When "Yeah" landed on top of Billboard's Country Airplay chart this week, it was Joe Nichols' fifth time at Number One but a first for him in that its recording fees came out of his own pocket. In May of 2012, the singer left Show Dog-Universal and was without a label home but itching to make a record. He'd had "Yeah," written by Ashley Gorley and Bryan Simpson, on hold for a while and felt so strongly about the song that he saw it as a personal investment to record it — an investment that would pay off in the form of a new deal with Red Bow Records.
"It is a different feeling with this one; it feels redeeming," he tells Rolling Stone Country of his fifth visit to Billboard's country penthouse. "'Yeah' has sentimental value, because it's how I started the whole record [Crickets]. It was the song that really made the people at Red Bow say, 'We've got a future here.'"
"Yeah" is the second straight chart-topper from Crickets, following "Sunny and 75." Those hits came more than a decade after his first Number One, 2003's "Brokenheartsville." That same year, he scored the ACM Award for Top New Male Vocalist, along with his first two Grammy nominations. Still, Nichols says success is sweeter as an indie artist with a lot of country miles under his belt.
"I'm way more excited now than I was then. Back then, I was wide-eyed and a little bit arrogant," he admits. "I thought Number Ones were somewhat easy since my first two songs went Number One. I thought it was smooth sailing, but I quickly learned that it's not smooth at all."
Though Crickets was released less than two years after his previous LP, It's All Good, it's being billed as Nichols' "comeback album." But that attribution may be more about momentum than time. "Take It Off," his last single on Show Dog-Universal, "didn't set the world on fire," he says, and then it was a year and a half until "Sunny and 75" came out. So Nichols — who's also a rare country hitmaker in that he lives far away from Nashville, in Tyler, Texas — felt like he was out of sight, out of mind.
"It was almost like I dropped off the planet," he recalls. "But I think things happened for a reason, and I think the reason is that I needed that time to feel the gratitude I feel right now. Coming from basically the bottom of my career to what I think is the top of my career right now, it's a pretty great feeling."