Tim Nichols Savors “Legs” of McGraw Hit That Keeps On Hitting

"Live Like You Were Dying" Spawns Two Parties This Week

“These are the things that happen to somebody else,” songwriter Tim Nichols said as he accepted another torrent of trophies for “Live Like You Were Dying,” the durable Tim McGraw hit he co-wrote with Craig Wiseman. Nichols expressed his sense of wonder to a crowd of well-wishers who had assembled Thursday (Dec. 9) for a celebration at BMI’s headquarters in Nashville. Two days earlier, BMI’s competing performance rights society, ASCAP, had also thrown a party for the song. McGraw showed up for both.

In addition to setting a record by staying at No. 1 on Radio & Records’ country charts for 10 consecutive weeks, “Live Like You Were Dying” also won the Country Music Association’s song of the year award in November and has just been nominated for two Grammys — song of the year and best country song. A gift-book version of the song made the NewYork Times bestseller list, and a novella based on the song was recently published by WestBow Press and is currently excerpted on Amazon.com.

In a conversation with reporters prior to the BMI party, Nichols said he and Wiseman were telling each other stories at one of their regular songwriting sessions when the idea for the song came up. “We [got on the subject of] how people respond out of the ordinary when faced with their mortality. … Craig spit out the term, ’live like you were dying.'” That was enough to set the song in motion. They finished it that night during a phone call. “It had legs from day one,” Nichols observed.

Nichols said the success of “Live Like You Were Dying” — and the time he’s spent celebrating it — haven’t caused him to cut back on his writing. He noted that on the morning of the ASCAP party, he and Wiseman were in different parts of town working with other writers. “All of us who make our living this way are so passionate and love it so much,” he said.

In September, Nichols scored another No. 1 via Terri Clark’s “Girls Lie Too.” Asked to name a favorite song this year that he didn’t write, he mused for a while and then cited the Keith Urban hit, “You’ll Think of Me.” Among the many top tunes Nichols had a hand in writing are Alan Jackson’s “That’d Be Alright,” “Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California” and Lee Ann Womack’s “I’ll Think of a Reason Later.”

Nichols told the crowd that every songwriter has an ideal of how his songs should be performed and that that ideal was met when he watched McGraw sing “Live Like You Were Dying” on the Academy of Country Music awards show this past spring. “Tim’s performance of that song was my idea of perfection,” he said. “It was the sweetest moment I’ve had in the music business.”

Then, turning to McGraw, who stood beside him on a makeshift stage, Nichols added, “What you brought to this song I don’t think anyone else could have delivered.” As a gesture of gratitude, he presented silver Tiffany dog tags — inscribed with “LLYWD” on one side and the recipient’s initials on the other — to McGraw and his co-producer and band member, Darran Smith.

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