With its uplifting message of eternal life, Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on that Mountain” has long been considered a multi-platinum-selling artist’s masterpiece, the one he himself is confident he’ll be most remembered for.
And ever since its debut in 1994, it became a funeral and memorial service standard in the minds of many.
It Took Vince Gill Four Years To Finish Writing The Song
Gill began writing the song in 1989, after the death of country singer Keith Whitley due to alcohol poisoning. The last line of the first verse comes with the title of Whitley’s biggest hit, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.”
“I know your life on earth was troubled, and only you could know the pain. You weren’t afraid to face the devil. You were no stranger to the rain,” Gill sings.
But Gill can’t find the right melody for it, and since he was only a casual friend of Keith Whitley, he felt awkward about even writing the song. “And so I put it away,” he said.
Four years later, a heart-breaking death in his family made him finish the song. His older brother, Bob, died of a heart attack, and grief made Gill retrieve the snippet of lyrics. “Then the ‘go rest high on that mountain’ [chorus] came,” he recalled. “Then, the second verse was obviously about my brother’s passing, and so away it went.”
Still, Gill had no intention of ever recording the song, but when long-time producer Tony Brown heard it, he talked Gill into it.
“Go Rest High on that Mountain” debuted on Gill’s album When Love Finds You in 1994, and it was released as a single the next year. Though the song was only a modest hit on the Billboard chart, as it peaked at No. 14, it made a deep impression on fans and critics alike.
“When people are hurting the most, in the worst place they can be, they’re reaching out to that. To that song. And that means way more to me than where it landed on the charts,” Gill said.
The CMA and Grammy awards came in 1996, and Gill’s interpretation also earned him another Grammy that year for Best Country Male Performance. A year later, “Go Rest High on that Mountain” was named BMI’s most-performed song.
Twenty-Five Years Later, Gill Added A Verse to This Timeless Classic
Indeed, through the years, Gill has already lost count of the number of times he has sung “Go Rest on that Mountain” at “every hillbilly singer’s and friend’s funeral.” And it’s been that never-ending succession of performances, he said that eventually made him feel like something was missing.
“In all seriousness, as I looked at it as a piece of work, I thought it was unfinished in a way that a song should close the door and have an end and tell the whole story,” he said.
As legions of fans may know, the first verse is a sober acknowledgment of the end of a troubled life. The second verse, on the other hand, expresses grief at the same time assurance of life after death. Now, the new verse comes with the blessed promise of a happy reunion in heaven: “You’re safely home in the arms of Jesus. Eternal life, my brother’s found. The day will come I know I’ll see him. In that sacred place, on that holy ground.”
As much as “Go Rest High on that Mountain” means to its listeners, Gill said the song means even more to him — “so much more than they could ever comprehend.”
“You know, a hit song’s a hit song,” he said, “and people like it and they sing, and they dance to it, whatever. But when they lean on something you’ve done, that has a much deeper kind of connection. It’s so much cooler than any hit record I’ve ever had.”
You can watch Vince Gill’s performance of “Go Rest High on that Mountain” in the video below.