"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!"
Richard Milhous Nixon
When I do delve into the literary and musical arts, excepting a few early pieces on Hemingway, Dylan, and the Rolling Stones, I've always tried to keep this space reserved for somewhat under-the-radar acts that flat-out turn my crank.
This week's cases-in-point are a quite gifted virtuoso ensemble of the Western-swing persuasion who go by the moniker "The Time Jumpers" and their more well-known sidekick and cheerleader, Vince Gill.
At the time I originally dipped a toe into the murky waters and sub-genres of country music, I pretty much fit the bill of a '60s rock, blues, and jazz snob. Country, as we all knew back then, wasn't really anything we needed to waste our highly sophisticated ears upon.
The irony, of course, was that it was the rock, blues, and jazz music employed by country pickers and singers that first brought me around. By the time the whiplash had subsided, I was a dyed-in-the-wool shitkicker, a country music snob direct from the bunkhouse.
To hear me tell it, I went back to Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers. I could recite the various lineages of Rodgers to Frizzell to Haggard until the cows came home. My very earliest conversions, however, had been to the Western swing jazz of The Light Crust Doughboys, Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, and Spade Cooley.
By the time I got my grubby mitts on albums by "Asleep at the Wheel" and "Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen," a couple of the early '70s practitioners of the art form, there was no turning back.
Vince Gill, I must admit, totally knocked me out the first time I saw him. As a then-member of the country-rock band Pure Prairie League, guitarist and vocalist Gill rocked ParkWest to the top of the Iron Horse double-chairlift. He flat-out had the joint a-jumpin'!
"Vince Gill will be a rock star of the highest order!" I howled from my concert review in the following edition of "The Newspaper," a local rag that would later merge with the The Park Record. Nothing new there! As you can tell, hyperbole and misplaced genres have always been part of my prose entourage.
Gill, of course, would go on to become a "country" star of the highest order. His ever-so-subtle guitar and vocal chops evolved to the point where he had few, if any, peers. Not to mention the emotional quality he reads into some of the coolest lyrics coming out of Nashville and beyond.
He's more comfortable, of course, talking about The Time Jumpers than about himself. Not unlike Wynton Marsalis, who, after introducing the next selection, always returns to his seat in the trumpet section of "The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra," Vince Gill is well aware of his place among those he calls "the best musicians in Nashville."
As polished as he is, ol' Vince is just another superstar in a supergroup when he travels with this bunch. You really shouldn't hold the fact that he has won 20 Grammys against him when he's pickin' and grinnin' with friends who are just out for fun and are talented enough to make everything they do seem effortless.
Although I've had their DVD "Jumpin Time" on my shelf for a spell, Saturday night, when the St. Regis Big Stars Bright Nights concert series wraps up for the summer at the Deer Valley Snow Park Amphitheater, will be my first chance to catch them live and, let's just say, I'm stoked. This is the real deal!
To hear an 11-piece Western-swing band of this magnitude have their way with such classics as Honeysuckle Rose, Blues for Dixie, Route 66, Roly Poly, South of the Border, Embraceable You, Cherokee Maiden, All of Me, Caravan, my Window Faces the South and at least a dozen or so more has me lickin' my chops.
It's the music that came out of the dance halls and clubs of Texas, Oklahoma, and California during the 1930s and '40s and in the hands of these masters it has never sounded fresher. It's the wedding of classic country and classic jazz and classic blues and it don't get much better than that!
Thanks to the Park City Institute for a great season of highly eclectic musical fare on the hillside of lower Deer Valley this summer. And there couldn't be a classier outfit to end this wonderful run than Vince Gill with The Time Jumpers.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.