DIARY - 16 FEBRUARY 2010 - PHIL VASSAR INTERVIEW
VASSAR - NO PIANIST ENVY
down Broadway with a smile on my face/Nashville has music all over the
place/honky tonks line the street/man it's a symphony of big dreams and
dive bars/cold beer and tip jars, rising stars/now I love guitars."
- Where Have All The Pianos Gone - Phil Vassar-James T Slater
Phil Vassar had one small problem that became a big plus when writing
for his fifth album Travelling Circus.
The Blue Ridge Mountains born balladeer noticed guitars and drums had
drowned out the pianos of his youth in the country genre.
So Vassar, 45, turned his trauma into a tune - Where Have All The Pianos
"I wrote the song with James Slater, who's a really good friend,"
Vassar revealed on the eve of his first Australian tour in March.
"And he's another piano player and a great songwriter. And we were
talking this one day about Billy Joel, Elton John, Ray Charles, Jerry
Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, Barry Manilow, Ronnie Milsap - the list just
went on and on. Think about all those guys and how many great piano guys
there were. Lionel Richie is another. The first song I ever learned was
Easy Like Sunday Morning. I was just a kid. We asked one-another,
'Where have all the piano players gone?' And out of that, came the song.
And it's a really cool song. And I don't know if it would have ever made
another record if it wasn't up for me to do it."
days a week he's a man on a mission/ he's the redneck Picasso of the manual
transmission/ the only man in town who can make Charlie Vincent's van
go." - Athens Grease - Phil Vassar-Steve Mandle-Jerry Vandiver.
in Australia to perform at the third CMC Rocks The Snowy festival
at Thredbo on March 5 and 6 after a European tour that embraces England,
Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Italy.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Vassar divorced father
of two daughters Haley, 10, and Presley, 5, revealed.
"And I finally got the chance to do it."
It's a new frontier he wants to conquer to expand on a career that reaches
back to when he grew up in Lynchburg where his dad worked in a factory
and sang in clubs at weekends.
His father, now deceased, also owned a restaurant where he performed as
Phil worked tables.
At high school Vassar taught himself to play music on a borrowed piano
between twice daily football practices.
He didn't own a piano until moving to Nashville in 1987 and combining
performing and songwriting.
By 1995 he toiled as a barman for eight years and earned enough to buy
the Hard Day's Night Club restaurant in Music City suburb Hickory Hollow.
The clientele ranged from bikie gangs to Music Row executives who sampled
the Italian food and the live music.
''It was packed all the time. It was like Cheers with a band,'' Vassar
One patron - whose father was pop singer Engelbert Humperdink - asked
him for a demo tape of his songs.
Humperdink recorded Every Once in a While - a song Vassar wrote
with one of his bartenders.
'I never wanted to have a meteoric beginning because where do you go from
there?," Vassar recalled.
"I always wanted to have a career.''
His publishing deal led to a recording deal with Arista - home to Alan
Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, The Tractors and other major artists.
His gold 2000 self-titled debut disc won him a CMA nomination for its
prestigious Horizon Award in 2001.
That CD yielded #1 single Just Another Day in Paradise and Top
Ten hits Carlene, Rose Bouquet, Six-Pack Summer and That's When
I Love You.
lousy at math, failed historian/ Carlene was the valedictorian/I was the
quarter back in the back of classes/she was the whiz kid in horned rim
glasses." - Carlene - Phil Vassar.
A TV special
on super model Cyndi Crawford - inspired Carlene - a semi biographical
tune on his second album American Child in 2002.
who shared sporting and piano pedigree with Mike Reid, punted by
rhyming valedictorian with failed historian.
He has since charted 19 singles on Billboard including In a Real
Love - another #1 hit.
Vassar also wrote many smashes for other artists.
They include Tim McGraw's For a Little While and My Next
Thirty Years, Jo Dee Messina's Bye, Bye and I'm Alright,
Collin Raye's Little Red Rodeo and Alan Jackson's Right
on the Money.
In 1999 Vassar was named ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year.
He won ASCAP Country Artist/Songwriter for 2001, 2000 Billboard
New Country Artist and Music Row magazine Breakthrough Artist of
Year for 2000.
also composed Live For Today - NBC Today Show theme that scored
him a Emmy nomination.
writing music for a Broadway play - the theatrical production of Waitress,
an independent 2007 movie about a small-town server in the midst of a
"It's such a great story," Phil revealed.
"We're staying as close as we can to it."
OF A COMMON MAN
I was 17 I shook Joe Namath's hand/once I won karaoke singing Piano Man/one
time in Vegas I won me 700 bucks/that's all cool stuff but it don't measure
up." - Ultimate Love - Phil & Julie Vassar.
many peers, he was lost in the shuffle about five years ago and dumped
from Arista after seven years and three albums.
The last was 2004 disc Shaken Not Stirred - before an obligatory
Vassar released his fourth album Prayer of a Common Man - his first
for Universal South in 2008.
The separation from Arista was tough, Vassar admits.
"Everybody at Arista - they're my friends. But leaving wasn't on
harsh terms or anything like that at all."
Then there's the plus side of switching labels.
"Sometimes, in our business," he observes, "particularly
as an artist, it's probably good to shake it up a little bit and change
things around. I've seen it do wonders for a lot of people. I've seen
Vince Gill do well and Toby Keith. Some artists just sat there at their
original label a little bit and then went somewhere else with renewed
hope and vigour. It's a fresh start, a clean slate. It's a good thing,
and I love it."
Vassar wrote or co-wrote 10 of 12 songs on Prayer - two of them
with his former wife, Julie.
The couple divorced in 2007 and Vassar admitted their breakup echoed in
The Vassar couple co-wrote four songs including pungent Ultimate Love
on American Child.
man is faithful to his woman/cause that's what he saw his daddy do/in
a world where love and heroes fade away/I wanna be John Wayne." -
John Wayne - Phil Vassar-Tom Douglas.
this time Vassar took complete creative control for recording his
That included song and writer choice.
Co-writers include Jeffrey Steele, Kelley Lovelace, Charlie Black,
Craig Wiseman, Tim Nichols and Kenny Chesney.
Vassar recorded the album over a five-month period - then he culled
his original list of 25 songs to 11.
It doesn't bother him he records more songs than he uses on each album.
"The cool thing about it is that a good song, hopefully, will
stick around forever," he says.
"They never go bad. You can always come back to them."
Vassar also honoured his band by using them on the album on which
he is sole producer.
produced every record I've ever done, but I've always done it with someone
else," he says.
"I thought it was time to get with the guys, go in and just do this
record ourselves. We have our own way of doing things."
He also enlisted
his own band instead of relying on studio musicians as he did before.
"I think studio musicians are the best in the world," he confessed.
"But when you've got the same guys playing on everybody's records
with same producers, I don't care how good they are, they're going to
play the same stuff. I thought what I really want to do is get a really
live sound. People come to see us and say, 'You're incredible live.
So why call his album The Travelling Circus?
"It's just kind of what I've always called our band every time we've
hit the road for the last 10 years," he explained.
"If you know our guys, you know why I call it that. It's a fun bunch."
to think that I'm all right/ that I'm not empty every night/ without your
touch, to fill me up/ and I don't miss your face, beside me on that pillowcase/
but I still do, but I won't reach for you/ a year from now." - A
Year From Now - Phil Vassar-Jeffrey Steele.
for Vassar, just as his album was being released in mid-December in the
holiday season, his label - Universal South - underwent upheaval.
It united with Toby Keith's Show Dog Records to form the Show Dog-Universal
"It was mayhem," he recalls.
Travelling Circus debuted at #29 - a modest start - so his international
touring is vital.
Vassar says he counts as a plus he's on a label that includes Keith and
The record previously had a February release date on it but was moved
forward into December.
"I don't know, that's a record-label thing," Vassar confessed.
"It wasn't my choice, that's for sure. We've got a song just coming
up the charts right now. But when you're on a big label, they have their
own agenda and it's rarely the artist's agenda. It seems rushing it a
bit if you ask me, but it's their decision. That's just what we're going
through. But we're dealt what we're dealt and you just go out and do it."
A Year From Now is one of the album highlights.
there on the beach/ I'll never forget when you said you loved me."
- I Will Remember You - Phil Vassar-Kenny Chesney.
I Will Remember You with Tennessee born superstar Kenny Chesney many
"One of us was going through a break-up," Vassar said.
"I don't remember which one of us. I think it was him. It's a really
good song. I just hadn't found a spot on one of my previous records."
Vassar's disc traverses a wide variety of emotions.
They take on doing the best with the hand you're dealt Lemonade,
living with bittersweet memories Everywhere I Go, A Year From
Now, being an everyday hero in John Wayne, watching a child
grow up in She's on Her Way and keeping romance alive in Save
Tonight for Me.
There's also the alcoholic escape of the Jimmy Buffett flavoured Tequila
Town, penned with Kelly Lovelace.
But Vassar wrote the powerful entrée song Life solo.
"Baby, you and me we're gonna drink it all up," he chants, "make
a lot of love and have a little fun called life."
Now he makes every minute a momentous milestone.
"Life is precious, man," says Vassar.
"And every day I realise that more and more. Take what's going on
in Haiti. Life's so fragile. It can just be blown out like a candle in
WITH AN I
it was Bobbi with an I/ he isn't just one of the guys/ in his pink party
dress you would never guess/ he can bench press 335." - Bobbi
With An I - Phil Vassar-Craig Wiseman.
Circus features a video of Bobbi With An I with Desperate
Housewives star Jamie Denton - childhood sweetheart of recently
wed singer Deana Carter who played Thredbo last year.
But he was not cast as the villain who dresses as a woman to get free
drinks in a bar on ladies night - Brad Hatcher had that honour.
"I wrote this song with Craig Wiseman," Vassar explained.
"And if you know Craig, that's all you need to know. We sat in
the house and started going back down memory lane. We started talking.
One night at a club, one of my buddies showed up dressed as a woman.
But he was
so smart. I mean, it was ladies' night, right? Free drinks. It was just
hilarious, one of the funniest things."
copped some flack for his song - a sharp contrast to his more serious
songs Just Another Day in Paradise, American Child and Prayer of a
"I just thought it was a fun song," Vassar said.
"I think it's a great song. I think it's funny. I'm sick of the same
old songs - sick of hearing about our economy and talking about how bad
life is. I thought it was time to throw something out there really different.
Of course we had a lot of people that were kind of offended by it. But
I think they're idiots.
That's what I think. It was just meant to be funny. It is what it is.
It wasn't meant to save the whales or anything like that. I wish I could
do that with every song, but I can't. We just have to stop taking life
so seriously. That's really what the song is about."
In the music video directed by Eric Welch, Denton is cast as a friend
of Bobby - or Bobbi.
"Originally, Phil and I were talking about me being Bobbi which I
thought was going to be hysterical," Denton recalled.
"I really wanted to do it. But in the song, it mentions that he benches
335 pounds, and I was like, 'Not me!'" So we got a burly guy who's
a little more believable."
Vassar doesn't hunger for his restaurant days - he sold it after Carlene
became a big hit.
''My dad always told me, 'don't get in the restaurant business and don't
get in the music business,' Vassar recalled, ''and I went and did both.''
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