The track scholarship to JMU gave Vassar a way out of a town where there were only two career options – both factories, and it was college where his musical passions first took serious hold. He moved to Nashville in 1987 and banged out a living playing piano in local clubs while writing original music and pursuing an artist deal.
He saved his money and, in 1995, bought the restaurant and club where he had been performing. A patron of the club asked Vassar to send him a tape of a couple of his songs. He sent a demo that included "Once in a While," which he had written with another bartender. The song became his first cut when the patron's father, Engelbert Humperdinck, recorded it.
Suddenly, things began to surge for Vassar. He wrote a song with noted Nashville writer Skip Ewing ("Mary Go Round") and began writing with other well-known Nashville songwriters that would frequent his club to perform. That attracted music industry professionals, including publishing executive Greg Hill. Hill eventually signed Vassar to a publishing deal with EMI. Penning hits for Alan Jackson ("Right on the Money"), Collin Raye ("Little Red Rodeo"), Tim McGraw ("For a Little While" and "My Next Thirty Years") and Jo Dee Messina ("I'm Alright" and "Bye, Bye"), Vassar was named ASCAP's songwriter of the year in 1999.
After years of honing his energetic act in Nashville nightclubs (including one that he owned), Vassar landed a solo deal with Arista Records and released his self-titled debut album in 2000. The album's first single, the up-tempo "Carlene," broke into the Top 5 on the Billboard country singles chart. The follow-up, "Just Another Day in Paradise ," became Vassar's first No. 1 hit as a performer.
His second album, American Child, arrived in 2002. On Shaken Not Stirred, his third Arista Nashville release, country music's number one pianist/singer delivers his most compelling record to date. Each song tells a story -- about the joys of friendship present ("Good Ole Days") and past ("Dancin' with Dreams"), the changing textures of life ("I Miss the Innocence"), and, on the album's first single, the transition from irresponsible youth to adulthood ("In a Real Love"). Each note reflects Phil's growth as a singer, musician, and storyteller.
But equally important, Shaken Not Stirred shows Phil in a new, more personal light.
"We went back to the basics," he says. "I've recorded up until now with great studio musicians, but this one I wanted to cut with my band. I wanted to take that camaraderie we've got from being together on the road and bring it into the studio. I wanted to write with the guys too; I even wrote some of these tracks with our bus driver, who's actually a great songwriter."
Prayer Of A Common Man, his fourth studio album and first for Universal Records South is where he may have taken his seat as country’s leading piano man with the success of songs like “Just Another Day In Paradise” and “Six- Pack Summer”.
Vassar has become increasingly contemplative and emotional with his music as his career has progressed. He considered his place in the world with “American Child,” addressed hard questions of faith in “This Is God” and explored that which truly brings meaning in his most recent smash, last year’s “Last Day Of My Life.”
As much as Vassar’s muse has seen a logical expansion, he’s the first to admit that recent events have pushed him to a tipping point. “Someone asked me the other day, ‘What are you, angry or something?’” he explains. “I went, ‘Hell yeah, I’m angry. Is it okay with you to be paying $3.95 for a gallon of gas? Is it okay that people send their kids off to school to get blown away?’”
As a single, involved father of two – daughter Haley, 8 and daughter Presely, 3 – Vassar feels those concerns acutely. “It’s easy to be a happy-go-lucky guy when you’re young,” Vassar says. “Having kids raises your level of concern about just about everything.”
In 2006, Vassar released Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, which offered his own hits as well as his renditions of hit songs he wrote for other artists. The first single, "Last Day of My Life," reached No. 2 at country radio.