Not many know, but Joe Nichols had a very tough decision to make as a teenager in high school — continue to play baseball and become the best baseball player he could be or go down the path of music. Apparently, it was the right one.
Born and raised in Rogers, Ark., Nichols, now 34, signed his first independent record contract at 20, but after several years of hard work, Nichols upgraded his status by signing with Universal Records, now Show Dog-Universal Music, and releasing Man with a Memory in 2002.
The album reached platinum status and charted four singles, which included “The Impossible,” “Cool to Be a Fool,” “She Only Smokes When She Drinks” and his first No. 1 single, “Brokenheartsville.” Later that year, Nichols was nominated for three Grammy Awards and went on to win Top New Male Vocalist from the Academy of Country Music.He followed that success with the 2004 album Revelation. The 11-track album featured two Top 10 hits, “If Nobody Believed in You” and “What’s a Guy Gotta Do.”
After a Christmas album later that winter, Nichols continued making hits and that was apparent with the 2005 record III. The first single, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” became his second No. 1 and “Size Matters (Someday)” and “I’ll Wait for You” were also quality Top 10 songs.
More hits continued to fly out of the ballpark like “Another Side of You” and “It Ain’t No Crime” off the 2007 album Real Things and a third No. 1 chart topper, “Gimmie That Girl,” anchored his last release Old Things New.
A 10-track album called Greatest Hits was released in January and Nichols is currently working on new material.The Examiner chatted via telephone with Nichols before he began his current tour.
Growing up in Arkansas, did music play a big part of your life?
I think I was probably in high school when I came to that point in my mind where I had big thoughts. I didn’t want to sit on my tail for the rest of my life and wonder what I could have done. Maybe it was me dreaming big and not being realistic about my options in life, I don’t know. I wanted to get off my butt and try to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish in music or work my butt off to become the best baseball player I could be. I decided it was going to be music. I was passionate about both music and baseball, but somehow was drawn towards music.
How does it feel to have a greatest hits album?
I didn’t think I had that many hits. I guess you could reword that album and call it my only hits. HA HA. I think it’s great we have enough songs to compile an album full of hits. Certainly it doesn’t feel like it’s been nine years. I’m proud of it.
Whose idea was it to release a greatest hits project?
It was the record label’s idea. I wanted to do some new music, which we are working on now, but they wanted to get something out before the new stuff to keep the awareness up. It was a refresher idea like remember these songs like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” “Brokenheartsville” and “Gimmie That Girl.”
I’m glad you mentioned new music. Your last release came in 2009, so how close are you into releasing a new album?
We’ve been in the studio recording and we feel like we have a strong list of songs. It’s a lot of fun up-tempo stuff and a couple of ballads that are very, very special. The songs are there and now it’s just a matter of getting the magic right in the studio. We are trying some different formulas such as personnel like new musicians. Hopefully it will be ready for a summer release.
Will the fans see a big difference?
I hope not. I sing the way I do and there’s not a whole lot of change in that. The production around it is subject to be tinkered. The one thing I try to remain consistent on is making sure my home base is traditional country music. That is what I do and who I am. I will step outside of that and do some progressive things, but nothing that will confuse people about who I am and what I love.
With previous success and a plethora of competition, any added pressure making every song a hit?
There’s always pressure to hit a home run. Every time we go to the studio there is money being spent and the truth is, if you don’t hit a home run, it is a failure. The pressure I put on myself has everything to do with what I think I am capable of and my mind won’t let me rest until I achieve it. Sometimes I get obsessive compulsive about it. Going into the studio, I may hear a certain vocal, or line to a song or instrument out of tune that caught my ear. That’s not wanting the song to be competitive with other songs out there; I want it to be the best it can be for me. I just want to make a good record and good records find there way to radio and fans find their ways to the store to buy them.
I read that the legendary Merle Haggard had great things to say about you. Now, how does that feel?
Pretty damn good. He is like my boyhood hero. We used to listen to a bunch of records from front to back and over and over again and most of those were his and George Straight. To hear your childhood hero say good things about you, it makes me feel incredibly special. I don’t think I am deserving of it, but I sure am appreciative. I hold him in the highest regard.
Joe Nichols will perform at Whiskey River on Friday, May 20, with doors opening at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are $17 ($22 day of show) and the show is restricted to ages 18 years and up. For more information call (409) 832-2999.