Jeb Loy Nichols is an American-born expatriate singer, songwriter, musician, artist, and novelist living in Wales.
With an instantly recognizable, dusky tenor singing voice, he pursues a mercurial musical muse that guides him through writing and recording original songs that combine elements of blue-eyed soul, Americana, reggae, and blues. Between 1990 and 1994, he led country-reggae outfit the Fellow Travellers, whose four albums were the first to showcase his hybridized style. As a solo artist, his first single for Capitol Records, "As the Rain" in 1997, was given the remix treatment by old friend and On-U Sound mastermind Adrian Sherwood; it became a dance club hit, propelling Nichols' debut album, Lovers Knot, to airplay at college and independent radio. Given his vocation as a successful visual artist and designer, Nichols records sporadically. He issued a pair of albums for Rykodisc at the beginning of the 21st century including 2002's Easy Now, and two more for Germany's Tuition label, most notably 2007's Days Are Mighty. Three years later, Nichols and British power pop songwriter Ian Gomm released the collaborative Only Time Will Tell. 2017's Country Hustle included Nostalgia 77's Ben Lamdin and Riaan Vosloo in its studio cast. (Nichols returned the favor the following year with "Strange Faith and Practice" on Nostalgia 77's Fifteen retrospective.)
Nichols was born in Lander, Wyoming, and moved to Warrensburg, Missouri when he was seven. As a kid he traveled with his family to bluegrass festivals; it, and country, were all around him, but his transistor radio introduced him to soul music, which became his biggest musical influence. Just before entering high school, Nichols' family moved again, this time to Texas. There he was seduced by the onset of punk rock. After graduating, he moved to New York City on his own and became a fixture on the club scene. He met and became friends with the Slits and Neneh Cherry. He pursued visual art by designing music posters and record covers, and music at night. After two years in New York, he relocated to London at Ari Up's suggestion, and shared a house with her, Cherry, and producer Adrian Sherwood. Advised by his friends, he assembled a hybrid band of reggae musicians and singers called Jeb Loy & the Oil Wells, who issued the track "Things That Make U.S." for On-U Sound's first compilation, Wild Paarty Sounds, Vol. 1. In 1990, Nichols formed the Fellow Travellers with Dave Schramm (who departed soon after) and vocalist/future wife Loraine Morley, issuing No Easy Way on the Ohio indie Okra. A spicy blend of country, folk, and reggae, the album was the first real evidence of Nichols' burgeoning talent as an artist who was as at home on the range as he was on the streets of the city. In 1992, the Fellow Travellers released their sophomore effort, Just a Visitor, and Things and Time a year later. Both appeared on Okra, and channeled Cash as frequently as they did Gershwin or Horace Andy.
In 1997, Nichols' solo debut appeared on Capitol. An ambitious, richly textured album, Lover's Knot featured Nichols' nasally drawl and plucking banjo over soul, blues, and reggae influences. Needless to say, it was a little ahead of its time. Evidently, Capitol thought so, too: Nichols was promptly dropped, and the record was shelved after only a brief release in North America.
Nichols resurfaced in 2001 with Just What Time It Is, issued in America through Ryko and Rough Trade in the United Kingdom. Recorded in Jamaica with engineer Stephen Stanley (Buju Banton, Burning Spear), the record again mixed country & western with soul and reggae. But Nichols' sound also featured a hint of programming, giving it a hyperreal vibe, like a green-lit night-vision image of a front porch. The album was a critical success, and Nichols followed it with Easy Now in 2002. His fourth offering, Now Then, boasted some of the most carefully crafted, honest, and emotional material of his career, a feat he dutifully replicated with 2007's Days Are Mighty, 2008's Parish Bar, and 2009's Strange Faith & Practice. Readied for a 2010 release was Only Time Will Tell, which involved a collaboration and co-billing with Brinsley Schwarz guitarist Ian Gomm.
Nichols kept busy in the next few years: he penned the liner notes for Bear Family's 2011 collection of Jim Ford demos called Demolition Expert and had an exhibit of his artwork featured at Austin's Yard Dog gallery; and, finally, a new album called The Jeb Loy Nichols Special appeared on Decca in the summer of 2012. Produced by Ben Lamdin of Nostalgia 77, the 13-song set (more on the digital version) placed a handful of classic covers among its originals. They included country, Americana, and R&B tunes such as Merle Haggard's "Going Where the Lonely Go," Townes Van Zandt's "Waiting Around to Die," and George Jackson's "Ain't It Funny." It received very favorable reviews and was followed by a successful tour, whereupon Nichols spent the next several years working on and showing his artwork.
Back in 2010, he'd recorded Longtime Traveller, an extremely limited-edition set released only in Japan by On-U Sound that was omitted from most discographies. Co-produced by longtime friends Adrian Sherwood and Style Scott (relationships that dated to the early '80s), it featured Nichols' Americana and country songs in dread, dubwise, and reggae settings. He was accompanied by members of the Dub Syndicate and Roots Radics, with Sherwood at the mixing desk. In the winter of 2016, On-U Sound reissued the record globally. Completely remixed and remastered, it was expanded with a second disc that included five bonus tracks and a handful of alternate mixes.
In 2013, Nichols received an invitation from Andrew Hale -- Sade's keyboardist and co-writer -- to come to London to write and record. Living and working on a small farm in Wales, Nichols could only get away occasionally. They wrote and recorded for over three years, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. They also spent three days working with Nostalgia 77's Ben Lamdin. The recording process was funded by Nichols' successful undertaking of a PledgeMusic campaign. Titled Country Hustle and released in the spring of 2017, the end product featured covers of tunes by Razzy Bailey and Luther Vandross, as well as originals that wove strands of Southern funk, Northern soul, and dubwise rhythms into Nichols' signature take on country. Two years later, Nichols recruited a group of local musicians (dubbed the Westwood All-Stars) in his Welsh town and cut a series of live studio demos deeply influenced by soul, his first musical love. Deciding the demos were fine as they were, his only addition were some horn overdubs. Compass Records released the date as June Is Short, July Is Long in the fall. ~ Johnny Loftus, Rovi