JACKSON — Don Nickerson, leader of the band Country Mist, was inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame last month. The Republican Journal caught up with him at his home in Jackson Sept. 15 to ask him about his career, which has spanned more than four decades, and the honor of being selected for the Hall of Fame.

Nickerson, who is also on the Jackson Select Board and has been the town’s fire chief for 36 years, said he was actually inducted in 2020, but because of the pandemic, the event was canceled.

“I’ve enjoyed entertaining ever since I was in high school,” he said. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame “is the icing on the cake,” after winning every award ever granted in the state of Maine. Nickerson said he has so many trophies, his wife took the small plaques off the trophies and his son placed them on a large mahogany board to display.

He attributes his success to giving people what they wanted and playing a good variety of ’50s and ’60s country and country-rock tunes. And most importantly, he said, “It’s got to be danceable or the people will walk off the floor.”

The 74-year-old musician was born and raised in Belfast and has been playing music professionally for 45 years, along with his youngest brother, Duane, who plays lead guitar in the band. Over the years he’s played with many seasoned musicians, though he said he got his start playing in a band with a group of 14-year-olds.

“I was 28 years old and all my band members — some of the greatest musicians you will ever hear — were all 14 at the time,” he said. Because of their age, Nickerson had to act as their guardian to be allowed to play in clubs that served alcohol. “We played Stacy’s on the Canadian border and played gigs in Canada,” he said.

The original drummer was his boss’s son. “I heard him play and he was just an incredible musician. Jeff Simon, another Maine Hall of Famer, was also my first lead guitar player at 14,” he said. And his brother Duane was playing bass at the time and later switched to lead guitar.

With the first incarnation of Country Mist, Nickerson said, many times the band would play every Friday, Saturday, Saturday afternoon and Sunday night. “I had no weekends with my wife and kids,” he said.

In high school, Nickerson played in a Beatles cover band, complete with “funny little coats with small lapels.” He graduated from high school in 1965, and said he has enjoyed playing at two of his class reunions.

He started out with what he called a “crazy Beatle haircut” playing “She Loves You,” but remembers losing his admiration for the band with the album “Yellow Submarine.”

“The strike of the Beatles was when they first came over from England, and we capitalized on it,” he said. “I mean somebody wrote the book, you don’t have to rewrite it.”

The name “Country Mist,” he remembers, came about one night in his later 20s when the band was returning home from a gig in New Hampshire. He looked out over the foggy countryside and said, “I got it.”

He told his brother, who was also sitting in the front seat with him, the name of the band was going to be Country Mist. Duane thought Country Morning Mist, might be more descriptive, but Nickerson disagreed and Country Mist won out.

Not wanting to lose the name to anyone, Nickerson had it copyrighted. “If anybody was to use that band name,” he said, it would cost them a $1,000-a-night fine.

Over the years, the band lineup has not seen too many changes, he said. In all, there have been three drummers. The current drummer is Peter Munn, who has played with the band for 17 years, along with bass player George Harnish, who has been with the band for 14 years. Eighty-nine-year-old Ed Hinkley rounds out the band playing keyboards.

Nickerson’s son, Anthony, also played bass for two years while Harnish was out with a medical condition. “My drummer that I have now is the nephew of my original drummer I had 45 years ago,” he said. “He wasn’t even born when we started playing music.”

In a Sept. 11 show at the Gracie Theatre at Bangor’s Husson University with other Country Hall of Fame inductees, Nickerson said he played a Dick Curless song, “Tombstone Every Mile,” in honor of Curless’s being the first to be inducted.

Other inductees on hand at the Gracie Theatre show included Slim Andrews, Ken and Jane Brooks, Ronnie Chase, Joe and Nellie Kennedy, Bonnie Rairdon, Phil and Ellie LaClaire, Sharlene Hooper, Paul Main, Fred “Tommy” Thompson, Jeff Simon and Chris Fyfe.

The show was recorded for a Maine Public Broadcasting Network production that will air at a later date, with additional footage from the Country Music Hall of Fame in the lower level of the Silver Spurr dance hall, Route 121, Mechanic Falls.

The Silver Spurr is one of the few remaining dance halls in the state and, according to Nickerson, it “looks like you are walking into Gilley’s in Texas.”

“It has a balcony, a beautiful stage, nice hardwood floor, plenty of dance space, and it accommodates a lot of people,” he said. The Hall of Fame in the lower level of the club is climate-controlled because of the many artifacts and historical memorabilia stored there.

Nickerson said few of the older clubs remain, and many other venues had to close last year because of the pandemic.

He said Country Mist was the first band that ever played at Crystal Falls in Chelsea, after owner Raymond Rodrigue asked if he built the club, whether Nickerson would play.

“He called me about a year later and said the club was all built, you want to come down and take a look at it?” he said. “I went down and went by it twice, I thought it was a church. Then I went inside — what a beautiful dance hall. We were his first band, and we are still playing there.”

Country Mist has also played at the Belfast Summer Street Festival for many years, last year being an exception because of the pandemic. “We have played there for 10 years and we always have a super big crowd,” he said. He said there is always a great turnout because it is free, and “there are a lot of middle(-aged) and elderly folk that just want to hear some good music. I had more than 50 calls asking if I was playing this year,” he said. “It made it like old home week.”

Don Nickerson’s first promotional photo was taken when he was 28 years old. It is displayed along with his plaque at the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame in Mechanic Falls. Nickerson said his wife, Donna, made his suit coat for the picture. Courtesy of Don Nickerson

Nickerson said new inductees to the Hall of Fame are given a lapel pin and a large plaque, which is displayed along with their photograph. “They also have my first pair of western boots and my first hat that I ever had,” he said. “You have your own section, with my records and CDs — in fact my first record I ever done, (which) was 45 years ago (is displayed).”

Asked if there is a song he is noted for, Nickerson said it could be one of three and they are all Marty Robbins tunes. Either “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife,” “You Gave Me a Mountain,” or  “Don’t Worry About Me,” which he said are all crowd favorites.

Nickerson and Country Mist even know how to reach non-country music fans. “They mixed us up one night playing in Bradford with a rock band,” he said. The rock band played for the country folks and “in 10 minutes, the place was cleared.”

“They didn’t like AC/DC or the Motley Crue crap,” Nickerson said. “And we played the next night for the teeny-boppers. We said it was rock and roll music and asked them what they wanted to hear — ‘You know any Willie Nelson?’ they asked.

“I said, ‘Man, you just wrote me a ticket.’”

Nickerson remembers the band playing its repertoire of Waylon Jennings, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash that night “and all of the teens were loving it — they danced all night long.”

“We can change our music up,” Nickerson said, “We have a very diverse variety. I think that is what has kept us in the business this long.”

For more information on the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, visit facebook.com/MECountryMusicHOF.