In today’s Washington Post, Vince Gill explains how he’s found happiness in the Time Jumpers, a group of elite studio musicians who assemble each week in Nashville to play Western swing, a dialect of country music made famous decades ago by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. (The Time Jumpers headline the Birchmere in Alexandria on Wednesday.)
And man, they’re good. So, so good. The 11-piece band’s jaw-dropping performance in Nashville last Monday night put their storied chemistry front and center, as members traded solos with an improvisational bravado more commonly experienced in jazz clubs than honky-tonks.
Backstage between sets, a few of the Time Jumpers explained how they do it.
Larry Franklin, fiddle
“I’ve only been in the band three-and-a-half years and we’ve only had one rehearsal. We’re all studio musicians with several other careers going, so when we get to do this, it’s like going back to our roots. Collectively, everyone is amazing on their own, but together, everyone is listening to each other. Nobody’s trying to be the star. So you do like a boxer — you pick your moments to stick and move. This is a band of listeners. When it needs something, you add it.”
“Ranger Doug” Green — guitar, vocals
“Each one of these guys is a genius and you can just feel the energy go back and forth, solo to solo. It’s not competitive. It’s not one of those cutting contests. Everybody is pulling for everybody else to do the best they can and enjoy what they’re hearing.”
Dawn Sears, vocals
“To me, this is the cream of the crop. And every night I get to play with them. You might hear the same songs, but you never hear the same ride from anybody. Everyone is so talented and seasoned, you never hear the same thing twice.”
Billy Thomas, drums, vocals
“For this band, I went out and bought a complete 1964 set of Gretsch drums and it makes me play differently. A different instrument. And the bass drum head has the band’s name on it. I’m into it! And you get 11 musicians up there and you get these dynamics. I love it.”
Joe Spivey, fiddle
“We don’t do a set list so we really don’t know what’s going to happen next. There’s always that air of excitement. The biggest challenge is waiting those six days before you get to do it again. Everything else is like falling off a log. I’ve never been in a band so devoid of ego and self-importance and all those little pitfalls that lesser and larger organizations have fallen prey to. We’re real lucky. Everybody just loves everybody. It’s weird! It’s hard to find five people that can hang. You find 11 people that love each other? That doesn’t happen much.”
During the band’s second set, Gill announced that he had just been rehearsing for his CMA Awards show performance with Taylor Swift. Someone in the crowd let out a “Boooo.” Gill responded with a defense of Swift that was as refreshing as it was unprintable. The next night, during an interview about his life and career, Gill shared his thoughts on Swift and country music’s generation gap.
Vince Gill, guitar
“I love Taylor. Does she make me think of Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells? Never. But that’s okay. She has something that’s so compelling, people are drawn to it and you can’t deny that. That’s what makes it great. I don’t think she’d stand there with a straight face and tell you, “I can sing like Mariah Carey.” She doesn’t have to. History is full of people that weren’t knock-your-socks-out-I’m-the-greatest-singer-that-ever-lived. But she connects. And that’s what I like. I love things that connect to people. There are people who can play me under the table, sing me under the table. But there’s nothing about them that’s going to move somebody. That’s the point of anything musical. To have a conversation.”