Some years back, when Vince Gill wrote a song he titled “Forever Changed,” he couldn’t have envisioned the #MeToo movement.
The song hasn’t yet been released, but a couple key performances — last December at a concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and again in February at the Country Radio Seminar (also at the Ryman) — put “Forever Changed” on the map.
It’s a song, Gill explained to the CRS crowd, about a gym teacher who “acted inappropriately” toward him in seventh grade. He wasn’t abused, but the teacher tried. For the song, Gill took that experience and did what good songwriters do: make personal experiences into universal ones, or at least something everyone can understand and empathize with.
“You put your hands where they don’t belong/And now her innocence is dead and gone,” Gill sings. “She feels dirty, she feels ashamed/Because of you, she’s forever changed.”
“I remember when I first wrote it,” Gill says by phone from his tour bus, on the way to playing a concert in Clearwater, Fla. “I sang it at a soundcheck, and this person who was in my band completely fell apart. She ran off the stage crying, and she found me later and said, ‘How did you know? That’s my story.’”
Emboldened by current events, many women — and men, too — are telling their #MeToo stories. The time for “Forever Changed” has finally come, Gill decided. He’s recorded it for his as-yet-untitled new album, which likely will be released early next year.
“It’s a good thing that people are finally finding the courage to speak up,” Gill says. “The results aren’t always to everybody’s favor, but at least the conversation is getting started.”
As for being a songwriter willing to take on such a difficult subject, he says, “If you get to uncover some hard stuff in people’s lives and give them a little bit of peace, I think the song serves its purpose.”
Gill, a Country Music and Songwriters Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member and 21-time Grammy Award winner, is coming off an incredible year that mostly saw him onstage as part of a band he had idolized: the Eagles. He was tapped to join the group after the death of Glenn Frey, who, like some other members of the band, had become Gill’s friend.
“It was a great experience,” he says. “I knew them well enough as my friends, and I knew the records that they made and that they would like (my performance) to be just so — everything to the letter. So there weren’t any big surprises.”
Gill, who in concert sang Eagles classics including “New Kid in Town,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take It to the Limit,” had expected some backlash from diehard Eagles fans, but he had to let what little came his way roll off his back.
“I don’t have any false illusions that I’m going to sing something better than Glenn or better than (former Eagles bassist) Randy (Meisner),” he says, adding with a laugh, “There are still people who are mad that (Meisner) isn’t in the band, and he’s been gone for 40 years!”
As it turns out, Gill’s high, honeyed tenor voice was just what the Eagles needed. And while his guitar playing is almost as renowned as his singing, he hasn’t been called on much to solo with the Eagles, who already have guitar aces Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith in the lineup.
“They don’t need one more shredding guitar player,” Gill admits. “The songs don’t all have that much solo-minded stuff in them, and the ones that do have these specific, iconic, memorable, well-thought-out guitar parts that are already taken. Just because I can play doesn’t mean that I need to.”
Gill is scheduled to tour Australia and the U.K. with the Eagles in the new year but says he doesn’t know what plans the band has beyond that. He remains eager to be a part of them if and when he’s called upon, though.
Gill had been scheduled to perform in November at the Stifel Theatre, but he canceled due to illness. The show has been rescheduled for Feb. 1.
As for his forthcoming album, Gill says, “It’s very different. I don’t even know how to describe it other than I’m just kind of speaking the truth without trying to do a three-minute song with a big hook and background singers and lots of solos and overkill.
“There’s a song on there about a guy that kills his father for being abusive; there’s a beautiful apology to my mom; there’s two songs about (his wife, singer) Amy (Grant) that are based in a faith-minded place; there’s a song about equality and a song about being honest.”
And, of course, there’s “Forever Changed.”
“I’m not saying (the album) is political in any way, shape or form,” he adds. “But it’s not afraid of talking about some subjects that are generally not much out in the forefront in music.”
If he wasn’t busy enough being in the Eagles and working on his own music, Gill still performs whenever possible in the Western Swing band the Time Jumpers, which has a standing Monday night gig at the club 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville, Tenn. And he’s happy to sit in on other artists’ records. Gill estimates he’s played on a thousand or more.
“It’s something I’ve always loved doing and will always continue to love doing,” he says. “I’m just grateful people still call. It’s interesting when you get some years on you. You want to stay relevant, and when people reach out and want you to be a part of something, it feels pretty special.”
What Vince Gill • When 7:30 p.m. Friday • Where Stifel Theatre, 1400 Market Street • How much $56.50-$72 • More info 1-800-745-3000; ticketmaster.com