One day you're installing cable television in Nashville homes and before you know it, you're scooping up Grammy nominations and taking home the top new male vocalist award at the ACMs. You are if you're Joe Nichols, that is.
The 26-year-old, Arkansas-born singer, whose father was a bass player and truck driver, slugged it out in Nashville for years before getting his break with the release of Man With A Memory on Universal South.
In fact, he released an album in 1996 on Intersound that was quickly forgotten. It apparently suffered from mediocre production and song choice. Soon enough, Intersound was also forgotten.
For the next several years, Nichols milled around with session guitarist Brian Spradlin, playing shows at a small downtown Nashville rib house called Rippy's.
He and Spradlin managed to land a deal with Giant Records and produced a handful of songs, but the label opted to not release them. Then, Giant was folded into Warner Bros., and that label also declined to release the tracks. Nichols was let go from the label, only to later find himself on the fledgling Universal South.
Sometime after joining the Universal roster, Nichols was playing a gig at Rippy's and met manager John Lytle, whose only other client is Gary Allan.
"He heard that I was playing there and he liked the music we were playing, and he knew that we had just gotten our record deal with Universal South," Nichols told POLLSTAR. Apparently, he really liked what he heard.
"He said, 'I'd be interested in management, if you'd be interested in talking with me.' ... I thought he was a great guy. We took on a meeting and we just kind of developed a relationship," he said. "There was probably, at the time, 10 other managers or management companies who were [expressing some kind of interest].
"It came down to two management companies, John Lytle and a much bigger management company that's well known here in Nashville."
Obviously, Lytle's selling point was that his time wouldn't exactly be swallowed by a full roster of other clients.
"That was a big deal for me," Nichols said. "The time he would be able to spend on my project."
It was at a similar small gig where the young singer met Creative Artist Agency's Stan Barnett in 1999, when Nichols was in his fruitless relationship with Giant.
Nichols said he was approached by other agencies, but given his relationship with CAA, the decision was foregone. Barnett, too, told POLLSTAR that signing Nichols was a no-brainer.
"I signed him on just believing in him," he said. "There was no record ... I signed him on his talent. He was determined; it had to happen. When you got a guy that sings like that, and is such a good person to boot, there was no way it could not happen."
Since signing with Universal South, the singer's career has seemed to observers like a year-long overnight success. Despite the relatively low sales of his album, featuring the single "The Impossible," he was nominated for a press-grabbing two Grammy nominations, country male vocalist and album of the year.
That put him in with stars like Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith, pretty good company.
Also good company for an emerging country star is Alan Jackson, whose Drive Tour Nichols is currently supporting through at least September.
But, even though that's about as high profile a spot a Nashville hopeful can covet, he is still finding time to play his own on more gigs than just one-off dates.
"Sometimes, we do four- or five-offs," he said. "As a matter of fact, I think we're going to do close to 150 dates this year, and I think 55 or 60 of those are going to be with Alan."
Through the end of the year, with and without Jackson, Nichols hits the fertile fair and festival rounds, as well as theatres and sheds. He's also recorded a commercial for Budweiser's "True" ad campaign and a track with Rhonda Vincent on a forthcoming Louvin Brothers tribute.
It all adds up to a big year for Nichols and those people working to develop his career.
Since his surprise showing at the Grammys, Nichols said a great deal more attention has been showered in his direction.
Nashville tastemaker The Tennessean ran a lengthy feature on him and on the day POLLSTAR caught up with him, his cell phone battery was taking a beating from the sheer number of calls.
"It's been pretty crazy," he said. "We've gotten a lot more interest from a lot broader of a base. We've gotten interest from a lot of major media networks and publications. It's changed in that way dramatically. And also the shows; that's a pretty big deal as far as playing live."
Booking Agency Creative Artists Agency Stan Barnett 615.383.8787
Management Lytle Management Group John Lytle 615.329.3998
Record Company Universal South 615.259.5300