Why Vince Gill Turned Down Mark Knopfler’s Offer to Join Dire Straits
Vince Gill was, by his own admission, a struggling artist before 1989's When I Call Your Name.
Despite a handful of successful stints in the late '70s and early '80s with acts like Pure Prairie League, Cherry Bombs and David Grisham, Gill's own albums had seen only moderate success. A light at the end of the tunnel came in the form of Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, who called Gill with the prospect of work.
Knopfler was embarking on a late '80s-era world tour and wondered if Gill might like to join the band. "It would've solved all of the financial problems I had," Gill said in a recent episode of Apple Music Country's I Miss … '90s Country Radio with Nick Hoffman, "and I thought about it and I adored the way he played, and thought about it and thought about it."
At the time, Gill was supporting himself mostly through odds and ends gigs. "I wasn't making any money to speak of," Gill told Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett on the Walking the Floor podcast in 2018. "Session work was keeping me alive, jingles and things like that."
Yet, in spite of the lucrative payday that would await him, Gill said he recognized the greater significance of ultimately turning the job down. "I told myself, I said, 'Man, if you do that, it'll be like throwing in the towel. You've worked so hard to try to be a country artist of some validity,'" Gill told Hoffman. "And if you do that, in my mind, it meant admitting failure – and that wasn't much of an option for me.
"So I called [Knopfler] and I said, 'Look, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm going to say no just because I think I have something to offer country music,'" Gill added. "And I hadn't recorded ‘When I Call Your Name,’ I don't think. It wasn't a hit. I didn't have it in my back pocket, nothing like that. I said, 'Look, Mark, if I don't believe in me, nobody else will. How can I expect somebody else to if I don't? So I'm sadly going to turn this down.'"
Gill later contributed backup vocals to "The Bug," from Dire Straits' 1991 album On Every Street. Gill's first chart-topping country single followed in 1992 with "I Still Believe in You." "I turned down the sure thing and bet on myself," he later remembered, "and it flipped right after that."
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