Phil Vassar chuckles when he thinks of the times that he’s played some of his songs to an audience only to see puzzled expressions from those who thought they belonged to another performer.
“Someone will ask, ‘How come you do that Alan Jackson song?’” he said. “Well, because I wrote it?”
Vassar, one of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, has had his songs made chart-topping hits by the likes of Jackson (“Right on the Money”), Tim McGraw (“For a Little While”) and Jo Dee Messina (“Bye, Bye,” “I’m Alright”) in his career, though he’s had an impressive number of hits himself, such as “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “In a Real Love,” “Six-Pack Summer,” “Carlene,” “Last Day of My Life.”
A tag for his “Hitsteria” tour last fall summed it in a line: Ten No. 1s, 15 Top Tens, 27 Top 40s.
The veteran Nashville singer-songwriter comes to the Waco Hippodrome Thursday on the heels of a new EP, “Stripped Down,” which consists of songs familiar and new, cut down to guitar and piano backing. Thursday’s acoustic show, which features Vassar on piano and joined by guitarist Brett Sheroky, is similarly minimal, with space for the audience to request some of the songs.
What makes a Phil Vassar song? An eye for the telling detail of life, he said. “I think songwriters just look at the world a little differently,” he said. “I think we see things that pass by people a lot of times . . . We paint a picture about life like an artist does.” Despite others’ success with his songs, Vassar, 55, said he doesn’t write for specific performers. “A song just finds its own place,” he said.
One of the songs on “Stripped Down,” “When the End Starts,” was co-written with a songwriter near and dear to Vassar’s heart: his daughter Haley. “She’s awesome. She’s so good . . . She just has this knack,” he said. Growing up in a world of stages and tour buses has made her a savvy writer, immersed in music, but with different influences than her father, who says he introduced her to Queen, James Taylor, the Eagles and Carole King, while she reciprocated, exposing him to new artists like Ed Sheeran.
In addition to his “Stripped Down” EP and tour, the two-time ASCAP Songwriter of the Year has a television series whose second season is about to be released. “Songs from the Cellar” has Vassar and a musical guest visit the wine cellar in his home, where Vassar sometimes writes his songs, and conversations ensue.
Its first season featured Styx’s Tommy Shaw, Steve Cropper and Peter Frampton while the second season has country performers such as Kix Brooks and Charlie Daniels.
“We shoot (the series) in my own house, drink a little wine and talk about songs. It may be the best job I’ve ever had,” he laughed.
Thursday’s Hippodrome concert may be equally chill, although the wine drinking will be on the audience side. “It’s just me and a guitar player. It’s a storyteller show,” he explained. “It’s off the cuff and that’s how I like it. I think it’s going to be a fun night.”