Artist Interviews


Jimmy NicholsJimmy Nichols (born James Ginnetti) was raised in Columbus, Ohio where he and his seven brothers and sisters shared a musical upbringing with their father, pianist Joey "Nichols" Ginnetti, and their mom, Marion. The four brothers started playing professionally when Jimmy was only ten years old and went on to become the Nichols Brothers, touring the country for 24 years until a potential record deal brought Jimmy and his brothers to Nashville in 1994. Jimmy quickly became one of the busiest session players in Nashville, with album credits including Elton John, Lee Ann Womack, Reba McEntire, Andy Griggs, Mindy McCready, Billy Gilman, BJ Thomas, Keith Urban, Lonestar, Jo Dee Messina, and most recently, of course, Faith Hill.

You started playing music at a very early age, and were surrounded by gifted family members - how did you specifically come to play keyboards?

Well, my father was a piano player, and a very educated and skilled one at that. He got his masters from New England Conservatory before he was even 18! When he started to have kids, he'd tell our mom he wanted a family band. The three oldest were boys and he trained them early on, concentrating on their strengths. Tony was trumpet, Joe was Trombone, and Fred was a natural on drums. With my dad on piano, he had the beginnings of a family band. As I got older, around 7, he tried to get me to play the piano, but I had no interest. I mean, none!! He finally gave up on me, accepting my dream of being a pilot. However, after he died suddenly from cancer that he had hidden from his family, I walked up to his piano, which he'd only been given less than a year before he died, and sat down and just started playing. Not simple stuff, but songs I'd never heard of, like Dr. Zhivago and The Theme from Love Story. Both hands! Like I'd played it all my life. When my mom, who knew I never played before, asked me how I knew how to play, she said I looked up at her and said, "Daddy's Moving My Fingers...." I guess he wanted the band to continue on after he left us, which was a true God send because when he passed away, we had no income. I was 10 years old, and the oldest was only 15. But we worked 9pm to 2AM every day to earn a living. That's the short version!! So much more to tell....

How did you come to play electronic keyboards and synthesizers - what instruments were among the first?

In the early days, I couldn't afford something portable, so we rented a Wurlitzer electric when we could, then we purchased something called an INSTA-PIANO. Pretty cheezy, but portable. I mostly used whatever was there at the club for years. Then a family friend bought me an RMI Electric Piano (I think it was a model A400 or 400A). It weighed a ton, but sounded great for the time. I found a Rhodes 54, and then a Crumar Orchestrator. Oh, I had this amp called a Traynor Group III. This thing was wild. I could do a lot of sound manipulating with it, but I've never seen one since. Shortly after that, I made the big splurge, and purchased a Yamaha CP 70B.

How did you become so proficient with computer-based instruments and software in general?

Jimmy NicholsWell, first let me say this. I made a commitment to myself that I would be maybe the first keyboardist to ever play on a major record without using any Yamaha, Roland, or Kurzweil gear. I only had Korg and Ensoniq stuff at that time. The reason was I wanted to be unique, and just not sound like everyone else out there. That wish came true in 1996 when I worked on Mindy McCready's debut record for RCA. It sold well over 2 million records and started my studio career. I also sang background vocals and engineered on that record. When Ensoniq was bought out by E-MU, I started using E-MU stuff, and was a huge supporter of the PARIS recording system. I quickly became a huge fan, and bought three E4XT Ultras, and Proteus 2000, B3, and Orchestra modules. That really changed everything for me. The quality of my work went up fast, as did the quantity! I've always been very serious about learning and knowing my way around my gear. I started building PCs in the 80s, tearing them apart, and figuring how to put them back together (sometimes that didn't happen!). By the time computer-based equipment became the norm, I was building my own music computers from scratch, and still use four of them today. It's like a hobby for me, but it keeps me up on the technology.

What attracts you to the current E-MU products that you're using?

I really love the new computer-based systems. It was a natural transition from the E4's to the Emulator X series, and importing my samples made it easy to get right to work. The thing I love most besides the sound is the ease of use. A musician at his/her core really only wants to make music, and when you're in a studio under pressure to come up with something incredible fast, you need systems that let you do just that. No vague menus, or complex navigation issues. Just straight-ahead interfaces with great sound. I think E-MU's never lost focus of why we need their gear. How many times have we all scanned through hundreds of wild sounds and weird effects that may be fun to play with, but have almost no use in the real world? And the ones we do want seem to get lost in the shuffle. E-MU's always paid close attention to the core sounds, and made them as usable as they can possibly be. The attention to detail is impeccable, even with their studio monitors, which I use every day.

What have been some of your main live and studio projects over the past two years, and what are you looking forward to in 2007?

Jimmy Nichols-FirefliesI've really enjoyed working with Faith Hill these last couple years. She's an amazing artist. I think she gets discounted because she's incredibly beautiful, so she can't be that amazing a vocalist, you know. But I've got news for you, she's an amazing singer and interpreter, and when she wraps herself around a song she believes in, she's downright scary. Check out the last track on Butterflies. It's called Paris (ironically). We cut it in one take, including her vocal! It's mesmerizing! I'm looking forward to the summer leg of the Soul 2 Soul II tour, which made history last year as the biggest selling tour in country music history, and I will be reprising my roll as Musical Director for Faith. I've been in the studio with my former touring boss, Reba, working on her new album, and it's going to be awesome as well. She's also an amazing singer and a super human being. I just finished three days on Carrie Underwood's new project, and it's going to be huge. She's got a lot of talent for such a young person in this business. She always came in prepared and focused - a true pro. I also started a record label here called Black River Music Group, and will be heading the A&R department along with my other duties and studio work. I also got to work on a great project with Bill Medley of the Legendary vocal group The Righteous Brothers, with Steve Dorff and Shayne Fair. We did it in LA with some of the top session cats in the business, and it's so cool, very bluesy, and vibey. Brian Wilson sang on one song, which is a great personal experience for me. So many legends, it's still so surreal!

You have a great range of experience that you bring to the table for any artist that you work with (MD, live/studio chops, etc.) - do you have a preference as to what kind of work you do, or does it depend on the specific artist/project?

Well, I'm not a jazz guy, which is ironic because my father was. I've never had a lesson, and don't read music, so that limits me a little. I'm also not a hip-hop/rap guy, though I appreciate it. I'm a melody freak, and I miss the music I grew up with, with all the great melodies. It's almost an extinct thing. If it's musical, I'll want to be a part of it. I love what I do, and feel blessed each day to get to work with such incredible artists, and after 35 years now in the business, I feel like although I've earned my place, I'll never squander it, never take it for granted. I still live and work every day to make my father (and mother, who passed away two years ago) proud of me.

For more info, check out Jimmy Nichols' website at