It’s hard to believe that country music star Joe Nichols has been in the music business since 1996. Over the past twenty-one years he has put together a pretty impressive resume: he has had six number one hits, eight other songs that have cracked the Top Ten, has won several country music awards and has been nominated for four Grammys.
Joe and his band will be making a stop at the Goodyear Theater in Akron on Thursday, May 11th. We recently chatted with Joe to discuss his career and his upcoming appearance in Akron.
Greg Drugan: Hey Joe, thanks for speaking with me; where are you calling me from today?
Joe Nichols: Today we’re on our way to Rocklin, California
GD: How has the tour been going so far?
JN: The tour’s been going great! Through the first part of this year and now in the springtime, we’ve been really busy. We’ve actually been scheduled a little bit of time off, compared to year’s past where we never seemed to get any time off.
GD: Great. Now, are you scheduled for any big festivals this year or are you just doing your own tour?
JN: We’re doing theaters, some festivals and rodeo’s and fairs. A couple of bigger shows too, and that’s how our year goes. We do it all, big or small! (laughs)
GD: Right! Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
JN: Merle Haggard was a big influence on me growing up. George Strait, I always tried to sing like that guy. Randy Travis, Hank Jr. I love those guys.
GD: When did you know you wanted to get into the music business, what was the thing that kinda sparked you?
JN: When I was a kid, my dad was a player. He played on the weekends, around the house mostly for fun. I watched him and he was good. People liked what he did and I liked what he did so I thought, maybe I could do this. I started singing around the house for fun, but when I was a teenager I started to take it serious and I started to sing in front of people. Then I started to practice harder and try harder and the crowds grew and I eventually got a record deal. (laughs)
GD: You put out your first album in the ‘90s but you were eventually dropped from the record label after the first album came out. What made you want to stick with it after six years?
JN: The first album was made on a little bitty record label out of Atlanta called Intersound. The company consisted of two people. We went in with a little bit of a budget and made the record in about two days. It did ok. We made a video and got some play on CMT. The label wasn’t big enough to grow, so we all parted ways as friends. I thought that was enough to get me the itch to move to Nashville. I got some odd jobs and moved my way into some writer nights, wrote some great songs and a producer started pitching me to some record labels. I went to Warner Bros. and they wanted me to be more of a “pop” guy and I wanted to be more of a traditional country guy so we agreed that both of us were on different paths. They gave me a little cash to go away, which I thought was nice of them! Within six months I was signed to Universal South and six months after that, I had my first single out, “The Impossible.” Then six months after that it went to number one!
GD: That’s awesome! What was it like hearing that you had the number one song; do you remember that day?
JN: I do, I was in Seattle. I remember my manager called me and woke me up in the hotel and said “Dude, you’ve got the number one song in America!” I kinda swung outta bed and said “I know it’s 5 o’clock in the morning, but is it too early to celebrate?” (laughs) We had an early flight that day, but we celebrated all the way home from Seattle to Nashville. I couldn’t be more happy than I was that day. It was a really great day for a lot of people. We worked really hard. Me and my friend Brian did just about every radio station in America, working that single. It was really cool for a lot of reasons. For me personally, I will always have that.
GD: And you have gone on to have six number one songs. Is each one just as good?
JN: Yeah! Each one is better than the last one.
GD: The same thing with your album; it came out in the early 2000s when people were still actually buying CDs. You are probably one of the last platinum-selling country artists besides maybe Taylor Swift. That’s something you can hang your hat on and say, “I’ve sold a million albums.” That’s got to be an incredible feeling.
JN: (laughs) You know that is a great feeling. That platinum record Man With a Memory was a huge milestone. I never thought we would sell a million records. We came close on the third album too, but it wasn’t enough to go platinum. I think any of those things, if it sells a million or 500,000 or how many, it means people are giving you money. Every dollar spent is a pat on the back and I really appreciate it.
GD: Sure! During that time you were touring with the likes of Toby Keith and Alan Jackson, what did you learn from touring with them?
JN: I learned to pace yourself. Every night might seem like a party but it doesn’t have to be. Those were fun guys to tour with. They showed me how to be a professional and how to treat everybody. They showed me how to have a show, have a guideline that works and keep working. Those 20,000 people here tonight, weren’t here yesterday and you have to do your show, and do it right.
GD: That’s good advice. What’s the biggest change in country music that you have seen since you started out?
JN: Besides the music itself, I would say the way people get music. I think social media is huge and Youtube and all the streaming services out there changed the record labels and how they use their formula. For worse or better, I don’t know but it certainly has changed the access and content with the artists is different.
GD: In Akron, you are having a contest that allows a local band to be your opening act for the evening. How did you come up with this idea?
JN: I think it was more of a management effort. They asked me about it and I thought it was brilliant! There’s a lot of great talent in Ohio and great country artists there, I know many myself. I thought it was cool that they wanted to showcase local talent and put them in front of a big crowd.
GD: Do you have a favorite song to play in concert?
JN: My favorite, even after all these years is “Brokenheartsville.”
GD: What do you like to do in your free time when you’re on the road?
JN: You don’t stay in very good shape this way, but I just lay around. That’s what I do when the bus is rolling. When we get somewhere, I try to make it a habit of finding a gym and spend an hour thinking and running and working out. Just trying to solve today’s problems in a loud way.
GD: What can fans expect from your upcoming show in Akron?
JN: I hope a good time! I tell some stupid jokes, we got some songs in the set list that I hope impresses people. We try to keep it as country as possible and we hope people have fun.
GD: That sounds great! Joe, I wish you nothing but success on this tour and thanks again for your time!
JN: Alright man! I appreciate it.
Check out Joe Nichols at the Goodyear Theater on May 11th. Tickets are $35 and are available at www.goodyeartheater.com.
You also can win tickets to Joe’s concert by entering our contest! Deadline for entry is May 3rd at noon.