11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Gary Nicholson

Gary NicholsonWhen you start talking about Nashville’s greatest living songwriters, it doesn’t take too long to get to the name of Gary Nicholson. Having had his songs covered more than 600 times, the list of artists he has written for and co-written with is hard for anyone to match. He also holds the honor of being in the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame and has been twice nominated for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Nicholson loves both country and the blues, and his work as producer for Texas bluesman Delbert McClinton has won him a pair of Grammys. It’s long been that the lock on what to do on a Tuesday night in Nashville is to see Gary’s blues set with his “friend” Whitey Johnson over at Bourbon Street in Printers Alley.

Gary is also a recording artist in his own right and you can often find him doing the songwriter thing at the Bluebird. While we wait for his new record, you can check out his current song and video “hymn for mid-term healing” with blues-gospel great Ruthie Foster, “God Help America.”  

It’s an honor Gary to have you answer these 11 Questions. Please say hello to Whitey for us when you get a chance.


Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?

I am from Garland, TX. I moved to Nashville in 1980 to write for Jim Ed Norman’s publishing company. He had recorded my song “Jukebox Argument” with Mickey Gilley for the Urban Cowboy movie soundtrack. I met Jim Ed in 1968 when we attended North Texas State University. We both moved to LA in 1970. He played in the band Shiloh with Don Henley, and eventually joined my group Uncle Jim. I will be grateful to him always for getting me out of the Texas honky-tonks and giving me the opportunity to write songs for a living.

What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?

The first record I bought with my own money from mowing yards was “Mary Lou” by Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, who eventually became The Band. The last record I bought was Ringo Starr’s current record Give More Love because I co-wrote the title song and one other with Ringo. The first was a vinyl 45, the last was a CD.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

The first concert I attended was Freddy King in Dallas in 1964. He had a hit “Hideaway” that I had learned to play. The last concert I attended was Phish in Nashville. They have been playing a song I co-wrote with Trey Anastasio.

Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?

Delbert McClinton should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame.

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

For pizza it’s DeSano. For coffee, it’s Starbucks Green Hills, but rarely, because I can’t stand the fact that a cup of coffee costs more than twice as much as a download. The coffee lasts minutes and the
music forever.

What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?

My favorite record to come out of Nashville is “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, possibly the greatest example of country music in modern times. I’m proud that my friends Bobby Braddock and
Curly Putnam wrote it.

Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?

The best place to eat late at night after a show is my place because Nashville doesn’t have a really good late-night restaurant that I know of.

The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.

Three songwriters I like to be In the Round with at the Bluebird would be Rodney Crowell, Delbert McClinton and Shawn Camp. Once Rodney, Delbert and I were filmed there.

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

My favorite venue to play in Nashville is Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Printers Alley, where I play every Tuesday with Whitey Johnson.

Name a musician who you’d like to see move here?

A musician I would like to see move to Nashville is my longtime friend and collaborator Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, because he’s one of my very favorite keyboard players, and he has a new baby I would love to see more often.

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

I am very much looking forward to releasing my new record The Great Divide on Blue Corn Records. I wrote the songs reflecting my feelings about the polarization our country is experiencing, and I am hopeful that the music will resonate with both sides and offer some relief to the tensions and divisiveness we are all experiencing. I am also planning the release of a record I’m finishing with Whitey.
Johnson of my new blues and Stax-inspired songs.

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