“I always loved Billy Joel and Ray Charles,” says Vassar, calling from his Nashville home. “Then when I heard ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning,’ I knew that, oh man, I loved that kind of stuff. So I just went down and figured out how to play.”
He’s not exaggerating. Vassar never took a lesson, instead learning on his own at his family’s home in Virginia.
“I have no idea how I did it,” Vassar says. “I guess if you like something enough, you just learn how to do it. It’s like playing tennis or building cabinets.”
Of course, it’s unlikely a weekend tennis player could enjoy the kind of success that Vassar has experienced. The singer-songwriter hit the country charts in 1999 with “Carlene,” a rollicking bit of nostalgia. He went on to score eight more Top 10 hits over the next decade, including “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “Six-Pack Summer” and “In a Real Love.”
Like most of his compositions, those songs were written on piano.
“I still play guitar and drums, but the piano is my go-to instrument,” says Vassar, who has also penned hits for Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson. “I have no idea what first attracted me, but it’s just something I love.”
However, don’t let the piano give you the wrong impression of the 49-year-old musician. If you’ve never seen Vassar, do not visualize a staid guy sitting at a baby grand, singing one ballad after another.
“Piano makes you think of somebody sitting around being all melancholy,” Vassar says. “I’ve always done more of a rocking show. I try to incorporate a little storyteller kind of thing in certain shows, but I like moving around. These shows are pretty high energy.”
Vassar has earned a reputation as a showman, which has proved invaluable. It’s been six years since he had a single penetrate the Top 30 on the country charts. His last studio album, a Christmas disc called “Noel,” was released in 2011. But by focusing so much attention on crafting lively, entertaining concerts, he has been able to stay on the road without new music on the radio.
“I want people to look at the schedule and go, ‘He’s coming back in April and we’re going to go, because every time he comes to town, we love it.’ There’s always going to be new artists who come and go — whatever, that’s part of the business,” says Vassar, who often performs up to 20 dates a month. “But if you build a show that people enjoy and you don’t have have to rely on the radio, then you’re doing OK.”
He talks about recently seeing a concert in Nashville by Donny and Marie Osmond, who haven’t exactly been burning up the charts in recent years.
“Good God, it was awesome,” he says. “That’s the thing. If you just consistently give people good shows, it will work out in the end.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 602-444-8849. Twitter.com/randy_cordova.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 7.
Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Salt River Reservation.
Details: 480-850-7734, ticketmaster.com.