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Joe Nichols readies for part "III"

By Jeffrey B. Remz, November 2005

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Nichols' humorous song is somewhat in the spirit of "Alcohol," focusing on the effects of drinking too much.

"I think country music was kind of built on those of songs, not just drinking songs, but kind of real life, real common man life. I'm kind of glad to see that people have loosened up the barriers just a little bit and allowed some realness back into country music, and sometimes realness is drinking, cheating, lying. Those things are what country music was built on. I'm kind of glad to see it sneak its way back in."

"Sometimes you can just hear a hit quickly," says Nichols of the song. "You hear it, and you go 'wow, I can hear that on the radio being a big success'."

Universal South Director of Artists and Repertoire Mike Owens says in an interview from Nashville that he found the song about six months before he even played it for Nichols.

Label head Tony Brown had played it for Owens prior to that because it was being considered for a Brooks & Dunn disc, which Brown produced.

A song plugger (pluggers pitch songs to artists and labels hoping the song they represent will be recorded) brought it to Owens' attention as well when looking for songs for Nichols.

"I immediately remembered hearing it before," says Owens. "I thought that's just so cool, and I said I would play it for Joe."

"Joe and I spend a lot of time listening to songs. I just try to find things I think he'd like. You always try to find something fun. I played it for him, and he was just over the top on it. ""Pretty much from the very beginning, he was proclaiming that for the first single," Owens says.

Nichols had reason to be confident about the song. He played it in concerts to get a sense of how an audience would respond. "He said everyone seemed to really really dig it on the road," Owens says.

One aspect that remains constant is Nichols' apparent love of Gene Watson. On his debut, Nichols sang "That Would Be Her," which Watson recorded. On "III," Nichols covers "Should I Go Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)," a number 3 hit for Watson in 1979.

"He's great," says Nichols of Watson, with whom he has played on the Grand Ole Opry. "More than anything, I believe that Gene Watson is one of the most underrated country song singers of all time. I'm not sure underrated is the right word. Underappreciated. He's such an amazing (singer). It's not a thing that I put out a Gene Watson (song on the album). I wanted to put on songs I grew up with. I was certainly familiar with all of Gene Watson's stuff."

"My father was really into him," he says. "Growing up we had eight tracks all over the house of Gene Watson. He was a big influence."

Nichols also reached back for another cover. He recorded his version of Steve Earle's sad ballad "My Old Friend the Blues." Interestingly enough, Patty Loveless recorded the same exact song for her "Dreamin' My Dreams" release out in September.

"Whenever we were looking for songs, Tony called me in his office one day and said 'what about 'My Old Friend the Blues,'" says Nichols. "It's a fan's song."

The change on the new album was not confined to the song approach.

Brent Rowan solely produced Nichols' previous albums.

But on "III," Rowan, long a stalwart in the Nashville recording scene, is one of three producers. Nichols also hooked up with Byron Gallimore, best known for producing Tim McGraw and Jo Dee Messina, and Buddy Cannon, the fellow who has struck it big with Kenny Chesney.

Rowan produced half of the 10 songs, while Cannon did 3 and Gallimore controlled the boards on 2.

Why mess with success?

"We wanted a different feel album to this album," says Nichols. "A little bit of fresh blood and to make sure we were doing things right the first time. We wanted someone to come and show us a different side of things and someone who could bring hits to the table."

Owens says, "Producers obviously have their own take on things - 'Here's the way I hear it.' It was more of a situation of (saying) 'I wonder what it would be like if Buddy Cannon did something'. Let's just see. (He) did, and it did great. How about Byron Gallimore?"

"Often times, what they bring is fresh ears. If we'd gone to those guys and if Joe didn't love it, it wouldn't be on there.""It wasn't so much change for change sake," says Owens. "These guys obviously are successful because they know how to make hits." And Cannon apparently knew how to do it with Nichols as well since he produced "Tequila."

"There's no right or wrong," Owens says. "It's just a question of different versions of something. A different perspective."

While Rowan could not be reached for comment, Owens says Rowan had no problems about using other producers.

Nichols was born and bred in Rogers, Ark., the town where the very first Wal-Mart store opened.

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