Joe Nichols Is Downright Amazed by Blake Shelton: 'That Guy Can Say Some Stuff That I Could Never Say'

"I've always tried to be grateful for being able to do this," Nichols tells PEOPLE of his career

Joe Nichols
Joe Nichols. Photo: David "Doc" Abbott

Blake Shelton didn't have to answer Joe Nichols' call.

In fact, the country music powerhouse already had much on his plate last summer, from serving as a coach on The Voice to being the husband of a certain miss Gwen Stefani. The last thing he needed was something new to add to his calendar.

But he did have time for his old friend.

"Blake didn't have to do this duet," says Nichols, 45, during an interview with PEOPLE. "He probably had people on his team that were saying, 'Do you really need to do a duet with Joe Nichols?' But he did it. He jumped on it. And that's a good dude."

Soon, the two old friends virtually began work on "I Got Friends That Do (feat. Blake Shelton,)" a light-hearted and addictive funhouse of a song that would soon live on Nichols' long-awaited new album, Good Day for Living. Serving as his first new full-length project in four years, the traditional leaning album reunites Nichols with acclaimed music producers Mickey Jack Cones and Derek George, who helmed his 2013 album Crickets.

"Blake and I would talk about "I Got Friends That Do" over the phone, and then would send our vocals back and forth," remembers the Arkansas native of the song written by Dancik Dupelle, Tebey Ottoh and Jimmy Thow. "We were able to feed off of each other, even though we were a thousand miles apart."

Granted, the relationship between the two legendary artists began over 25 years ago when the two were just two new artists trying to make their way through the Nashville hierarchy.

"We spent a lot of time at his place drinking beer and complaining about the music industry," Nichols says with a laugh. "We would talk about the normal stuff you do when you're an artist and you haven't had a single out and you're all impatient."

Eventually, Nichols would watch as Shelton's career began to skyrocket in 2001 courtesy of his chart-topping hit "Austin." A year later, Nichols himself would also have his first No. 1, courtesy of "Brokenheartsville."

And the two were on their way.

"For years, people would confuse the two of us until that guy exploded on his own," chuckles Nichols, who too has filled his career with a long list of accomplishments, including six No. 1 hits and eight Top 10 singles. "Now, people don't confuse us anymore."

He laughs.

"It's fascinating to me that as outrageous as he is and in the times we live in, that guy can say some stuff that I could never say. If that stuff came out of my mouth, people would say I sound like a jerk. But if it comes out of him, it's hilarious."

Joe Nichols, Blake Shelton
Joe Nichols and Blake Shelton in 2009. Rick Diamond/Getty

Nichols' voice grows quiet, as if he seems to be thinking of the different roads he and Shelton have taken on their way to success, and how they continue to find themselves in the country music spotlight. Currently, Nichols is receiving much acclaim for the 13 tracks that make up Good Day for Living.

"I've always tried to be grateful for being able to do this," says Nichols, who is currently out on his Good Day for Living 2022 Tour. "I've always thought if I could have a 20-year career in this business, I would feel like hit the lottery."

And in a way, he has. But he admits there are times he has his doubts.

"Honestly, I have wondered at times if my day has passed," says Nichols, whose current single "Good Day for Living" is out on country radio right now. "I ask myself if my version of country music exists anymore. It is a tough reality and I'm sure we will kind of face it one day."

Heck, it happens to the best of them.

"I don't think that it's as much about age as it is about vision," Nichols explains. "George Strait and Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson are great examples. Age is just a thing, but it's more about vision. If you have decades of success, it's more about the brand rather than it is about if they are 25 or 60."

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