Tim Nichols on Songs with Magic Dust

Stories Behind Tim McGraw and Jo Dee Messina Hits

Before hit songwriter Tim Nichols had his songwriting deal, he was working at the Opryland resort, in a costume and trying to clog. He was also working construction. And he was also trying to figure Nashville out. Then Jo Dee Messina came along.

“I heard she was looking for a duet for her and Tim (McGraw),” Nichols told Country Aircheck. “Mark Sanders and I had written ’Heads Carolina, Tails California’ and I thought it would be perfect for them. I’m not one to hype songs, but I really believed that was the song.”

Since Nichols lived so close to Messina in Mt. Juliet, he decided to put a demo of the song in her mailbox. And just one month later, she’d cut the song and told Nichols she was making it her debut single in 1996.

“She said, ’We cut it, but it’s not a duet. Are you mad?’ I said, ’No, of course not!’ I’ll never forget when she played it for me. We were sitting in her car in her driveway,” he recalled, “and I remember thinking there was magic song dust on it. I heard it on the radio yesterday, and it still holds up.”

Behind “Live Like You Were Dying,” Nichols said, that’s the most-performed song in his catalog. Even newcomer Brandon Lay has resurrected the song for one of his first videos.

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