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Phil Vassar was born on May 28, 1964, in Lynchburg, Va., a picturesque college town that hugs the Blue Ridge Mountains. His mother stayed at home caring for him and his two younger sisters, and his father was a singer who enjoyed local and regional success, performing in a restaurant he owned and at outside venues. Although intrigued by music as a child, Vassar's interests began leaning more towards playing ball than playing scales. In high school, he began running track, which helped him land an athletic scholarship at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. To appease his father, who was trying to steer him towards a more conventional career, he majored in business. Ironically, it was in college that he started on a path that mirrored his father's. Indulging his love for music, he took courses in music theory, history and business.
Vassar arrived in Nashville in 1987. He found a furnished apartment outside of town, got a job bartending at night to pay the rent and began knocking on the doors of Music Row during the day. Digging deep in the discipline and focus he developed playing sports, he learned to play the piano, sang in clubs and focused more on songwriting. 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. Just three weeks later, McGraw's "My Next Thirty Years" claimed the top spot. Vassar's second album, American Child, arrived in 2002. His third, Shaken Not Stirred, led to the No. 1 hit, "In a Real Love," in 2004.
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.