Starting with his 2002 debut album, Man with a Memory, Joe Nichols firmly established himself as one of the leading neo-traditionalists in country music. His uncanny knack for balancing heart-breaking ballads and message songs with humorous and breezy tunes that bring a smile to the face made Nichols an instant favorite with country fans. With tall and dark good-looks and a soothing and emotive baritone reminiscent of Hall of Famer, Don Williams, Nichols’ easy and laid-back style is a breath of fresh air to an industry that, at times, seems hell-bent on running away from its traditional roots.
Origins and Early Musical Influences
Born on November 26, 1976 in the northwest Arkansas town of Rogers, Nichols, who is part Cherokee, was raised with his older brother and younger sister by their single mom and truck driving father. The family eventually moved to Walnut Cove, North Carolina, where he attended South Stokes High School. In his spare time, Nichols’ father also played bass and sang in a local country band. His grandfather and uncles were musicians, too. Growing up, he watched his father perform the music of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Marty Robbins and other classic country legends at various VFW events.
In the ‘90s, Nichols’ friends included many who preferred rock and pop music over country, and he eventually found himself playing in a rock band. But his foray into rock music was brief, and he soon returned to the music he knew and passionately loved. He was especially fond of the standard-bearers of the neo-traditionalist movement, artists like Randy Travis, George Strait and Alan Jackson.
First Recording Contract
Nichols was nineteen when he landed his first recording contract on the Intersound Records label. He released his debut album, Joe Nichols, in 1996, but it failed to make a splash, and he was subsequently dropped from the label. He went on to sign a short-lived deal with Giant Records, but no singles or albums were ever released. Like thousands of other aspiring and struggling artists, he bounced around Nashville, working odd jobs like moving furniture and installing cable TV just to make ends meet. For a time he even tried selling steaks door-to-door.
Nichols Big Break in Nashville
In 1999, Nichols met session guitarist, Brent Rowen, in Nashville. Rowen was instrumental in helping him land a recording contract with the newly formed Universal South Records, a division of the Universal Music Group. He was the label’s first artist. In 2002, Nichols released his first album with the label, Man with a Memory, and the results exceeded everyone’s expectations.
His debut single, “The Impossible,” shot to No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Country chart. Three Grammy nominations followed, and the single ended up being the tenth-most played country song of 2003. Nichols follow-up single, "Brokenheartsville," hit No. 1, while two additional songs, “She Only Smokes when She Drinks" and "Cool to Be a Fool,” both cracked the top 20. In 2003, Nichols took home the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist award and the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award for top new artist.
A Mainstay at the Opry
One of the hallmarks of Nichols career is that he has always maintained an active presence at the Grand Ole Opry. When his debut single, “The Impossible,” hit the charts, he was performing on the Opry every available Saturday night, and he quickly became a favorite with the Opry crowd. Just a couple of days after his father passed away in 2002, he sang Merle Haggard’s song, “Footlights,” at the Opry on his father’s behalf. In 2003, Alan Jackson took Nichols on the road with him, and the tour lasted well into 2004.
The Albums, Hits and Tours Keep Coming
In 2004, Nichols released his second album, Revelation, which included the Top 10 hits "If Nobody Believed in You" and "What's a Guy Gotta Do". A Christmas album entitled A Traditional Christmas was released at the end of 2004.
In 2005, Nichols released his fourth album, III, which spawned his second No. 1 hit, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” The single and album were both certified gold. Two more major hits followed from III, including “Size Matters (Someday)” and “I’ll Wait for You.” Nichols promoted III by spending the better part of 2005 and 2006 touring with Toby Keith.
In mid-2007, he released the album Real Things, which included the top 20 singles “Another Side of You” and “It Ain’t No Crime.” Later in 2007, Nichols married Heather Singleton in Savannah, Georgia. Nichols and Singleton have known each other since they were eighteen. 2009 saw the release of Nichols’ fifth album on Universal South entitled Old Things New.
Most Popular Joe Nichols Songs
- “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”
- “The Impossible”
- “What’s a Guy to Do”
- “I’ll Wait for You”
- “If Nobody Believed in You”
- “It Ain’t No Crime”
- “She Only Smokes When She Drinks”
Joe Nichols Discography