In the video for his No. 1 song "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," Joe Nichols warns of the dangers of excessive Patrón consumption at a pool party, when surrounded by hundreds of buxom women. He didn't always make his livelihood singing, however. For a spell, he was moving and lifting boxes in a warehouse, and did it again for day for the new cable series "Day Jobs" (Sundays at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Great American Country).
"It brought me back to when I didn't make the rules," Nichols told AOL Jobs of the experience. "It was an honest day's work. That's not what I do now."
It took a little while for Nichols to get to this place, although his dreamy looks, come-hither twinkle, and breezy good-time ballads make it all seem so easy. Nichols signed a record deal when he was 19 years old, but his self-titled debut caused only a murmur and Intersound Records dropped him from its roster soon after. Nichols' dalliance with another label, Giant Records, ended without a single release.
Nichols was living in Nashville at the time, like thousands of other guitar-strumming hopefuls. "I was determined to make this music thing happen," he says. But the man needed cash. Unfortunately, he had raced to the country music capital without getting a college degree, or any other training.
"I didn't want to wait," he says. "I wanted to get out of my hometown. I wanted to get to Nashville."
That's a move he now regrets. "I often find myself the least educated person in the room when I meet with important people," he explains.
Nichols worked as a cable guy, moved furniture, and for a while peddled steaks door-to-door. An experience he describes as "pretty terrible."
And then one day, he spotted an ad in the paper for a job in a warehouse.
The stint wasn't so long, however. In 1999, when Nichols was 22, he met session guitarist Brent Rowen, who hooked him up with a division of the Universal Music Group. Nichols became Universal South Records' first signed artist.
His first single, "The Impossible," was the 10th most played country song of 2003, and the album garnered three Grammy nominations. That year, The Academy of Country Music named Nichols the Top New Male Vocalist.
"Sometimes the things you think would never happen/Happen just like that," Nichols sings on "The Impossible."
But the rush of sudden success sat uncomfortably with the Arkansas boy.
"I'm not worthy of any of this. This is not for me," he told CMT News, talking about the feelings that eventually led him to addiction. "This is supposed to happen to some golden child over here with no background, no baggage."
Nichols' dad, a truck driver, had passed away the summer before, and the mixed-up emotions, the flood of attention, the pressure, the admiration, was all too much for Nichols. It took five years, however, for Nichols to finally check himself into rehab, a month after his marriage to teen sweetheart Heather Singleton.
But Nichols says that he is in a much better place now. He released a greatest hits album in February, and Merle Haggard, perhaps Nichols' greatest influence, recently named him one of the only artists to continue on his tradition.
Heading back into the warehouse now allowed Nichols to step back for a moment from a decade of wild highs and ugly lows. It gave him "humility" he says.
"In my world, it's not really like that. I'm the boss. I'm one of the few percent that gets to do what I love."
And if he'd become disheartened by the first few struggling years, and given up on The Impossible? "I'd be working in a warehouse probably, moving boxes. Something involving hard labor," he says. "The only thing I was ever good at was singing."
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