Before Vince Gill was one of country music’s biggest stars he was a member of a rock band.
Born in Norman, Oklahoma, Vince Gill grew up with a love for music that was instilled in him by his dad. Gill learned to play a variety of instruments at a young age and joined his first bad, Mountain Smoke, while still in high school.
Vince Gill and Pure Prairie League
For a few years after graduating high school in 1975, Vince hopped from band to band, even spending a brief amount of time in Ricky Skaggs’ Boone Creek Band. In 1978, Gill joined Pure Prairie League, a move that would set him on his path to success and give him national exposure for the first time.
According to longtime Pure Prairie League frontman and bassist, Michael Reilly, Vince Gill and Mountain Smoke opened for PPL when they played in Oklahoma City. Reilly recognized Gill’s talent and asked him to join the band.
“‘Do you want to join a rock ’n roll band?’ He said, ‘Nah, I’m a grasser, I’m a bluegrass player,'” Reilly recalled of his first encounter with Vince.
But roughly two years later, Pure Prairie League was auditioning guitarists and Vince went along with a friend who had hoped to get the gig. Gill was invited to “stick around and jam.” Gill agreed and joined them for an hours-long jam before finally agreeing to join the band. Reilly recalled recognizing Vince’s talent and the joy of seeing his long-term success as an artist.
“Talent like that is a God-given gift and it’s just unmistakable,” Reilly said. “It was just great watching Vince’s genesis starting out as a songwriter. He was also a brilliant player. We just had a gas having him the band…Whenever Vince is interviewed today, he’s always very gracious mentioning his day in Pure Prairie League as giving him his start.”
During the peak of their band’s success, they appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand (1980), The Merv Griffin Show (1981), and more. It was clear even then that Vince was well on his way to greatness.
A few years later the band appeared on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, a musical variety television show, where they performed one of their biggest hits, “Amie.” Vince’s hair is shorter, but he sports an impressive beard for this performance.
Vince Gill was with Pure Prairie League for 3 1/2 years and recorded 3 albums with them, but ultimately left to move to Nashville.
During the seven years after leaving Pure Prairie League, Vince was part of Rodney Crowell’s band, recorded a bluegrass album, and signed a solo record deal with RCA. But, after achieving only moderate success, the singer moved to MCA Records where he saw his debut album, When I Call Your Name, sell over a million copies in 1989.
As they say, “The rest is history.” Vince Gill went on to become one of the most successful country artists in history.
See Pure Prairie League’s interview with Dick Clark below.