Joe Nichols Wasn’t Expecting Grammy Nominations

For a country artist who was virtually unknown a year ago, Tuesday (Jan. 7) turned out to be an eventful day for Joe Nichols . When the nominations for the 45th annual Grammy Awards were announced, Nichols found himself listed in two categories while his first hit single resulted in a nomination for two Nashville songwriters.

Universal South executive Tony Brown notified Nichols of the nominations while the singer was doing a series of radio interviews at a studio near Nashville. Nichols tells, “After I talked to Tony, I was still in shock during the ensuing minutes. I looked down at my phone and it just rang off the hook. I must’ve had about 15 missed calls in about 10 minutes. All of my friends called at the same time to say congratulations. It was pretty exciting.”

It’s safe to say that Nichols wasn’t expecting to be nominated. “I didn’t even know the nominations came out today,” he admits. “It was pretty funny because I thought it was a joke at first. I thought Tony was just having fun or something when he said, ‘Congratulations. You’re a Grammy nominee.’ I just said, ‘Are you kidding?’ Nobody had a clue that we would even be considered anywhere in the stack.”

Nichols’ major label debut album, Man With a Memory, is nominated for best country album — a category that includes the Dixie Chicks , Alan Jackson , Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton . His single, “The Impossible,” is nominated for best male country vocal performance — a category that also encompasses Jackson, Johnny Cash , Pat Green and Brad Paisley .

“One of the biggest compliments is that we’re up against some of the most amazing people in the entire music industry,” he says. “I couldn’t be more honored to be considered for something like this.” Nichols recording of “The Impossible” led to a best country song nomination for songwriters Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller.

“I credit the song for all the recognition initially,” Nichols notes. “Once people got the album and reached beyond ‘The Impossible,’ I have to credit [producer] Brent Rowan for the rest. He just did an amazing job of pulling the album together in terms of songs and production. A lot of love went into that album.”

Nichols was the first artist to release an album for Universal South, a new label headed by Brown and former Arista Nashville chief Tim DuBois. When DuBois created Arista’s country division in 1989, he did so with another then-unknown male artist — Alan Jackson. While Nichols says he didn’t feel any undue pressure in being Universal South’s first signing, he says, “Of course, nobody knew what was going to happen. I guess there was a little bit of pressure to be the focus of so many hardworking people. The last thing I wanted to do was to let anybody down and not do my share, so it did cause us to work really, really hard.”

This year’s other first-time Grammy nominees include Trick Pony whose “Just What I Do” is nominated for best country performance by a duo or group with vocal. Charlie Daniels and the Oak Ridge Boys each received nominations for best southern, country or bluegrass album — Daniels for How Sweet the Sound: 25 Favorite Hymns and Gospel Greats and the Oaks for An Inconvenient Christmas. Delbert McClinton — who’s either a country singer or a blues singer, depending on who you talk to — is nominated for best contemporary blues album for Room to Breathe. Riders in the Sky received a nomination for best musical album for children for Monsters Inc. — Scream Factory Favorites.

Best recording package nominations went to Rick Patrick (art director for Willie Nelson’s The Great Divide) and Kevin Reagan (art director for the Dixie Chicks’ Home). Home also netted a best engineered non-classical album nomination for Gary Paczosa. Rick Rubin, who produced Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around, is nominated for best non-classical producer of the year for his work with Cash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Set for Feb. 23 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, this year’s Grammy Awards presentation will be televised live on CBS.

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Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.