Vassar was raised on Christmas classics
Pam Tillis and Phil Vassar are packing up the sleigh — OK, more like a tour bus — to deliver holiday songs and hits.
The two country artists have plenty of both from which to choose, and Warren’s Robins Theatre will be the second stop on the tour on Dec. 1.
Tillis, who was married to songwriter and Liberty native Bob DiPiero from 1991 to 1998, is a Grammy and CMA winner whose country hits include ‘Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” “Maybe It Was Memphis,” “Shake the Sugar Tree,” “When You Walk in the Room” and “In Between Dances.”
Vassar got his start writing hits for others and was named country songwriter of the year by the publishing company ASCAP in 1999. As a performer, Vassar has recorded more than 15 top 40 country singles, including the chart toppers “Just Another Day in Paradise” and “In a Real Love.”
Both also have recorded Christmas albums — Tillis in 2007 with “Just in Time for Christmas” and Vassar in 2011 with “Noel.”
Vassar did a phone interview in mid-November to promote the upcoming tour. That may seem a little early for some to talk about Christmas, but as Vassar explained it’s nothing compared to recording a Christmas album in Nashville in August. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
TICKET: Have you and Pam Tillis done a holiday tour before?
VASSAR: Never have. We were label mates at Arista and I’ve known Pam forever. She’s such a great singer and writer. We’ve done shows over the years together but never a Christmas tour.
TICKET: What will the structure of the show be?
VASSAR: Each artist will do their thing, their hits, and then we’ll do some holiday stuff together. So I’m excited about that. That ought to be great.
TICKET: I know the tour hasn’t started yet, but have the two of you been going back and forth, putting together the setlist?
VASSAR: We’re getting together again on Tuesday next week to finalize everything. We have video and all this stuff. It’s always a production, but I love Pam, I love playing with her. She’s just the real thing and can really, really sing. We’re going to have a good time
TICKET: What are the challenges of putting together a set list where “Six Pack Summer” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” can work side by side?
VASSAR: That’s funny you say that. We have a lot of hits to do and, of course, I do the hits I wrote for Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, JoDee Messina. You’re trying to keep some kind of holiday theme. I guess you can have palm trees with lights on them at the beach. A lot of that stuff is with video. I’ve been talking to my video guy about that.
TICKET: What are your feelings on Christmas music in general? I know for your album “Noel,” you did a split between traditional stuff like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and some newer things. What do you gravitate to?
VASSAR: It was fun to try to write Christmas songs. I’d never really done that before that record. Being a writer, you want to write something like that, but who’s ever going to beat “The Christmas Song,” the classics? I want to do some of the songs we wrote for the Christmas album and some classics too, make it interesting for everyone if we can. It’s hard to please everybody but you try to.
TICKET: What were some of your favorites growing up?
VASSAR: With my grandmother and my mom, it was always Nat King Cole. I loved that music, that guy’s voice. Sinatra. I love the Christmas stuff Dean Martin did. That’s old, old stuff, but it’s what I grew up with. My family was big on that stuff, so whenever I hear that now, it reminds me of being a kid.
But it’s fun to get some new stuff out there, and that’s really why I wanted to do that Christmas record. I love it. It’s one of the funnest records I ever recorded. We cut the whole thing in a day. I’d never done that on a record. And I like the way it turned out. I’m very happy with it.
TICKET: I’ve interviewed a lot of artists who’ve made Christmas albums, and they always seem to record them in the summer. Was that the case with you?
VASSAR: I think it was the end of summer. I want to say it was August, so it was a 100 degrees in Nashville. To get the vibe, we were putting up decorations in the studio.
TICKET: The holiday tour takes you through 2023. What’s the plan for 2024?
VASSAR: I took a lot of time off this past year. I’ve been on the road for so long, 25 years, it was time. I can’t wait to get back out there. We’re already booking big festivals for next year. It’s still fun to see your friends out there on the road. I just did this Ronnie Milsap tribute (to celebrate more than 50 years of performing and his retirement), where I saw Trace (Adkins), Tracy Lawrence, Terry Clark, so many people. And it was great to see Ronnie. I’ve done shows with him for decades. It was a little bittersweet, but he sure deserves a break.
TICKET: For many acts, it’s not even about the money. They just seem to love being on the road.
VASSAR: It’s funny. We do take a break at the end of the year. January is a slow month. We rest a little bit, but everybody is so ready to get back out by March. “OK, let’s get out of here. I’m going stir crazy.” But I’m really excited about getting back out there and blasting it again, because it’s been a little bit.