By Tim W. Jackson
While many musicians would be thrilled to have even one album-release day in their careers, this legendary songwriter, singer, musician, and producer has released two albums on the same day.
Gary Nicholson has been a behind-the-scenes guy for most of his career in the music industry. He won two Grammy awards for producing Delbert McClinton records and he’s had songs recorded by everyone from Willie Nelson to Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond to Keb’ Mo’. The list of artists Nicholson has worked with in one way or another reaches into the hundreds and he’s worked extensively with legends such as Buddy Guy, but he says he’s reached a time in his career in which he’d like to project his own voice, and on June 7 he did just that with the release of two albums, each spectacular in their own ways.
The Great Divide, on Blue Corn Music, is an album looking at the current state of our Union. “It’s just my reaction to what’s going on in our culture,” Nicholson says.
“I’m so much in the song writing mode because, writing songs all the time, it’s just become a way of life and it’s just my means of expression,” he explains. “So my exasperation with our divided culture just kind of came through in the songs. It’s not like I set out to write a politically themed album, the songs just accumulated on my phone from late nights writing by myself. Finally I realized, ‘Well are these going to remain on my phone or am I going to have to make a record and let everybody know that this is what I’m thinking about’ because I wasn’t hearing it anywhere else.”
Nicholson says there is a void of anything like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” or Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” or any of the other songs common during the tumultuous times of the 1960s.
“I felt compelled to make this record and I tried to make it in as nonpartisan a way as I could get by with, “Nicholson says. “It’s pretty obvious if I’m going to write a song called ‘Trickle Down’ which side I’m on and all that but I would hope with this music to bring people together. I mean that’s the objective.”
The album begins with “God Help America,” which is performed with Nicholson’s label mate Ruthie Foster and offers a powerful message, setting the tone for what’s to come. Other tunes, such as “Immigrant Nation,” continue to broadly express Nicholson’s views.
Meanwhile, Nicholson’s blues alter-ego, Whitey Johnson released More Days Like This (also on Blue Corn Music) on the same day. This is a straightforward contemporary blues record that ranges from the poignant commentary of “Skin Deep” to the fun and spirited “Upside of Lonely.”
The character of Whitey Johnson was created in a Nicholson short story about an albino African American bluesman. “I never thought I’d be one of those guys who speaks in third person but here I am talking about ‘Gary’ and talking about ‘Whitey,” Nicholson says with a laugh. He goes even further by saying sometimes there’s some cross-talk between the two.
The aforementioned “Skin Deep,” for instance offers the kind of commentary that easily could’ve been on Nicholson’s The Great Divide, meanwhile Nicholson’s “Blues in Black and White” could easily be a Whitey Johnson song.
“The two are intertwined,” Nicholson says of his two voices. “The story goes that when Whitey goes to drinking it’s Gary that gets the headache.”
With so many credits to his name already and two albums just released simultaneously, Nicholson isn’t slowing down, just being more selective about his future projects. He has a number of performance dates set for the summer, many in Texas, and is looking to add more. He has a handful of bands across the country that can join him for dates in Texas, Tennessee, California, or other locales. He loves finally putting his own voice to his music but also still loves wearing the hat of a producer.
Nicholson says that he’s reached the point in his career that he can pick and choose the projects that he really wants to do. And with two amazing and different records released on June 7, we certainly hope Nicholson really wants to create more music. His songwriting prowess certainly comes through on these albums and we can’t wait to see what he may have up his sleeve for future projects.