Think you’ve heard that old maroon song, “Danny Boy,” more than enough times? Yes, so is Vince Gill.
So what possessed him to include it on his latest album? Who cares? All you really need to know is that this song, performed by one of country’s GOAT voices, will leave you sighing and wiping away tears.
Even the usually self-effacing Gill admits he was impressed. “I’ve been singing for a long, long, long, long time on many records — 50 years,” says the 66-year-old Hall of Famer, “and I sang a few notes on that recording that are some of my favorite notes I’ve ever hit. It was just the sound – the little bit of controlled vibrato and everything about it – that really moved me, and I wasn’t expecting that.”
Of course, country fans live for moments like this, and Gill, moreover, lives for them. Fortunately for the rest of us, that’s why he keeps doing it.
Paul Franklin and Vince Gill.
This time, “Danny Boy” sits among 10 other equally sublime tracks on Gill’s latest collaboration with his frequent musical partner, virtuoso steel guitarist Paul Franklin: Sweet Memories: The Music of Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys.
On Friday, the two men learned one of those songs, “Kissing Your Picture (Is So Cold),” nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. There’s no doubt that its title is a throwback to another era in country music: Price originally released the song in 1958. But both Gill and Franklin insist that — while they belted it out with conviction — songwriter Mel Tillis, another country legend, likely had his own stuttering tongue in cheek. “He was such a comedian,” Franklin says.
Sweet memories is Gill and Franklin’s second joint album, after 2013 Bakersfield, which featured music by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. While both projects fall into the “tribute” album category, they’re much more of a playground for the two men’s prolific — and like-minded — musical minds. “Fun” is a word that keeps coming up when talking about the album. It was fun, they say, discovering and learning new music, fun choosing songs, fun going into the studio and combining their unique voices, Gill’s sweet tenor and Franklin’s smooth steel.
The sound of those bent strings, says Gill, “resembles the human voice the most, and I think that’s why I’m so drawn to it.” I love the sound of the instrument with my voice.” Franklin loves Gill back. “His voice is like a musical instrument,” says the 69-year-old musician, who has played on Gill’s recordings since “When I Called Your Name,” his first big hit. “It’s immaculate and as clean as you can get.”
Choosing Ray Price’s music was also fun for the two men, but it was also an act of love. Both are lifelong fans deeply influenced by the country legend and his top band, the Cherokee Cowboys, and both knew Price personally. In Gill’s legendary career as an artist, guitarist and songwriter, they met their hero several times, and Gill and Franklin contributed to his latest album, Beauty is… Final Sessions, recorded in 2013 shortly after Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died in December of that year at the age of 87.
Today, Price’s name isn’t usually mentioned alongside Willie, Waylon, Jones and Haggard, but Gill points out that Price was among their big inspirations — and the one who “took all those cats under his wing.”
“There’s a great history of Ray having the respect of all these people because of the way he sang,” says Gill. “They’d tell you, man, that’s the guy. That’s the singer over there.”
In fact, Willie Nelson, who briefly played bass in Price’s band in the early 1960s, created his own tribute album in 2016, with Gill and Franklin appearing on several of its tracks. Nelson mostly drew from Price’s hit parade, including his groundbreaking shuffle, “Crazy Arms” (its swinging 4/4 beat soon took over country); his painful “Make the World Go Away”; his smooth countrypolitan “For Good Times”; and the Nelson-penned masterpiece, “Night Life,” with its distinctive steel intro.
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When Gill and Franklin conceptualized their album, they intended to dive deeper than Nelson into Price’s catalog. To help them in their search, they enlisted walking country encyclopedia Eddie Stubbs, a longtime DJ at the Grand Ole Opry’s main station WSM.
“He was bringing us songs we’d never heard before,” Franklin recalls. “I thought I was making a deep study of Ray Price, but I quickly realized I had no idea.”
Sweet memories of Vince Gill and Paul Franklin.
Universal Music Group
After making their selections, Gill and Franklin did more research, only to discover that the songs were written by an impressive list of other country greats, including Tillis, Hank Cochran, Marty Robbins and Bobby Bare — all Country Music Hall of Famers.
“The fact that we picked these legends blind means we might have an idea of how to pick a good song,” Franklin says with a gleeful laugh. “But they stand out as writers. There was something that they did, just their simplicity in delivering a really powerful message. That’s why they’re in the Hall of Fame.”
The songs span 20 of perhaps the most influential years of Price’s more than six-decade career, and all exude the traditional sound that goes to the core of Gill and Franklin’s hearts. The oldest, 1951’s “Weary Blues from Waitin’,” was written by Hank Williams (with uncredited help from Price, who toured with the country honky-tonk keystone). The musical journey ends with the title track “Sweet Memories,” Price’s Mickey Newbury-penned cover of Andy Williams’ 1971 pop classic. (Nelson placed it on the country chart in 1979.)
Only three songs — “One More Time” (1960), “Danny Boy” (1967) and “You Wouldn’t Know Love” (1970) — reached the top 10 in country, and none were hits. number 1.
The old friends approached the selection process selflessly, each looking for songs that offered the other a chance to shine. That’s how “Danny Boy” ended up on the list. Gill decided on the song as one that would give Franklin a steely moment like the one Price’s “Night Life” is known for.
“I thought, if we make the right changes to this, we can make ‘Danny Boy’ a new showpiece for steel guitars,” recalls Gill. “It was more about the steel guitar having that presence that was reminiscent of ‘Night Life.’ And so I said, yes, I think I can sing it. I’ve never tried to sing it, but I will.”
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Not that he didn’t know the potential power of the century-old song — something that was reinforced by meeting Price himself. Gill enjoys talking about the exchange between the two when they split the bill at a long-ago private event.
“Ray came off the stage and just killed them,” says Gill. “They were in the palm of his hand, and he was going to do an encore – kind of thinking about it. I walked up to him and said, ‘Man, if you were doing ‘Danny Boy,’ you’d kill them. He looked at me and said, “Son, you want blood, don’t you?”
Price’s version is grand, while Gill and Franklin’s is more intimate. Recorded with all the musicians in the studio (a rarity these days), it turned into a unique moment for Franklin as well.
“I’ve been a fan of Vince Gill since I met him 40 years ago, and I thought I’d heard him sing almost every style of music,” Franklin says, “but when he started singing this traditional song, it was like he went to another place. There was a spiritual conversation with the band. I look back on my career and there are magical moments, and that was one of those moments where everything came together.”
Gill is now on tour with the Eagles and Franklin is busy touring and working in the studio – his latest appearance is on George Strait’s upcoming album – but both are eager to create more magical moments together. They fully intend to turn their two tribute albums into a series, and they don’t want to wait a decade to work on the next release, as they did with this one.
Their short list includes artists they idolized and had a history with: George Jones, Conway Twitty and Little Jimmy Dickens. Franklin appeared on several of Jones’ albums. Gill sang harmony on Twitty’s recordings, toured with Twitty and Jones, and he and Dickens were Opry buddies.
“So there’s a deep connection behind all of this,” says Gill, “and there’s a thoughtfulness behind it. You want to honor the people you love the most. It’s a good way to live, you know.”
Links: Vince Gill Hits a New High on His Latest Album: ‘I Never Expected It’ (Exclusive) – Tekmonk Bio, Vince Gill Hits a New High on His Latest Album: ‘I Never Expected It’ (Exclusive) – Kungfutv, Vince Gill Hits a New High on His Latest Album: ‘I Never Expected It’ (Exclusive) – Hot News