The phone rang as Joe Nichols hauled it across the heartland on his summer tour. I told him it was “Sunny and 75” back in his beloved Razorback Nation, but temps would likely soar soon in the Ozarks, like his new tune.
The Rogers product and top shelf country artist liked that. As he admitted, his new single is soaring everywhere across the country, not just back home. Sunny and 75 has only been on the charts a few days, but is making the fastest, quickest move of any Nichols tune ever, besting Brokenheartsville, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off and Gimme That Girl, all No. 1 hits.
It’s smooth and typical Nichols. And it is destined to be another big hit. The good news, Joe said, there are more good ones on the new album to be released soon. He’s got three tunes from that album in his road show song list, with more to come.
“It think we may add two or three more,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to have an album with this many. I have had hits before in an album, but I don’t think I’ve ever had this many that I think can be hits.
“I think there is a tremendous follow up song that’s going to get played soon on the radio, ‘Yeah, Yeah.’ I know the radio folks I talk to are excited about it.
“I’m excited, too. Usually, it’s, ‘Hit! Nothing.’ Next album, ‘Hit! Nothing.’ I think this album has a solid three, four, five songs. Everyone says it has a plethora of good singles.”
I’m excited, too. I’m headed to hear Joe in the next few weeks. I’m going to try to combine a fly fhishing trip to north central Colorado with a night at the Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne where he’ll be paired with Moore, Okla., product Toby Keith for a blockbuster performance late in the two-week rodeo. I chided Nichols for working with a Sooner fan, actually a long-time buddy of Joe’s on tour.
“Sometimes you do what you gotta do,” Nichols said.
Really, they do well together. Both are huge football fans.
And that was the purpose of this call. I had questions for Nichols about his roots. He grew up a Razorback fan, but didn’t see his first game until he won a radio station contest to see the 1994 Homecoming game with Ole Miss in Razorback Stadium.
“I don’t remember a lot, but I think I can give you the score, 31-7,” Nichols said. “Our family didn’t have money to go to games. We got the tickets free.”
Right on the money. That was a 4-7 Danny Ford team. Regardless of the record, Nichols said he’s all in when the Hogs are playing.
“It was bred in me to be a Razorback fan,” he said. “I was 18 when I went to my first game, but I listened to everything Razorback on the radio. If there was a game on TV at my earliest recollection, I strained my eyes if I saw they wore red helmets. Was their a white Hog on that helmet? It makes me smile right now just remembering the way I grew up on the Razorbacks.
“My grandmother loved the Hogs. I’d watch games there or hear her talk of the Hogs there. I can remember hearing her talk about Lou Holtz. She’d say, ‘He’s a good coach, but he’ll never be Frank Broyles, the best there ever was.’ I heard a few comments about how it wasn’t right that Frank was friends with Darrell (Royal, head coach at Texas). I can tell you that when I’d see that red helmet with the Hog on it, my heart always stopped.”
Joe’s father, a truck driver with St. Louis roots, claimed not to be a Razorback fan like the other side of the family, all from Rogers.
“He’d always poke fun at me and say, ‘Your Razorbacks did this, or that,’ but he was a closet Razorback fan,” Joe said. “We watched the games together. And he’d get mad if Ken Hatfield kicked a field goal instead of going for it. I do remember that. He was a bigger fan than he let on.”
There have been great moments following the Hogs as he traveled across the country in his tour bus. But some lows when the Hogs were treated unfairly by referees or didn’t quite get it done.
“I broke three TVs in my bus in anger,” Joe said. “The worst was in 2007, at Alabama. We had Darren McFadden and fell behind 24-0. We fought back and had the lead only to lose on a terrible pass interference call.”
It was a 41-38 loss and, yes, a dubious pass interference call let Alabama escape.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “Bad call. They showed the replay and the close-up of the official who called it. I couldn’t handle it. Awful. I took the remote and threw it at his face. I had to cool it after that. My wife was upset.
“I can handle it better now. That 2009 loss at Florida did damage to my heart, but I didn’t bust out the TV. I kept my cool. But I had to. It was my wife’s birthday and I didn’t want to ruin it for her. There were bad calls in that game. Horrible. Phantom stuff. Worst I ever saw. There was an offensive pass interference by a Florida receiver in the end zone that was not called. Terrible.”
There are some great memories of rolling into SEC cities in his tour bus. His band abides by his wishes and wears Razorback gear to the games.
“If you are in my band, you have to do that,” he said. “I do remember the time in Baton Rouge that me and my steel guitar player got dog cussed by a boy who couldn’t have been older than six. They have some great fans there, but they have their own brand of nastiness. We saw it that day.
“We walked into the stadium and this boy just started in on us. I’ve never heard anyone put together that many four-letter words -- and by a young boy. I mean no disrespect to LSU fans, but that was something. When he got done, he turned to his father and they high fived! I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.”
Nichols said that LSU experience was mostly good. It was actually better than anticipated.
“My bus, it was Razorback red,” he said. “We pulled up right next to the stadium. I thought it was going to get trashed or maybe turned over, but they didn’t do a thing to it. I will say it was an interesting day.”
That was a neat bus. Nichols said his band finally needed something bigger.
“When we had it built -- my first one -- we spent a lot of time going over specs with the bus company,” Joe said. “I told them it had to be Razorback red. I got a call back, ‘There is no such color.’ So we went back and forth on what exactly that might be and they came up with cardinal. Well, that’s a mix of several colors. But we got it right. It was beautiful. And the interior was leather like a football. We did a lot of research and it turned out great.
“Some of my guys still talk about that bus. They proclaim it the best bus ever -- made for guys who love sports. But there just were not enough bunks for what we have on tour now. I loved it. It was red with black and white lines. I think it’s still out there on the road. It’s beautiful. We just outgrew it.”
Growing is the right word for Joe’s family these day. Daughter Dylan River, just 14 months, provides great joy.
“I didn’t think I’d enjoy having a daughter nearly like this,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome. All the little things that are new each day are really wonderful.”
It’s Sunny and 75 for Joe Nichols right now.
Joe Nichols leads the Hog Call before the 2011 Mississippi State-Arkansas game in Little Rock.