Nichols developed an interest in music through his late father and grandfather, who played local spots for a bit of money and the pleasure of playing.
Nichols wasn't known until he released "Man With a Memory," but that actually was not his first release. In fact, he released "Joe Nichols" on the long defunct Intersound label out of Atlanta in 1996 when he was 19. He recorded the album thanks to the financial backing of friends in Fort Smith, Ark.
But Intersound was not exactly a hot bed of country acts. Rap and urban music ruled.
The album did not do very well despite strong singing from Nichols. The music was far different than what he would be known for - it was modern sounding and not all that distinctive.
Nichols moved to Nashville a year after the album came out, hoping to secure a major label deal.
Who you know counts for a lot, and that's how Nichols hooked up with Rowan. Nichols' buddy Brian Spradlin, his guitarist, had a job delivering and setting up session studio equipment.
And one of the people he worked for was Rowan. Spradlin gave Rowan a demo tape of acoustic songs recorded by Nichols.
Rowan liked what he heard and proceeded to work with Nichols. He got him signed to Giant Records where he sat for about 18 months without doing much of anything. Giant closed, taken over by Warner.
But the Nichols/Warner marriage didn't last either. The label let him go, and Nichols was not disappointed.
Universal South was about to open its doors, which piqued Nichols' interest because of his respect for Brown and fellow founder Tim DuBois.
After hearing Nichols sing a Gene Watson song, Brown, a Watson fanatic, was hooked.
"Man With a Memory" was released in 2002.
Success was a lot quicker the second time around. Nichols enjoyed big hits with "The Impossible" and followed it up with the next three songs on the albums as well, "Joe's Place," "Brokenheartsville" and "She Only Smokes When She Drinks."
He toured heavily with folks like Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn.
Nichols followed that up with last year's "Revelation," showing that he was not the victim of the dreaded sophomore slump.
He earned strong reviews and got chart action, though perhaps not getting quite as high on the charts, with the playful "What's a Guy Gotta Do" and the spiritually-themed "If Nobody Believed in You."
Nichols also was more introspective, saying that his more spiritual side came out on the album.
Songs like "Singer in a Band" downplayed the importance of being a musician compared with others who do important tasks in everyday life like cancer victims, a college student reading to the blind.
There was a reason for the inward looking. Only six days before "Man With a Memory" was released, Nichols' father died at 46 after a long battle with a pulmonary illness.
Nichols was slated to play the Grand Ole Opry the day after the funeral, but instead of canceling it, he showed up to sing his dad's favorite Merle Haggard song, "Footlights" in tribute.
He also released a Christmas album last year, "Traditional Christmas."
But that was last year. And now Nichols must face the public and figure out if his changes will be well received or not.
"I'm anxious to find out how we're doing in the public," acknowledges Nichols, though he is confident.
"I think every time we put out an album it's exactly what we wanted to put out there. Hopefully it translates into sales," he says.