Joe Nichols: Merry Christmas and a Happy Video

Singer Bows First Holiday Album, Shoots Video for "What's a Guy Gotta Do"

What’s a guy gotta do to give a quote these days, anyway?

Joe Nichols wants to talk about his A Traditional Christmas album, but he’s shooting a music video in Bowling Green, Ky., and his cell phone connection with the reporter back in Nashville keeps breaking down. One, two, three calls start and crackle to an end within a matter of seconds.

But during those seconds, Nichols does manage to impart a few bits of information. The video he’s shooting, he says, is for “What’s a Guy Gotta Do,” the rollicking single-guy lament from his second Universal South album, Revelation.

Besides his natural affection for the season, Nichols says he cut the Christmas album “to have a little extra music in our catalog, a little something extra for the fans.” He speculates it will be another year or two before he records another studio album.

Deciding on the holiday tunes to include was “kind of a committee thing,” he says. “We all pitched in and picked 10 of our favorites.” His personal favorite, he reveals, is the old Nat King Cole standard, “The Christmas Song.”

Under the guidance of producer Brent Rowan, Nichols recorded A Traditional Christmas last May.

“We sang Christmas songs in shorts and sandals,” he says with a chuckle. “They turned the air conditioning way up in the studio.” Then the phone connection goes dead again.

The next day, Nichols calls back. This time his voice is firm and clear, free of its dependence on thin-air technology.

“We got through the whole thing,” he reports, returning to the subject of his music video. “It was really good. [Director] Peter [Zavadil] did a good job. Somebody else had the lead in it. It’s not really focused on me. But that’s a good thing.”

As far as songs go, A Traditional Christmas lives up to its title, with selections like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” “Winter Wonderland,” “Silver Bells” and “Away in a Manager.” The sound, though, is not always traditional. For example, Nichols sings “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” not in the slow, wistful way it’s usually delivered but as an up-tempo, almost cocky wink and a promise. There’s a tin whistle and an autoharp on “Silent Night” and a harmonica weaving its way through “White Christmas.”

“[Brent's] the one who came up with a lot of that stuff,” Nichols explains, “and thank God. He’s got a very creative mind. He can see a record before it happens.”

Last Wednesday (Dec. 1), the day before he shot his video, Nichols did a show at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ford Theater in Nashville as part of Nashville radio station WSIX’s acoustic concert series. It wasn’t his first time to perform there. In May, he had sung in the ceremony to honor new Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Carl Smith. But this was his first experience headlining at the venue.

Attracting a theater filled with die-hard fans, one woman from Indiana said she’d driven six hours — just to see Nichols. At the show, he sang all his hits, plus a couple of cover tunes he and his guitar player used to perform years ago when they were working the honky-tonks on Nashville’s Lower Broadway.

What fans didn’t hear was any song from Nichols’ new Christmas album. In the excitement of the moment, he had let that opportunity slip by.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.