Tim Nichols: 5 Songs That Shaped the Songwriter

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

When I think of songwriter Tim Nichols, Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” immediately pops into my head. Of course, Tim has penned a number of iconic hits, including Keith Whitley’s “I’m Over You,” Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” Alan Jackson’s “That’d Be Alright,” Chris Young’s “The Man I Want to Be,” and more.

But back in 2015, I was down in New Orleans for an industry event, and Tim Nichols was there. During a late-night excursion at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar (one of the oldest bars in the country), a bunch of us tipped the in-house pianist to play “Live Like You Were Dying.” After a bit of coaxing, Tim sat down with the pianist and belted out a version of his Grammy-winning song. Everyone in the place was singing “I went skydiving, I went Rocky Mountain climbing.” It was completely surreal. But that’s the power of music, and it starts with the songwriter.

Tim, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member, sat down with Outsider to talk about 5 Songs That Shaped the Songwriter.

1. ‘The Gambler’ – Kenny Rogers

Tim Nichols: Written by Don Schlitz, “The Gambler” is the ultimate country “story song.”

2. ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ – Bonnie Raitt

Tim Nichols: This song was written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. My first publishing deal was for an independent publishing company owned by Ronnie Milsap and Rob Galbraith. Mike Reid was also writing there at the time, and we would have conversations about songs that were on the charts back in those days. We talked about the songs we liked, as well as the songs we didn’t, and why. As a relatively new writer, those conversations with Mike were like a “Master Class” to me.

3. ‘I Hope You Dance’ – Lee Ann Womack

Tim Nichols: “I Hope You Dance” was written by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers. Mark and I have had a fair amount of success writing songs together. I was so happy for him and Tia when Lee Ann Womack recorded this incredible song.

4. ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me’ – Don Williams

Tim Nichols: This is my favorite Don Williams song, written by one of Nashville’s greatest songwriters, Bob McDill. This song sets the bar. It makes me want to be a better writer.

5. ‘The House That Built Me’ – Miranda Lambert

Tim Nichols: This is another Allen Shamblin song, which he co-wrote with Tom Douglas. Several years ago, I was playing a songwriter show very near Portsmouth, Virginia, the town where I was born. Just like in the song, I wanted to go back and see the place where I grew up.

So I turned onto Stanley Road. I had the radio on. And as I pulled up in front of our old house, “The House That Built Me” started playing. After a couple of minutes, a woman came out the front door and walked up to my rental car. “May I help you?” she asked. “No ma’am,” I said, “I used to live here years ago, when I was a boy.” “Are you Tim Nichols?” she asked. “Yes ma’am, I am,” I replied. We talked for a few moments, and as the song faded, we said goodbye, and I drove away.