My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Spotlight Artist: Joe Diffie

Joe Diffie hit the country music scene just months after the fabled Class of ’89, and like several of the 1989 alumni, Joe’s first releases to country radio shot right up the charts, and he was on his way to a decade-long run of success that includes 16 top 10 hits, five of which went to #1. In the meantime, Joe Diffie racked up 4 consecutive gold-selling albums, with two of these going all the way to platinum for shipments of over 1,000,000 copies. Best known today for his sometimes clever, always fun, novelty songs, mostly about the joys and simplicity of rural life, Diffie was also an able balladeer, and his best performances come from not the lightweight charm of songs like ‘Bigger Than The Beatles’ or ‘Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox’, but from his neo-traditional offerings like ‘Home’ and ‘A Night To Remember’.

Joseph Logan Diffie was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on December 28, 1958, but his family would make several moves across country before settling back in Oklahoma for Joe’s high school years. His father was a guitar and banjo player and his mother a singer. The family also performed together regularly, and as part of Joe’s aunt’s country band. It was in this band that Joe made his first public performance, at age 4. Joe would go on to college to pursue a degree in medicine, but dropped out after marrying for the first of three times in 1977. While working several blue-collar jobs on the side, Joe continued to pursue his music career, performing in the gospel group, Higher Purpose. Later, he would front a bluegrass band billed as Special Edition.

In 1986, following a divorce from his first wife, and and after some initial songwriting success, Joe made the move to Nashville to follow his musical ambitions full-time. The legendary Hank Thompson had recorded Joe’s ‘Love On The Rocks’. In Music City, he found work as an in-demand demo singer and continued to hone his songwriting skills. In 1989, Holly Dunn had a top 5 hit with ‘There Goes My Heart Again’, a song Joe had co-written with Lonnie Wilson and Wayne Perry. A recording contract with Epic soon followed, and Joe issued his debut for the label in September of 1990. The album’s first single, the unforgettable ‘Home’, quickly shot to the top of the country singles chart, and the album produced another chart-topper and 2 #2 hits as well.

Following the success of his debut album, Joe went on to release a string of highly successful albums for the Epic label between 1990 -99. His years at Epic would ultimately prove to be his most commercially successful. Shortly after his exit from Epic, Joe moved over to Monument Records and his only album for the label, In Another World, earned him another top 10 hit in the title track. Subsequently, another label change to the independent Broken Bow netted him another top 20 hit in 2004.

Recently, Joe has signed to Rounder Records, and the label first issued a live album, recorded at the famous Billy Bob’s in Fort Wort, Texas, on the singer in 2008. Last year saw The Ultimate Collection, which consists of re-recordings of his Epic hits for the Rounder imprint.  Joe now plans to release his first new music in 6 years.  Also from Rounder, Homecoming: A Bluegrass Collection arrives August 24.

Joe Diffie, to me, was always a bit of a double-personality artist. There was the goofy, fun-loving moustached and mulleted singer of up-tempo ditties. And then, even with the same look, Joe could be just as convincing while nailing you to the wall with a great country lyric, as he does with ‘Is It Cold In Here’. But the interesting aspect about Joe was that he seemed to have a firm grasp on both personas and maneuvered them both very well. This month, we’ll be taking a look back through the catalog of Joe Diffie, and offering our own take on both sides of Joe Diffie’s musical personality.  We hope you enjoy reading our thoughts, and that we re-discover some of our old favorites, and maybe introduce some of you to some great music along the way.

12 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Joe Diffie

  1. Andrew Leprich August 2, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Interesting choice for this month’s spotlight artist. I’ve always liked Joe Diffie and completely agree with your evaluation of him.

  2. pwdennis August 2, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Good choice . I saw Joe perform a few months ago at the Florida Sunshine Opry in Eustis Florida, a small venue well suited to a balladeer. He still is in good voice

  3. Ken Johnson August 2, 2010 at 9:06 am

    A great singer with a true country voice, not a wannabe rock singer who “settled” for country. Some of his novelty songs were fun and effective (“If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets” & “New Way To Light Up An Old Flame”) but others such as “John Deere Green,” “Third Rock From The Sun” and “C-O-U-N-T-R-Y” proved tedious and an artistic waste of his time and talent.

    I find Joe Diffie similar to Trace Adkins who also possesses a “real” country voice that is often wasted on silly, forgettable material. Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Baddonkatonk” and “Chrome” in particular are two pieces of dreck that should never have been recorded. Too many artists today forsake their integrity for the chance to make a few quick bucks on inane, ill conceived ditties and equally stupid videos.

    I am looking forward to Joe’s bluegrass album. His voice has been missed.

    • Razor X August 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm

      Joe Diffie was one of the best voices in 90s mainstream country. I agree that his material wasn’t always up to par, and I can understand the comparison to Trace Adkins. However, Diffie was never guilty of recording anything truly obnoxious like “Honkytonk Badonkadonk” or “Chrome.” His main fault was in recording too many silly songs and I think that is ultimately what derailed his career.

      • J.R. Journey August 3, 2010 at 12:02 am

        I almost made the comparison to Trace Adkins in my post. True that Joe’s efforts never went that far into the abyss, but he veered really close at times. I fear both will be remembered more for their ditties than anything else. But some of us know better. 😉

      • Occasional Hope August 3, 2010 at 12:58 pm

        I agree – Joe recorded too many silly songs, but they weren’t actually offensive.

  4. Tom August 2, 2010 at 9:56 am

    …i’ve got six slots in my car cd-charger. every once in while, i fill them up with diffie only. there ain’t many times that i have to skip a song. interestingly, i find myself skipping more often, when i do the same with george strait.

    fine choice, folks. last month was great too.

  5. Leeann August 2, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I was jolted by this choice only because of George Jones last month. But I think it’s a great choice. He has a great voice and a lot of very good songs, even if Ken’s evaluation of him is pretty much on target, including the Adkins comparison, though I tend to prefer Diffie’s voice over all.

    I was lucky enough to receive a promotion copy of Diffie’s upcoming bluegrass album and it is very, very good.

  6. Pingback: Jimmy Wayne Survives; FOX Announces ‘American Country Awards’ Show; Country Music Hall of Fame May Expand | American Twang

  7. Ben Foster August 2, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Whenever I think Joe Diffie, I still think “Pickup Man,” but I look forward to discovering more of his great music.

  8. Leeann August 3, 2010 at 1:24 am

    Luckily, I like many of Joe’s ditties, which isn’t something I can say for Adkins’.

  9. bob August 3, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I have a weakness for funny songs and Diffie’s “Devil Danced” is one of my all-time favorites. “Diablo Motors had a hell of a sale …” – great beginning. My current funny favorite is “Allergic to Crazy” by Don Schlitz.

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