October 2, 2023

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Oklahoma native Gill writes song to honor late fiddle legend Berline

Vince Gill figures he made at least a million memories with Byron Berline over their five-decade friendship. 

So, that’s what the Country Music Hall of Famer named the new song he wrote to honor the passing of one of his mentors. 

“‘You took a chance on a kid out of nowhere’ is the first line of the song. It’s pretty sweet,” Gill told The Oklahoman. “‘We made a million memories from Telluride to Old Mexico.’ When you’re just telling the truth, it’s pretty easy to have it spill out and wind up in a song.”

‘A genuine Okie’:Byron Berline remembered for his musical prowess and encouraging words

Bluegrass players, from left, Vince Gill, Marc Cohen and Byron Berline are shown in a photo from the mid 1970s.

An Oklahoma music icon, Berline died July 10 from complications of a stroke he suffered in May. Berline, who marked his 77th birthday on July 6, was a legendary fiddler whose storied career ranged from recording with The Rolling Stones, Bill Monroe and many more to working on TV shows and movies like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Basic Instinct” to helping Gill get his start as a teenage singer and musician.

Gill will perform at Berline’s memorial service at 10 a.m. July 20 at Guthrie’s First United Presbyterian Church. The country music superstar said he probably will play his new song “A Million Memories” as a tribute to the man who gave him the most important job he was ever offered. 

“He was such a force, even before I got to play with him. He kind of was the gold standard of what bluegrass fiddling was supposed to be like,” said Gill, who performed the new song dedicated to Berline Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, where he also played his ode “Go Rest High on That Mountain.”

“It was so powerful to a young kid who’s trying to figure it out and get going when somebody that possesses that much talent thinks enough of you as a kid to say, ‘Hey, come out here and do this with us.'”

Country artist Vince Gill accepts his award honoring his induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1999. The award was presented by fellow inductee Byron Berline, right.

Teenage breakthrough

Gill and Berline first met at a bluegrass festival in Kentucky back in 1976, the year after Gill graduated from Oklahoma City’s Northwest Classen High School. 

“I played all those festivals around him when he was playing with the (band) Country Gazette. … They were always at the same festivals we played, and they were the kinds of guys that you never missed,” recalled Gill. “Some of my favorite lessons were watching them play.”