When Phil Vassar called me for this interview, I picked up on the first ring. Who wouldn’t for a country music superstar with 10 number one hits?
I saw Vassar years ago at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and he was electric. I sang along to hits “In a Real Love” and “Just Another Day in Paradise,” and I am still waiting to hear him sing my favorite, "Carlene.” (But maybe using my name instead? Hey, it could happen.)
I've missed Vassar on the radio, and was curious if he was still working. Turns out, he's been busy raising kids, touring Europe and filming his new series Songs from the Cellar. And to boot, his new album American Soul debuts this fall, his first in six years.
Although Vassar is known for his hits and phenomenal piano playing, listeners may not know that he is also the songwriter behind other hits, like Jo Dee Messina’s “Bye Bye” and “I’m Alright,” as well as Tim McGraw’s “My Next Thirty Years.” Vassar said that before he got a record deal, he wrote songs for other musicians. I asked if he had particular artists in mind when he wrote lyrics: “I never did—I never write a song thinking of someone else," Vassar says. "I write the song based on what I want to say." Although he writes most of his songs on his own, he enjoys collaborating with other writers. “A good collaboration is like a fun tennis match—lots of good shots volleying back and forth."
First and foremost, Vassar considers himself an entertainer. When he first started, being a piano player, as opposed to a guitarist, was a disadvantage in the country music industry. But Vassar explains that sometimes he feels that “the art of being an entertainer is long gone,” and noted his admiration for performer like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bob Hope and Wayne Newton. “Those guys had to act, sing, perform comedy—everything. Some of them won Academy Awards even when they were mainly singers. They had to really entertain.”
While Vassar has focused on raising his two daughters these past six years, he also started his own record label, Rodeowave. The Nashville-based artist has also had great success touring Europe. His next project is actually a television show airing on European-broadcasting network Sky called Songs from the Cellar, where Vassar and guest performers meet in his wine cellar and play together. “I’m really excited,” he said. “Guests include Charlie Daniels and Clint Black, and Brenda Lee will be joining me for a Christmas special.”
Performing is still Vassar’s passion, and he is looking forward to touring with new songs from his upcoming album. He's reached the best place an artist can be: Writing and creating without gauging the demands of the marketplace and country radio, which have been criticized in recent years for being formulaic, predictable and, often times, shamelessly commercial. As Vassar admits, "There is a lot of fluff."
Vassar says he feels it is a good time to do something new. “I am enjoying myself more than I ever have. It is very liberating to be artistic and write what I want to write. It doesn’t matter if it gets played, I just want to write what I feel is really good."
It is good to know that Phil Vassar, who has won so many awards as a singer and songwriter, is back on our radar. And for this country music fan, it's just another day in paradise.