Phil Vassar and Kellie Pickler are on “The Naughty List” this holiday season. And they want music fans to join them.
Singer-songwriter Vassar and country recording artist Pickler are on the road with “A Christmas Tour,” which stops in Frederick at the Weinberg Center for the Arts on Friday. Show time is 7 p.m. and tickets are $45, $50 and $70, and they are available at the Weinberg box office.
Vassar has recorded (and co-written) top hits, including “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “American Child,” “In A Real Love,” “Carlene,” “Six-Pack Summer” and “Prayer of a Common Man.” And he has a slew of songs that were hits recorded by other artists, including Alan Jackson’s “Right on the Money,” Tim McGraw’s “For a Little While,” Diamond Rio’s “I’m Already Gone,” Collin Raye’s “Little Red Rodeo,” and “Once in a While,” which was recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck and was the song that kicked off his songwriting career.
Pickler won fans over as a contestant on “American Idol” and found more fans with her hit songs “Red High Heels,” “Best Days of Your Life,” “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You,” “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” and the ultra-personal “I Wonder,” a song she co-wrote about her childhood and the missed moments with her mother who was absent from her life.
The show will feature many of the artists’ hit songs and the new duet recorded by Vassar and Pickler, which is aptly titled “The Naughty List.”
“Kellie and I decided this past summer to do the tour and I thought it would be cool to do it with a girl so we could do some of the classic holiday duets,” Vassar said in a phone interview from his tour bus on the way to a show in snowy Canton, Ohio.
“I thought we should write and cut a song for [the tour]. So, in the middle of summer, when it was 100 degrees outside, I went into my piano room” and wrote “The Naughty List,” which has a big band sound and a video with Vassar and Pickler singing the flirty love song on stage in a vintage, smoky club setting.
“I did write it with Kellie in mind,” he said, referring to the lyrics which talk about her “red high heels.”
“I like old-style Christmas songs,” Vassar said. “Kind of jazzy, big-band sound stuff. I love [‘The Naughty List’] and how it came out in the video.”
The Lynchburg, Virginia, native attended James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on a track scholarship. “I was a decathlete,” he said.
But his passion for music was stronger than his passion for athletics, and he headed to Nashville.
“I knew what I was going to do my whole life,” Vassar explained. “I knew music was what I was going to do.”
His father, Phil Vassar Sr., was a professional singer and the home was always filled with music.
“I have two sisters — one loved country and one was a big rock ‘n’ roll head,” he said. “There was soul music; my parents loved everything.”
The music gene continues with his oldest daughter, Haley, 19, who is at college in New York City, and is pursuing a pop music career. His other daughter, Presley, is 14.
As a youngster, Vassar first played drums, then guitar. It was Lionel Richie and The Commodores’ “Easy Like Sunday Morning” that drove him to the piano.
“I thought, ‘I have to learn to play the piano’ because of that song,’” he explained. “Ever since then, that’s been it.”
While he said his heroes were Billy Joel and Elton John, the first concert he ever attended featured another hero, Merle Haggard.
Vassar’s latest album, “American Soul,” was released in December 2016. It was his first album in six years after taking an extended break to raise his daughters. During that time, he continued to do some touring, including in Europe and Australia.
“You can tour so much, you kind of find yourself gone all the time,” Vassar said. “I am a parent all of the time, no matter what I do. I love taking my kids to school, taking them to dance class or cheerleading practice, the kind of things you can only do when you are off the road.
“I love my job, I love playing my music,” and added, noting how he loves where he is in his career — without the pressure of having to produce new music on a record label’s schedule.
After the “Christmas Tour” stop in Frederick, the jaunt wraps up in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he says his mother, sister and other family members will be in the audience. He’ll take a break in January and start touring again in 2018 on Valentine’s Day weekend.
“We’ve already booked shows for 2018, the summer and even next Christmas,” Vassar said, with new music to come along throughout the year. The number of country music fans in Europe continues to grow, he said, so he will perform there in April and October and he hopes to do a couple of USO shows. Earlier in December, he performed at the USO Ball in New York City.
Vassar said the “Christmas Tour” set list varies from show to show but, usually, he and Pickler take the stage together to open the show and sing a few holiday songs, including Pickler’s “Santa Baby.” Then each takes the stage as a solo artist to sing more holiday favorites and some of their own hit songs.
“The show goes by so fast! It’s the fastest hour and a half,” Vassar said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”