new song but it sounds like it could’ve been written and recorded in the year of ‘Faded Love’ when it first came out. And that to me is the point is you can write new songs that really embody the spirit of that time,” Gill said. “We love Western swing, we love Bob Wills, we love really great old country songs like Ray Price shuffles.”
He added, “That’s to me the biggest difference these days with what country music has become and is in its most commercial and current state is none of those feels that happen on any of the new records are steeped very much in an old tradition. They’re totally different-feeling records. That’s not a knock on ‘em. They’re just different that’s all.”
Most modern mainstream country artists make music rooted in 1970s Southern rock or ‘80s arena rock sounds rather than the old-school country traditions he loves.
“It is what it is, and power to ‘em. They’re doing what they love. They’re doing what their calling is, and you can’t begrudge anybody for being musical in the way that speaks to them. It may not be your cup of tea — it’s not mine — but I still cheer ‘em on,” he said. “‘Cause that’s what they know, it’s what they love, so go, go, go,” Gill said.
Still, Gill would really cheer to see The Time Jumpers become an unlikely mainstream success.
“You could see it really blowing up in a big way, and it would be honest and it’d be really neat to see something like that happen for these guys. They’ve all been the sidemen for the most part in their whole careers, and this is a real chance for them to have their voice and have it be their way and have them be the focal point. It’s really neat to watch.”
VINCE GILL IN CONCERT
The Hudson Performance Hall at Northwest Classen High School grand opening benefit concert
Featuring: Vince Gill, The Mojo Men with Rick White and Bill Maxwell.
When: 2 p.m. Sept. 16 Sunday.
Where: Hudson Performance Hall, 2801 NW 27.
Tickets and information: 840-2146 or www.NWCFriends.org.
Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival
Featuring: Vince Gill, Kruger Brothers, Byron Berline Band and more.
When: Oct. 4-6.
Where: Festival grounds on Cottonwood Creek, State Highway 33 at U.S. 77, Guthrie.
Tickets and information: 282-4446 or www.oibf.com.
Coming Friday: Read more of Brandy McDonnell’s interview with Vince Gill and her “The Time Jumpers” album review in the Weekend Look section.