The modern country scene is jammed with names that everybody knows,
whether they're into
country or not. It just happens that way. Alan Jackson is one of those.
Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, and of course Leann Rimes. Right now, most
people outside of
the country scene will not recognize the name of Phil Vassar, which is
ironic when you
consider that he's already had eight number one hit records. The thing
is, seven were
recorded by other artists. Ah, but the one that he recorded himself was a
if you sing a few bars for the people who don't recognize his name, I'll
lay odds they'll
recognize "Just Another Day In Paradise." Another Vassar single,
"Carlene," got to the
number three spot (no small feat), and they'd probably recognize that one,
songs that have crossed over here and there and they are tunes that stick
in your head,
planted by a master craftsman. A fantastic showman. An overnight
Whooooa. Back up, Sparky.
First of all, let's get it straight that the term "overnight success" is
there are very few of them, that they seldom last, and, most importantly
for purposes of
this discussion, that Phil Vassar is anything but an overnight success.
Phil grew up in Lynchberg, Virginia, an excellent athlete with the kind of
that allows a person to become one. Blonde hair and good looks... you
position on the football team. Yep, Phil the quarterback. It just
happens that way.
Genetic mandate. We don't make the rules. He was also very serious about
serious, in fact, that his event was the one reserved for those thought to
insane: the decathlon. And he excelled at it. The discipline and
ethic he learned during this period would serve him well down the road.
There was something else in Phil's life, though, and it was something very
him. His father was a singer who had achieved local and regional success,
number one fan was probably Phil. The house was always full of all kinds
and it all had a profound effect on the young boy. Much to his father's
decided early on that he wanted to follow those footsteps and be a singer.
how hard it was. Phil would have to find out on his own. But college
dad's relief, and with the blessing of a free ride to run track, Phil's
We've just jumped forward about a decade and a half. I should have warned
Phil's got another single about to launch, and a video to go with it.
He's been here
before, but the nerves tighten up just the same. Sitting here thinking
back on it all,
it seems a little surreal, but it all happened just this way. They say
cream rises to
the top, and there's no denying Phil Vassar is one of the finest writers
music today. But this one, he didn't want to float to the surface. He
swam hard during
that period we just passed a moment ago. We'll get there.
Cosmik: This is going to be an unusual interview, Phil. I've done a lot
of research and I swear,
if they made a movie about your life nobody'd believe it. It has to start
at the beginning, so
let's talk about your dad. What was he like and what was it like growing
up as his son?
Vassar: Dad was a hard worker. That was one thing I think I really
learned a lot about from
him. Work ethic. He was one of those guys who was never afraid to roll
up his sleeves and
jump into the middle of stuff. But he was a great singer, and from the
time I was little I
knew what I wanted to be just because that's what he was. I got the
music bug from the time
I was just a boy, and I couldn't get rid of it no matter how much he and
everybody else tried
to convince me otherwise. He had restaurants and nightclubs, and he'd
sing there and I'd
work back in the kitchen when I was young, and kind of hang out, because I
liked being around
it, you know? But as I got older and went to college -- which he was
really pumped about --
I really knew it was just delaying the inevitable, which was getting out
there singing and
moving to Nashville, because that's what I wanted to do. I don't think he
really wanted me
to do it just because he knew how hard it was going to be. And he was
right. But I guess
when somebody has a dream, you can't fault them for chasing after it.
Cosmik: How much of an influence was he, musically?
Vassar: A whole lot. The cool thing about my family is that I have two
sisters, too, and we're
all about the same age, and we're all total music freaks. And we all
liked different kinds of
music. He did, too. We always had so many different kinds of music
around the house. You
could have Earth, Wind & Fire, Journey, George Strait and Hank, Jr. all
going at the same time
in the house. It was a real mix, which was a lot of fun.
Cosmik: I read that one of your sisters was a headbanger.
Vassar: Oh, absolutely, she was way into Iron Maiden and things like that.
Cosmik: Did you get into that, too?
Vassar: You know what, it was fun to see the energy at those shows, but I
guess I never
really could understand the words very much because it was so loud. I was
into the Billy Joels and Elton Johns and James Taylors and Willie Nelsons,
that... Jackson Browne... I had so many influences it's not even funny.
Cosmik: And not so much from the area you work in now. Are there ever
moments, as a writer,
when you feel an influence creeping in somewhere it doesn't belong?
Vassar: That's the funny thing... The one thing you have to learn is that
all these guys paved
their own road and did their own road and did their own thing, and I think
that's what I learned
from them more than anything, is that you should never be afraid to write
about anything, or
to change directions in a song, or write like you want to write. I mean,
when I first moved
to Nashville, I was trying to write songs like the songs on the radio,
and I just couldn't
do it as good as those guys were doing it. I think the day I realized
that I just had to
pave my own road and go down a different way, and write songs like I liked
them, and write
about subject matter that I wanted to write about, that's when everything
Cosmik: I don't claim to be an expert on this, so correct me if I'm wrong,
but aren't the
vast majority of country songs written on guitar?
Vassar: Yeah, there definitely are a lot more songwriters that are guitar
aren't very many piano players around here.
Cosmik: Seems that most of them are studio musicians. So it seems to me
that if you came
in trying to write what all the radio hit crowd were writing, you might
have been barking
up the wrong tree. People who write from the piano, like you do, write
from a very
different place, don't they?
Vassar: Oh, absolutely. Because, I mean, I would be writing with
somebody, but a lot of
people don't like to write with piano players because they think all we
write is ballads.
I would play songs sometimes, and say "man, this is a jam," and they'd say
"it's a ballad,
right?" I'd say "No! It's not a ballad, this is what it would be like, it
would really be
rockin'..." But it's really hard for people to understand, sometimes, what
to get at on a piano, because piano is not as percussive as a guitar is,
even though you
can bang on it more. I do play really hard on piano, and Billy Joel does,
too, and Elton
John. A lot of these guys are very percussive players. But it's hard,
translate what you're trying to do when you're just showing them with the
Cosmik: Do you still listen to all kinds of music? Or do you try to keep
your head in the
game, so to speak?
Vassar: Well, I do. I try to listen to everything. I was just listening
to an Eagles
record, and Poco. And I love Matchbox 20. I just love to hear different
on music. I just think it's fun. And then you kind of do your own thing.
I mean, I'm
in my world, and that's great, but I sure think it's good for you to
diversify and listen
to other genres.
Cosmik: So it's good you grew up in that house with so many sounds.
Vassar: Oh, absolutely. It definitely helped me.
Cosmik: You're lucky. So many people grow up in a house with only one
Vassar: You don't really broaden yourself very much that way, I'd think.
Cosmik: Speaking of broadening yourself, you went off to get an education,
and it was
a free ride because you also happened to be a star quarterback, correct?
Vassar: Yeah, I played quarterback, but I went to college at James Madison
Virginia on a track scholarship. It was a great time, you know, because I
and I was really into running. I was a decathalete. I really enjoyed it,
and I went for
free, which helps a lot because we weren't the richest family by any
means. That was
really fun. And I had a great coach who was totally into music, so we hit
it off completely,
and we're still great friends.
Cosmik: So your father had no idea of what you were planning to do at this
Vassar: Well, I think he did, deep down, but he was like "well, he's going
to college. That's
a good step. (Laughs)
Cosmik: He figured there was hope.
Vassar: He thought there was hope for me yet, and then I eventually had to
lay the bomb on him.
Cosmik: Well, being a two-sport athlete took up so much of your time, I'm
sure, that it wasn't
exactly like you had time for many midnight jam sessions.
Vassar: I really didn't, at that time, and I knew that I wouldn't really
be able to focus on
it very much until I got out. So I basically got out of school and moved
Cosmik: When you say "got out," do you mean you graduated, or left?
Vassar: I left my senior year.
Cosmik: Okay, so here's where the movie gets cookin'. You're on your way
to Nashville. First
of all, clear this up for me. Is it true that at this point you still
didn't know how to play
Vassar: Well, I didn't. We had a piano at my house to doodle on, but I
didn't really get serious
about piano until I moved to Nashville.
Cosmik: So you didn't know what you were doing until then.
Vassar: Absolutely not. I moved to Nashville and was singin' around and
actually had people
accompany me. Then one day I just thought "man, I really want to learn to
play piano." When
I heard The Way It Is, the Bruce Hornsby record, I was like "man, this is
Cosmik: That really spoke to you.
Vassar: In such a way that I went out and bought a piano and said "I'm
gonna learn how to play".
Cosmik: What year was this?
Vassar: Probably '87 or '88.
Cosmik: Ya know, people spend forever trying just to get competent.
Vassar: Oh, well, the thing that really helped me was that I really threw
myself in. I dove
in and practiced all the time. I booked gigs just on my strength as a
singer, and I couldn't
play very well, but I started learning songs and I played every night in
clubs and I started
getting better the more I played. I played every night in clubs and, uh,
I'd repeat songs...
but people drink alot, so they didn't notice. (Laughs)
Cosmik: [Drunk voice] "Heeeey that shongsh sure popular!"
Vassar: [Drunk voice] "I don' care! More drinksh!" But that was my
schooling. Just diving
into the clubs. I realized I wasn't the best piano player in the world,
so I was really
going to have to learn to entertain and do a lot more talking with the
crowd. Looking back,
it was great experience.
Cosmik: When you first headed out there to Nashville, did you even have a
Vassar: No... I didn't. My only game plan was just to GET to Nashville.
hardest part sometimes. It's like anything, you know? It's like working
hardest part is getting to the gym. Once you get to the gym, you're going
to do something,
generally. I think, a lot of times, the hardest part is just making
yourself pull up
your roots and plant them somewhere else. That's what I did, and really,
it's the greatest
thing I've ever done.
Cosmik: A leap of faith?
Vassar: Oh, totally. It really, really is. You have so many dreams, but
where you're at,
the right people can't hear you. The great songwriters are in Nashville
and New York and
L.A.. That's where they are, so you've got to one of those places.
Cosmik: A lot of people take that leap of faith and they just keep falling
don't have it, or they don't have the luck, or for whatever reason.
Generally it's because
they leap too soon and don't have anything to sell. When you went there,
were you writing
songs that you believed in?
Vassar: I started writing songs about the time I moved to town. I had a
few songs before that
I thought might be pretty good, and then I came to town and (laughs) I was
as how far behind and how bad I was compared to everybody else, or a lot
of these guys. That's
the whole deal, though. You can be a big fish in a small pond forever if
you want to, but
you come to Nashville or you go to New York or L.A., and you'll find the
best in the world
are there, and you've got to step it up a whole bunch of notches or you
better move back.
Cosmik: So many people would just give up at that point. You grew up as
an athlete, and
carried on to a pretty high level with that, and that's not an easy thing
to be. but it
instills different values and characteristics, especially tenacity.
Vassar: Oh, yeah, I think it definitely helped. It helped me, from a
because in sports you lose. You lose a lot. You learn how to lose, and
you learn that
the harder you work, the better your results are going to be. You have to
work and work
and work at this. I just knew right then, it was a smack in the face that
told me I'd
have to work hard and it might take a lot longer than I thought. And it
did. But it's
a good thing. I wasn't ready then. I know for a fact that if something
good had happened
for me then, my career would be over by now.
Cosmik: And you also learned that, if you'll pardon the expression, you
can stink up the
field one Saturday and be the hero the next.
Vassar: Oh yeah, absolutely. That is totally the truth. You can. Sports
and this business
do parallel one another a lot.
Cosmik: So practice, practice, practice?
Vassar: I'll tell you what, it's an invaluable experience you get playing
clubs, getting years
under your belt. I sort feel sorry for people who don't really have to go
through that sometimes.
Cosmik: A lot of people show up with nothing, and they're just meat.
Vassar: Yeah, it sure can be brutal. Especially Nashville. You just have
to get here and
settle in, because it's not going to happen overnight most of the time.
Sometimes it does,
and then you don't see careers last a long time. You settle in for the
long haul and start
working hard, and you develop relationships. Life's about that, and so is
the music industry.
There are so many great people, and once you start meeting them, one'll
introduce you to
someone else, and they'll introduce you to someone else, and doors will
close, and then
something else happens and another one opens. All that's true.
Cosmik: About those doors... You were knocking on them for a long time, up
and down Music Row,
and nobody was answering. Is that about right?
Vassar: Oh, absolutely. I can't even begin to explain how many times I've
been turned down
by publishers and record labels and everyone else. Not by any fault of
their own, a lot of
it was me; I don't think I was ready. Even though there were a lot of
songs that I wrote
during that time, six or seven years ago, that eventually because big
number one songs that
nobody would take a second listen to at that time, I just think maybe it
was just a little
different. It's that whole timing thing.
Cosmik: Did you re-work the songs later to make them hits?
Vassar: No, they're the same songs, exactly, as they were then.
Cosmik: Then how could you say you weren't ready if it's the same song,
Vassar: Well, I think a lot of it was that music's so cyclical, and these
songs were a
little bit different, and I didn't have the arsenal of songs that I have
now. I kinda
started gettin' it, and I started bearing down and writing every day, and
before I knew
it I was getting a bunch of songs recorded and I had a bunch of songs to
Cosmik: Did you meet any players in the business early on that helped you
gave you some guidance?
Vassar: Yeah, absolutely. I met Linda Hargrove, who's a great songwriter.
She was a big
help to me. I learned a lot from her. And a guy named Richard Brannon,
too, was another
one who wasn't afraid to write with a new guy. That's a hard thing to do.
It's hard to
find co-writers when you're first starting out, because most people don't
want to do that.
It's hard enough to find time to write with the writers who know what
they're doing, much
less find time to break someone in. It really is kind of hard. But they
were two big helps
to me. They took me as far as they could go, and then I went on to the
next deal and did
something else. They were definitely a lot of help.
Cosmik: Was this as early as when you were bartending?
Vassar: Yeah, I was bartending, writing, and playing at night. It was
Cosmik: Were you playing in the same bar you were bartending in?
Vassar: For a little while, yeah, I actually did that. I had a little
Yamaha CP-70, a little
electric grand piano that I would play. I'd bartend some nights and play
certain nights, but
after a while I just played and didn't bartend anymore. That started my
run, that lasted
several years, of playing five or six nights a week and trying to write
songs during the day.
And I developed a pretty good little following. And then eventually a
buddy and I got a
got a great deal on a building right down the street from a club I played
at all the time.
We said hey, let's get it and open our own club. So we did.
Cosmik: This is a pretty personal question, but how does someone who came
to town with nothing
and has just been gigging around afford a club, and it was a restaurant,
too, I believe.
Vassar: Well, you know, I did really well. I started playing clubs and I
made good money.
I really, really did. And I saved my money. I've always been pretty
frugal, so I did pretty
well, and then I started having hits as a songwriter and you do pretty
Cosmik: Oh, okay, see I didn't understand that you'd already had any songs
cut yet. Okay. So
now you've got a restaurant, and now here's where it's really getting to
be like a movie...
Cosmik: Your father had passed on a little bit before this.
Vassar: Right, exactly.
Cosmik: As I understand it, one of the things he said to you with utmost
"don't ever, ever, ever own a restaurant."
Vassar: That's EXACTLY what he said, just like you said it.
Cosmik: (Laughs) So then as much as I know you miss your father, it's
probably for the best
that he didn't see that happen.
Vassar: Yeah, I know. I really do wish he'd been able to see all of this
happen now, but he'd
probably have had more ulcers just worrying about the restaurant.
Cosmik: What was the name of the restaurant?
Vassar: It was called Nathan's Italian Restaurant, and Nathan was my
partner, and we had a
nightclub underneath it call A Hard Day's Nightclub.
Cosmik: Fantastic! [DJ applauds.]
Vassar: Yeah, I was trying to think of a name for my club, and I just
happened to be listening
to one of my Beatles records, and I said "that's it, right there!"
Cosmik: You'd have me as a customer. What a great name.
Vassar: It was fun, and a great experience. I never realized it would be
as hard as it was,
but it was such a rewarding thing when you build something from the
beginning, and we really
Cosmik: How long was it from the time you opened until it was busy?
Vassar: First night! Opening night was huge. I performed opening night
and the air conditioner
blew up, so it was about 300 degrees in the middle of August, and
everything that could go wrong
went wrong, but everybody had a great time. And it was packed. All the
people who would go
see me at the other clubs came to see me at our club.
Cosmik: By this time you're seeing big names in the audience, I'm
Vassar: Well sure. A lot of writers. Some of my friends are songwriters
artists, so you never knew who was going to show up, which was always kind
Cosmik: I think I must have missed a scene somehow. I thought it was when
you opened the
club and the restaurant that you really got to know the big name artists
and writers. When
did that actually happen?
Vassar: Well, when I opened up my club, about the same time I was writing
songs and did
my EMI deal, I'd met all these writers like Skip Ewing and Charlie Black,
Rory Burke, Robert
Byrne, just a bunch of big folks like that, and during Tuesday and
Wednesday nights, we'd
have little songwriter nights, which were a lot of fun. Then on weekends,
a bunch of my
friends in the industry, who worked at record labels, radio stations, and
a lot of local
folks from the golf courses and, you know, just a bunch of friends, would
hang out. It
was like a big Cheers, with entertainment.
Cosmik: How far along after college are you at this point?
Vassar: Ooooh... about eight or nine years.
Cosmik: So this is all like a dream come true by now.
Vassar: Oh yeah! It was rockin' along. And then I started having number
one songs. I'd
go into the club and my song had just gone number one, and we'd play that
celebrate. It was a lot of fun.
Cosmik: What was the first number one?
Vassar: Colin Raye, I guess, because "Little Red Rodeo" [Raye] and "Bye
Bye" [Jo Dee Messina]
came out about the same time, and they both were both big hits literally
in the same couple
Cosmik: The mere fact that they were recorded must have been pretty
amazing to you in the
first place, but to see them hit number one in the country, what was that
Vassar: Oh, it's, uh.. (laughs) ... I dunno, I was numb. But I think
having the restaurant
totally grounded me. I still had to go in and bus tables and cook
sometimes, and do whatever,
and I still had to play every weekend. I was having hits, and I recorded
my whole first album
while I was playing weekends at my club.
Cosmik: Are you talking about this album, or was there another one before
this that I missed
Vassar: No, this is the one.
Cosmik: So you were making this album with number one songs, world class
country music, while
you were still bussing tables at your restaurant.
Vassar: Oh, I was still going into my restaurant and playing weekends
during the recording
of the whole record. It was a busy time. When we'd first open, I'd go
cook breakfast from
6:00 to 10:00 in the morning, then take my apron off and run off to my
and then come back after. (Laughs) It was a busy time, but I think I
learned a lot about
myself during that time.
Cosmik: I dunno, Phil, that doesn't sound like a schedule I'd recommend
for staying sane.
Vassar: I think, for me, I operate better when I'm totally slammed busy.
It's like German
cars, ya know? They say they're more efficient when you drive them over a
Cosmik: You're better under pressure?
Vassar: Probably. I really think so. There were times when I had to
write lyrics for songs
while we were cutting them in the studio. A lot of times, things like
that happened, but it
always ended up working out somehow.
Cosmik: Yeah, it's that sports thing again. Quarterback working with the
defense in his face.
Vassar: There's definitely something to that. The discipline to work
under pressure and
come up with it at the the last moment.
Cosmik: When you were writing back with the others back at the club, was
that an after hours
Vassar: Well, we would hang out, you know, but usually by the time the
club closed I was so
daggone tired I had to go home. Because I had to get up really early the
next day. I usually
find that I write better when I get up in the morning, have some coffee
and hang out with
whoever I'm writing with. We'll talk and run our mouths a little while,
then go eat lunch,
and right about that time is when I feel I'm at my best, you know? I'm
poppin' it. But
there were a lot of late nights, I'll tell you that. I eventually hired a
cook to take my
place, thank goodness.
Cosmik: I was gonna say, because there had to be a point where you looked
at the checkbook
and realized you could. (Laughs)
Vassar: Yeah, somebody's going to have to cook, because I can't do
Cosmik: Was there a sense from the guys you were working with, or did you
a sense from them, that you were going to be a star?
Vassar: Well no. I mean, heck, I just looked at it as this is my job, I
love what I do, and
I've paid a lot of dues and I'm doing pretty well. And you know, I don't
ever look at myself
as a star by any means. I just look at myself as someone who loves what I
do and I'm lucky
enough to get to do it.
Cosmik: Is "star" kind of an annoying term?
Vassar: Well, I'm not... you know, I'm not real big on that word.
Cosmik: I guess in some ways it can be a negative word.
Vassar: Yeah, it definitely can. But I'll tell ya what, DJ, it's been
awesome. It really
has been. Everything. I've had a couple of hits. And I think the people
here know that it
didn't come real easy for me, that I've had to work real hard at it, and I
think you earn
your respect. There's something to be said for that.
Cosmik: As opposed to some of the flashes who've had it handed to them,
Vassar: Oh, Lordie, I know. It still happens, but I just love to see
people work really
hard and do well. I think Nashville has a lot of folks that look out for
each other. It
doesn't matter if you're on a different label or with a different
publisher, or whatever.
You're just a good guy or good girl, and people watch out for you. I've
get songs cut before, and people have helped me. If we're all going to be
here for a long
time, then we're going to watch out for one another. It's really kind of
Cosmik: I have to admit, that's not the way I pictured it at all. Sounds
so let's skip the term "star." Have you been surprised at any point at
the chart success
and the money?
Vassar: Well, I'll tell ya, I... Yeah! [laughs.] I have! I've looked up
and gone "man,
this is weird! I don't know if you ever can expect it, but it's just like
got to work hard enough to put yourself in a position to succeed. I kept
saying "man, all
I want to do is get in the race, and then once I get in, I feel like I can
everybody." So it's just getting that first break. Little breaks lead to
It's weird how it happens, but it's pretty cool.
Cosmik: What was the break that put you on Arista? I know you were
writing in your club with
a lot of their heavyweights, like Alan Jackson. Did somebody say "if you
don't sign him,
you're an idiot"?
Vassar: [Laughs] Yeah, actually, I became great friends with a lot of the
staff at Arista, and
it was where I really wanted to be. I was a big Alan fan, and Brooks and
Dunn, and Leroy
Parnell, and Radney Foster is such a great singer/songwriter, so I figured
that's where I
should be, I should be on Arista, because they seemed to be a
singer/songwriters label. So
I kept going to meeting after meeting, year after year, I'd go to them and
say look, what
are we doing here? Are we going to do a record or what? And they'd say
well, it's not quite
time yet. So I just bugged the hell out of them until they gave me a
record deal, basically.
Cosmik: I'm surprised they waited so long. I'm surprised that they
weren't afraid of losing
you to someone else.
Vassar: There really did come a time right at the end there where
everybody sort of jumped on
the game, you know? I told them I had the chance to do it here and there
and they said okay,
let's do it. It worked out. I'll tell ya, it's like anything, once
everybody jumps on the
Cosmik: That particular roster is pretty spectacular. You mentioned
Radney, Brooks and Dunn,
Leroy Parnell, last year they came out with Brad Paisley and that was just
a killer record.
Vassar: Brad's one of my good friends. He's great. You're right, this is
a great roster.
I'm totally proud to be on this label.
Cosmik: You know, we cover all kinds of music, so country's just one thing
for me, but Alan
Jackson's just this amazing talent. Cuts through everything, across
genres. Working with
him couldn't be bad, huh?
Vassar: Man, Alan's great, you know. I had a big hit with him ["Right on
the Money"]. I mean,
you've gotta get up awful early in the morning to get on an Alan Jackson
record, because he's
a great songwriter, and when I got that Alan Jackson cut I was very proud.
You know you did
something to get on his records, because he's such a great writer.
Cosmik: Just to have him want to work with you...
Vassar: Absolutely! I'm still totally proud of that, because he can sure
write them well
himself. He's a great, great artist.
Cosmik: At what point did you sell the restaurant.
Vassar: It's actually been a year and a half... two years ago, now. It got
to the point when
my record came out that there was just no way.
Cosmik: So you just sold out to your partner.
Vassar: Exactly, so he still has his restaurant.
Cosmik: At this point, you've been at this over a decade. Paying dues,
which is the long
struggle that always gets called overnight success by the press later on.
But at this point,
when the record comes out, does it feel like everything starts zipping?
Vassar: [Laughs] Yeah. I think it really did. You know, I look back on
that decade, and I
had such a great time and made so many great friends, people I'm still
friends with, in the
music business and outside the music business. But in the last couple
years so much has
happened that it's all a blur. It's been fun. It's been really good.
You can never get
sick of seeing people sing your songs back at you when you're up on stage
Cosmik: Could you have imagined this? Your songs are out on karaoke
disks. People are
singing "Carlene" and "Just Another Day In Paradise" in karaoke bars,
Vassar: Oh, I know! It's pretty wild. That's when you know you've made
it. When I found
two of my songs on karaoke, I was like "ooooh, this is so cool!"
Cosmik: What an amazing thing, right? New indicators of success. Okay,
so the album's out,
you've hit number one by yourself and you're touring. Is it what you
always thought it would
Vassar: It's better than I even thought it would be. I knew it would be
hard, and it is,
but it's a totally enjoyable experience. People are really great out
there. The radio guys,
everybody's been really nice. It's just neat that it's happened.
Cosmik: I was reading a message board on a country site and a woman posted
a message about
seeing you open a show for someone -- I can't remember who -- and she said
after your set
she was walking from the front of the stage to the back where her seats
actually were, and she
suddenly realized she was walking right behind you. It was funny. She
said she couldn't
talk, she was just in a daze walking behind you for five minutes. The
word "star" is trying
to leap out again, man...
Vassar: That's so funny. Every once in a while I'll go out in the crowd,
especially if I'm
opening for somebody I haven't seen play, and I want to check out their
show. It's usually
dark and nobody can see who you are. It's so cool that people love your
music and love what
you're doing. That's awesome.
Cosmik: You know what a lot of the messages were about? In fact, I'd say
a majority? You
stealing this show and that show. People who didn't know much about you
and were there to
see whoever you were opening for, but headed right for the V section of
Tower Records after
Vassar: Oh, that's funny! That's pretty cool, and nice to know.
Cosmik: And a good thing you've been to number one now, because nobody's
going to want you
opening with a rep for stealing shows. What was it like going to number
one? Where were you?
Vassar: Aw, man, it was the most amazing night. I opened for Kenny Rogers
that night, and
earlier I got a call from the label and they said "hey, Phil, you're not
gonna believe this!
'Paradise' is number one!" and I just went crazy! It was totally amazing.
I couldn't even
believe it. I was in Dallas, doing the show with Kenny Rogers on that
Monday night, and somebody
comes up and says "hey, Kenny wants to see you real quick," so I said okay
and went to find
Kenny. Kenny and his wife had gotten me a cake and they had a party for
me before I went on
stage. I mean, that was totally cool. I kept thinking "Kenny Rogers,
man, just got me a
Cosmik: Sounds like a dream. What is it like when the song comes down
from the top?
Vassar: You know it's got to, eventually, so you go on to the next song.
As an artist, I
just want to keep putting songs out, and hopefully they'll keep doing
well, two, three or
four years from now you'll have some hits and hopefully you'll have a good
Cosmik: Now you've got about two days left before
"Rose Bouquet" goes out
as a single and
a video. So you're sitting on the launching pad again. What's that like?
Vassar: Absolutely, I do have them. You're always apprehensive when you
have a new song
coming out and you're wondering how it's going to do. You're hoping your
song goes top
ten, top five, and the charts are so hard right now that it's a victory to
have a hit.
Cosmik: So many extraordinarily talented people never even approach it
Vassar: Oh, I know. I've had a great time. It's a fun ride.
Cosmik: Do you find yourself looking at the number one slot as a place you
to reach at this point?
Vassar: Well of course you always want your song to go number one, but
charts the way I do, I know it's a miracle if you get a number one. It
really is. Everything
has to fall into place.
Cosmik: I just wanted to mention, before I forget, that my favorite song
on the album isn't
a single. I just love "Joe and Rosalita." Is that a true story?
Vassar: Oh yeah, it's based on a couple friends of mine that I set up on a
date when they were
sixteen years old.
Cosmik: You set them up on their first date? The Legends Of Love?
Vassar: Yeah, I set them up and they totally fell in love with each other.
They had twins in
high school. They're still together today, they have four kids, and
they're still very much
in love with each other. I just did a show in Richmond, Virginia, and
they were there, so I
introduced them to the audience and they were just tickled to death.
Cosmik: You're amazing, Phil. Your life's been like a movie and you've
even made stars out of
the kids you grew up with. That's so different from most stories. From
your dad's restaurant
to your restaurant, to all the number one hits to where you are now. How
do you want to be
remembered when this is all ancient history?
Vassar: Well, I'll tell ya, I just hope people remember the songs. I'd
like people to
say "you know what, he was a pretty good songwriter. Good singer. Good
what lives forever is a song. I'm sitting here now in a room at my
publishing company, and
my buddy, Bruce Birch is here with me. He works here at EMI. He's sort of
in charge of the
whole catalog. I mean there's a Mac Davis record here, Billy Swann,
there's Jimmy Webb here...
some of the songs that have been recorded that are just great songs that
[Phil turns away from the phone and says "how old are some of these songs,
Bruce?"] well, from
Duke Ellington to Buck Owens in this room right here, and he gets these
songs recorded by
people now, in 2001. I think that's the thing about great songs: they live
Cosmik: And you're thinking about the Phil Vassar song someone may record
Vassar: I don't know if I've written that song yet, but you always want to
write that song that can be recorded time after time, and year after year.