Joe Diffie Biography

28 December 1958, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. According to Entertainment Weekly, country singer Joe Diffie is a ‘first rate interpreter of working class woes’, while Tammy Wynette described him as all her favourite vocalists rolled into one. His career took off in the 90s by dint of his honest, earthy narratives and accomplished balladeering.

Diffie grew up listening to his father’s collection of Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard discs, although he also loved the energy of rock ‘n’ roll after seeing live performances from ZZ Top and Boston. After several years working in an iron foundry in Duncan, Oklahoma, Diffie sparked a second career by playing locally with gospel, country and bluegrass groups. His break came when one of the many songs he wrote in this period, ‘Love On The Rocks’, was recorded by Hank Thompson. Another composition, ‘Love’s Hurtin’ Game’, was also considered by Randy Travis, and, although this later fell through, the ensuing press gave him enough impetus to relocate to Nashville. There he found work as a staff-writer with Forest Hills Music, for whom he provided material for Doug Stone and the Forester Sisters, while becoming a much demanded session singer. ‘I had to keep working at developing my own style... I credit my friend Lonnie Wilson for the fact that I was able to find where I fit best. Lonnie had a little studio, and sometimes I’d sing demos all day, then work on my stuff half the night.’ These recordings eventually reached Epic Records, resulting in his debut album, 1990’s A Thousand Winding Roads. His arrival was confirmed by an astonishing chart feat - his first release, ‘Home’, simultaneously reached number 1 in the Billboard, Radio & Records and Gavin Report charts. Three additional number 1s followed; ‘If You Want Me To’, ‘If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets’ and the first of his own compositions released as a single, ‘New Way To Light Up An Old Flame’.

The title of 1991’s Regular Joe reflected Diffie’s no-nonsense, unpretentious appeal, and it provided two more chart-toppers, ‘Is It Cold In Here’ and ‘Ships That Don’t Come In’. Although Honky Tonk Attitude also contained two sizeable hits in the title track and ‘Prop Me Up (Beside The Jukebox)’, it was ‘John Deere Green’ that truly took off, with many now citing Diffie as a modern-day George Jones, able to switch effortlessly from sentimental ballads to invigorating barn hops. Indeed, he earned a Country Music Association award for his 1993 collaboration with Jones, ‘I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair’, and a duet with Mary-Chapin Carpenter was nominated for a Grammy for Best Vocal Collaboration. Third Rock From The Sun surprisingly only saw one Diffie composition, ‘The Cows Came Home’ (written alongside Lee Bogan and Lonnie Wilson), on a set that reflected the improvement in Diffie’s love life, but that also maintained his tradition for confessional material, such as ‘That Road Not Taken’, ‘So Help Me Girl’ and ‘From Here On Out’. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1993.

In the wake of the renewed Beatlemania in late 1995, Diffie enjoyed a number 1 hit in the spring of 1996 with the amusingly titled ‘Bigger Than The Beatles’. ‘This Is Your Brain’ and ‘Houston, We Have A Problem’ from Twice Upon A Time were further examples of his quirky songwriting. His Greatest Hits collection featured the new single ‘Texas Size Heartache’. A Night To Remember was a hard-hitting collection of straightforward country material that eschewed the novelty angle of his previous albums.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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