It’s been quite a year for Joe Nichols who saw two singles from his latest album Good Day Living land on country radio. The first was the record’s title track back in April, marking the first time in nearly a decade one of Nichols songs entered the Top 20. (The last time he did that was in 2014 with “Yeah.”)
Then, in June, “Good Day Living,” was followed by his second single “Brokenhearted.”
For Nichols, who’s experienced his share of highs and lows since breaking into country music more than 21 years ago, it’s been especially gratifying to be back on the radio.
“I’ve seen a lot of things in my career, good, bad, and ugly,” he says. “But I tell you what, nothing’s as sweet as the most recent success. And I think as I get older, it gets even more exciting.”
Country music fans first discovered Nichols with his first radio smash “Impossible” from his 2002 album Man With A Memory. That album also gave him his first No. 1 with “Brokenheartsville.” In the years ahead, he’d follow with familiar songs like “She Only Drinks When She Smokes,” “What’s a Guy Gotta Do,” “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” “I’ll Wait For You,” “Gimme That Girl,” and others.
The Arkansas-native with the distinctive voice and traditional country sound grew up listening to music heroes like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and George Strait. Those influences provided the foundation for Nichols’ style and the types of songs he’d choose to sing. He’s remained committed to making what he sees as “genuine” country music and steering clear of trends or what’s popular at the moment.
“We’re all aware country music kind of goes through cycles where a sound gets popular, whether it’s progressive or traditional, “he says. “Then all of a sudden there are five or six new acts breaking out with a lot of new people that are basically clones of those guys. So, the style of country music evolves based on whatever’s popular at the moment. But I’ve learned the most fulfilling and stable thing I can do for my career is to just be myself and maintain the identity I’ve built up over the years.”
Staying true to his roots hasn’t always been easy. Despite six No.1 hits, and a number of other songs that made their way up the charts, there have been slow years in-between with disappointing changes in record labels when he and management didn’t share the same vision. Despite that, Nichols has never wavered.
“For me it’s just staying true to what you do, and I’ve found fans will pick up on that. It’s like being a reliable person. People know what to expect from me and I think that’s a good thing.”
He’s proven steady wins the race. The success of those two recent singles is due, in part, to his signature sound and a knack for choosing classic country songs.
“I love hearing people talk about songs like “Brokenhearted” and “Good Day for Living’ and saying, ‘those are Joe Nichols songs.’ It makes me feel so good to hear that because it means I’m identifiable in a world of confusion. You can really have trouble differentiating one song from the next sometimes, so if I have a sound and I’m identifiable, then my goodness I’m grateful for that.”
And while he may not have had a radio hit in recent years, he’s stayed busy with recording, touring, and other projects. Last year, he did a duet with Dolly Parton for her Run Rose Run album.
“Every time I have the opportunity to work with her, it’s such a pleasure on so many levels,” he says. “I don’t think people appreciate how genuine she is when nobody’s looking. She asked me to do it, I said absolutely, anything for you! And afterward she wrote me a handwritten note to thank me. When I did another duet with her almost 20 years ago, she also sent me a sweet, thoughtful, handwritten note. Not too many artists do that.”
Nichols may have also caught the acting bug. He had a small part in a 2022 western shot in Montana called “Murder at Yellowstone City” and would love to do more acting in the future. He says he learned a lot during his first time on a film set.
“Number one, I learned what it’s like to have a lot of your work end up on the cutting room floor,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of stuff I shot didn’t make into the movie. I have a good relationship with the director (Richard Graves), and I said, ‘Man, if it makes the movie better not to have me in it, get up and do it.’ But, really it was like going to school for a month and a half and I was fascinated by the process. I’ve got some other opportunities coming up and I think I’m going to do that again.”
Nichols says he’s grateful for a career that has been so rewarding, and the success of this year’s album Good Day Living is just one more incredible blessing.
“I’m astonished and so grateful, not just for me, but for all of the people who have worked so hard and believed in me, my wife included. She’s believed in me from day one.”
He’s especially appreciative of Benny Brown, who first signed Nichols to Broken Bow years before, then retired to take care of family. After Brown left, Nichols and the label ended up parting ways. Recently, Brown returned to the Nashville music scene with his new Quartz Hill label and immediately sought out Nichols.
“Benny’s always been like a father figure to me and always believed in me,” Nichols says. “He took a giant leap of faith and I’m so happy for everybody who hung in there.”
Reflecting back, Nichols can honestly say, all of his dreams have all come true.
“I remember some of those interviews I did when I first broke onto the scene with “Impossible.” It was a very common thing for people to ask, ‘Where you do you yourself in five years?’ And I remember saying, ‘I hope to be doing this in 20 years and doing it at a high level.’ And boy, here I am 21 years later. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”