Joe Paul Nichols, country and gospel singer, was born in Cundiff, Texas, on September 13, 1941. He was the son of O. W. “Jack” and Myrtle Iva (Riggs) Nichols. When he was nine years old, Nichols learned to play guitar from his father. He listened to country music broadcast from programs such as the Grand Ole Opry, Big D Jamboree, and Louisiana Hayride. At the age of sixteen, he had a successful audition in Fort Worth for a weekly country show called Cowtown Hoedown, and Nichols performed there every other week for three years. He graduated from Jacksboro High School, where he had been active in sports, student council, and agricultural clubs, in 1960.
In the early 1960s Nichols became a regular performer on Big D Jamboree, broadcast from the Sportatorium in Dallas. He married high school sweetheart Carolyn Martin in Jacksboro on June 28, 1963. They had two children. In 1970 Nichols formed his own band, The Five Pennies, and together they performed country, western swing, and country gospel for more than three decades. Nichols and his Five Pennies toured Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Missouri and performed at rodeos, fairs, clubs, conventions, and school auditoriums.
The shows included a performance for Lady Bird Johnson in Austin and for Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating at a barbecue. During his career Nichols worked with or shared the stage with a number of famous names in country music, including George Jones, Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb, Sonny James, Ferlin Husky, and Hank Thompson.
Nichols’s prolific recording output included some twenty-six albums and more than 300 songs during the course of his career. His song, “Jesus is the Same in California,” hit Number 1 on the country gospel charts in 1999 and won numerous honors, including the Country Gospel Music Guild’s “Golden Harp Award” for Song of the Year in 2000. Another hit song, “Eleven Eighteen Nadine Lane,” won the Song of the Year Award from the Academy of Western Artists in 2006. In addition to his professional musical endeavors, Nichols served as music director at Cundiff Baptist Church for forty-eight years.
Nichols maintained a day job throughout his musical career and worked as a state inspector for the Texas Department of Transportation for thirty-four years until retiring in 1993. He then started, with his wife and business partner Terry Beene, a bus tour business. He was elected a county commissioner in Jack County and served in that office for ten years. He was also active on the board of the Jack County Farm Bureau for twenty-three years.
Throughout his career, Nichols received recognition and honors for his musical contributions. The city of Fort Worth designated June 8, 1984, as “Joe Paul Nichols Day.” He was inducted into the International Country Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 1991 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from that organization in 2009. He was named Male Entertainer of the Year by the Country Gospel Music Guild in 2000 and inducted into the Texas International Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2007. That same year Texas Governor Rick Perry paid tribute to Nichols as a “Country-Western Icon.”
In September 2007 Nichols was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He retired from music in 2008 but continued to reach audiences through his recordings. His song, “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” reached Number 1 on the country gospel chart in 2010 and remained in the Top 10 for several months. He died on July 27, 2011, in Jacksboro and was buried in Cundiff Cemetery in Jack County.