The Musical Life of Phil Vandel

Phil Vandel has been playing music all his life. He has performed across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and overseas for U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. In 2021, Phil and the Dixie Cadillacs (his former band) were inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. For this issue, The Regular Joe had a chance to ask him some questions about his art and the artists he’s played with (it’s an impressive list!).

Q. How did you get your start?

I got my start as a 2-year-old strumming a yardstick until a blister formed on my thumb in my Grandma Katie’s kitchen to Rocky Top! From there, it was toy guitars, fiddles, and little Elvis outfits that my Grandma made me. I really started taking it more serious about 11 or 12 when I got a Casio keyboard. At age 13, my Grandpa (Pop) showed me my first chords to “Waltz Across Texas” on an old Harmony guitar. I would play rhythm for him while his arthritic fingers would pick out the melodies. I’ve been playing ever since.

Q. How would you describe your personal musical style?

As a songwriter, I love story songs. I love to hear and write songs that people can relate to or songs that spark the imagination. I am a country artist who has shown my patriotism through music, but I am a product of many genres. I started on old country, then 80’s rock, bluegrass, classic rock, pop, blues, funk, etc… You name it… I’ve probably explored it musically, and it has influenced me in some way.

Q. What other musicians do you admire the most, and who have you created music with?

Gary Sinise (left) and Phil Vandel.

Some of my first musical performances as a young kid were with Bugsy Maugh, Bongo Bob, Phil King, etc… St. Joe legends. Baptism by fire, I guess. I have been so blessed to share stages with many iconic artists all across America. Charlie Daniels was a favorite. Tony Orlando has always been so kind to me. Tim McGraw, Wynonna, Clint Black, Beach Boys, etc… They were all so talented and kind.

Gary Sinise & The Lt. Dan Band is probably my all-time favorite. Gary (Lt. Dan on Forrest Gump) is a very special person to me. We have done tons of shows and events together all over America, and we have played a big one called “Salute To The Troops” in Las Vegas every year for the past 12-13 years on Fremont Street. We will be back there opening for him on November 11th this year!

Q. What has been your most memorable show or performance?

I have so many wonderful memories of shows all over America, Canada, and Mexico. I was so blessed with a song on a movie soundtrack a few years ago that landed me some dates with Wynonna to promote The Hornet’s Nest movie, which was in theaters nationwide. Those were really cool. Hawaii was a dream come true for a poor kid from St. Joe. However, my trips to Iraq performing for the Troops in 2009 and 2010 were my favorites. Those service members seemed like they needed a little piece of home; at the same time, I needed a purpose. I think we all left those shows forever changed. I have been giving back to the Troops ever since.

Q. What advice would you give to other aspiring artists?

I once read it takes 10,000 hours to master something. If you practice 4 hours a day, every day for around 7 years, you will “master” it by that standard. With music, I feel like 10,000 hours is a very low number. It’s a lifetime of learning. I think about music all the time. Songs, melodies, gear, guitars, etc. It isn’t just a part of my life… it IS my life. If you are an aspiring musician, you have to practice more than anything else if you really want success. Study your craft and learn from all genres. With that said… take business, marketing, and accounting classes and grow/protect your credit score. I cannot stress this enough. The “music business” consists of two words, and the lack of understanding of the second one is probably what keeps more artists from being or staying successful than anything.

I host an acoustic jam on the first Monday of every month at Jake’s Steakhouse from 6-9. If there are any aspiring artists who would like to ask me questions, I encourage them to stop by. I am happy to help with publishing, copyright, recording, sound, songwriting, or performance questions. I believe in paying it forward.

Q. Where can readers find your schedule and listen to your music?

My complete schedule, bio, awards, and everything is on www.philvandel.com, and I can be found on Facebook, Instagram, X (Twitter), YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, etc. I am actively writing for a new project and hope to have some new music out in early 2024!

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