Phil Vassar's new heaven-sent single shakes up his album - and inspires his record company to take a bold step
Story by Larry Holden
"I was getting frustrated as I read story after story about the trouble and bad things going on in the world," remembers Phil. "I thought, 'Isn't this ridiculous?' Then I wondered if God looks down at us here on Earth and thinks, 'What is wrong with you guys? You're not doing it right!' "
Suddenly the line, Hey, this is God/Could I please have your attention? pops into Phil's mind. Other lines come in rapid-fire succession - Man, I'm disappointed in what I'm seeing ... You fight each other in my name ... I've seen you hurt yourself enough.
"The song just kind of flowed out," he continues. "It only took a few minutes to finish it. I'm not real good at starting an idea and not finishing it, so I usually complete in one sitting any lyrics I start."
The amazing journey of "This Is God" began last summer on that jetliner.
"A little later I was in the studio," recalls Phil. "I pulled out the lyrics, added music and made a demo. My manager, Greg Hill, heard it and zipped it to Joe Galante [head of his record label], who flipped out over it. Joe then played it for other label folks, and the consensus was that we need to put this song out."
Execs at Arista Nashville sent the demo to radio stations across the country, asking them to play the song and get listener feedback. Radio programmers, notes Phil's manager, reported that the song created a buzz as big as the buzz created by Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)."
"I've never had a song that's had such positive feedback from radio and fans," says Phil. "Never. It could be interesting to see what happens. It's exciting."
So label head Joe Galante called Phil to say that he should go into the studio and record "This Is God" because it could be his next single. "I said, 'Joe, my album's already out.' [Phil's American Child CD was released last August.] Joe laughed," recalls Phil, "and said, 'I know - but we can do this.' "
Realizing that they had something special on their hands, Arista Nashville decided to take the unusual step of re-pressing American Child, adding "This Is God" and another song Phil recently recorded, a duet with pop rocker Huey Lewis of Huey's 1982 anthem "Workin' For A Livin'."
"I think it's great to have a record label that decides to do something, then does it," declares Phil. "It shows they have faith in the two songs, as well as the overall CD. And it's great that they believe in me that much."
Both the new single and the new pressing of American Child were released late last month. "With 'This Is God' I'm not trying to preach to anyone," declares Phil. "The song is just what it is - a simple song with a message."
He pauses. "I don't know what to expect on this song. It's so different. But I'm enjoying shaking things up in my career. It's fun to do that every once in a while."
Phil is equally delighted with the addition of "Workin' For A Livin' ' since it's a song he originally planned to have on the CD. "Both Huey and I really wanted to cut the song, but my crazy touring schedule in 2002 and Huey's schedule just didn't mesh in time to cut it for American Child.
"Now it's going to be on it, which is what I always wanted. I've been playin' 'Workin' For A Livin' ' in my live show for 10 years 'cause I grew up being a huge fan of Huey's music. In fact, the first time I ever met him, I said, 'Thanks for helping me make a living all those years because I played your songs night after night in the clubs.' "
Phil and Huey finally hooked up to record the song in a Las Vegas studio.
"When Phil asked me to come sing this song with him I was pleased to do it," notes Huey, who scooped up pop hits galore in the '80s and '90s with his band, The News. "It's always nice when someone takes an interest in one of the tunes you've written.
"I'm not much of a country guy, but," adds Huey with a big grin, "I do have a dog and a pickup! And the way pop music has gone, I actually feel a kinship with country music. I mentioned to Phil the other day that I was in a country-rock band called Clover years ago. My background is more early rock 'n' roll and R&B, but Phil played a lot of that in his club gigs. So we have some common ground."
Phil nods. "It was a real honor to go into the studio with Huey. He's an unbelievable guy, one of the coolest people I've ever met. And since we were recording in the studio owned by the great quarterback Randall Cunningham, meeting Randall was an added honor. I've had a great ride in my career so far, but recording with Huey is a true highlight."
Another highlight in Phil's life is coming up next month - his first wedding anniversary to songwriter Julie Wood. "I do know we're going away somewhere, but I don't know where," he confesses. "I've scheduled a week off and Julie says she'll let me know later where we're headin' to."
As to the direction Phil's life is headin', he couldn't be happier.
"Everything is going so well. If things would keep going the way they have been that would be great. I just want to keep on writing songs and singing them."
Sounds like he just wants to keep workin' for a livin'.