Joe Nichols shudders to think about what he would do if it weren't for music. “I honestly can't imagine what my career would be,” Nichols said while calling from Las Vegas. “Actually, I can imagine what I would do. Because years ago, I did real work and it didn't go all that well.”
Before Nichols landed a deal with Universal South Records, he moved furniture and installed cable television.
“I wasn't crazy about those jobs, but those jobs were nothing compared to when I was selling steaks door to door,” Nichols said. “That was the worst. I didn't sell one steak. I was doing all that I can to make money. I went up to the door and just said, 'We got some meat in the truck.”
Fortunately, that was the death of a salesman. Nichols wasn't meant to sell meat. He was born to sing. He finally broke at the turn of the century with the catchy single “Brokenheartsville,” which was his first No. 1 one hit on the country charts. “She Only Smokes When She Drinks” and “Cool to be a Fool” have also reached the top 20 of the country charts.
“I just look for great songs,” Nichols said. “I just try to put the best songs together on an album.”
Nichols nails it with “Crickets,” his latest, which is filled with middle-of-the-road country. Most of the songs are upbeat and hook-laden. “Sunny and 75,” “Gotta Love It” and 'Smile On Mine' are positive and clever tunes.
“I like the upbeat songs,” Nichols said. “I think I've found a bunch for this album. I'm really happy with what was selected.”
“Footlights,” a classic Merle Haggard song, is the best of the bunch. “I can't argue with that,” Nichols said. “I've always been a Haggard kind of guy. What a great songwriter, great singer.”
Nichols will deliver the tunes Saturday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre while opening for Lady Antebellum. “I've just done one date so far, but I love being out with Lady A,” Nichols said. “They're a great band with a terrific audience. I'm going out there and just doing the best I can. I play my songs and try to connect. I'm just glad to be doing what I'm doing. It hasn't been easy. It's been a bumpy ride, but I'm still here singing.”
Addiction has been an issue for Nichols. He entered rehab for substance abuse in 2007.
“Everybody has a tough life,” Nichols said. “Everybody has obstacles, and mine was substance abuse. But I did what I had to do to get healthy. My wife (Heather Singleton) has helped me in so many ways, especially when it comes to maturity. I'm a father and I had to step it up, and I have, and I'm a better person for it. I get to do what I love. It certainly beats the alternative. I could be out there selling steaks door to door. Do you think anyone still does that? If they do, I don't know how they do it. All I know is how to sing. Ask my wife about this, four fifths of what I do is failure but that one fifth of what I accomplish is amazing.”