Not your average Joe (Nichols)
By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 2004
"I like country songs. I like barroom shuffles. I like swing songs. Those things seem to fit me best - the way I sing. There's something about them that I love hearing them."
Nichols grew up in a small town in Arkansas, the home of the first Wal-Mart store.
He picked up on music from his father and grandfather."They were musicians," he says of the two, who played VFW halls, beer joints and "things like that, maybe a few times a couple of prisons. I think mostly it was to have fun and put a little extra food on the table. They had families. My dad had a family and stayed home. I'm convinced he could have been a superstar."
What Nichols heard from them was "mostly country music. There were a few southern rock bands that dad cared for. Guys like the Allmans, Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band. Mostly it was pretty much country - Merle, George Strait and Whitley, a lot of Hank Jr."
"Like every boy, I wanted to be like my dad and play music. I never thought I'd be as stubborn to take it this far. I lived through a whole lot of tough times, but I guess stubborn has come from my mom's side."
Nichols must have been doing something right because friends helped him reach his dream of making it in Nashville.
A few folks in Fort Smith, Ark., where Nichols lived at the time, helped Nichols record an album for an indie record label Intersound, far better known for rap and urban music. In fact, Nichols was the lone country act on the label when he released the album at age 19.
"It did what an indie label could do back then, which was not very much," says Nichols. "Plus it's a very early age to be singing songs like that. That's what I'm not as happy with that album. I didn't have as much to do with the production or the song selection on the first album. Basically, it was like a demo...going in and singing 10 songs and putting out an album. I think where I'm out now is where I want to be."
The songs are not as meaty as his past two albums, but what does come through is Nichols' singing abilities. A listener would not be surprised that the singer on the youthful album is the same one making music today.
"At 19, I was still learning about myself, what I could and could not do, learning in a studio," Nichols says. "If I'd had maybe a chance to work with myself a lot longer, I think I might have been able to do a whole lot better as an album. I'm not disappointed or ashamed by any means."
"The last 2 (albums), I've been 100 percent of," he says, referring to his involvement.
Nichols moved to Nashville in 1997 in the hopes of landing a big league deal.
"I had great friends," says Nichols. "My best friend is with me now. Brian (Spradlin, Nichols' guitarist). He said, 'it's going to happen. It was just a matter of time'. Those kinds of friends are priceless. He was always the guy for me. It was tough. Tough times in Nashville."
Like many an aspiring musician, Nichols needed to bring in some greenbacks, which he did with "little odd jobs, doing things you didn't want to."
The list includes bartending and stints with United Parcel Service and a cable company.
"Eventually we started playing at restaurants, playing for tips basically, just me and him," says Nichols. "We honed our trade. We honed our craft. We learned a lot. We learned about singing and got a lot stronger. It was a fun time."
Nichols' career took a great leap forward thanks to Spradlin.
He worked at Soundcheck, delivering and setting up session studio guitar players and musicians' equipment.
One of the people Spradlin worked for was Brent Rowan. Spradlin wanted to introduce his friend to Rowan and slipped Rowan a demo tape of acoustic songs recorded by Nichols.
After holding onto it for a while, Rowan gave a listen. "He said, 'man you're persistent,' but it paid off."
Rowan and Nichols did lunch in March 1999, and Rowan told Nichols he would like to take the music to a record label.
"We were still trying to get acoustic gigs here and there, but hadn't really gotten (going) as far as playing," says Nichols.
At one point, Nichols was signed to the late Giant Records label.
"I was on Giant Records for a year and a half. That was actually our first major label. The label was in kind of bad shape, and, of course, they basically closed down, bought by Warner Brothers. (We did) not (spend) a whole lot of time in the studio or do anything. When Giant closed down, Warner took our contract. We were going to try to put something together, but it just didn't happen. We didn't see things eye to eye. Brent Rowan and myself, we didn't feel it was the perfect match, and Warner did a great thing for us and let us go."
"It was basically musical direction," Nichols says alluding to the differences. "We wanted to do our album ourselves, the way we wanted to do it. And that's how it is. They didn't see it like that. They wanted something different. I knew it wasn't going to be as country. They didn't want any drinking songs or anything like that. Now you have a song on Warner by Big & Rich, which talks about it."
©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher • firstname.lastname@example.org
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