In Memoriam: Joe Diffie (1958-2020)

Nineties country legend Joe Diffie has passed away from complications related to the coronavirus.  He was 61.

Rolling Stone reports:

Joe Diffie, a consistent country-music hitmaker throughout the Nineties, died Sunday due to complications related to COVID-19. His publicist confirmed the death to Rolling Stone. Diffie was 61.

With a traditional-leaning voice that drew comparisons to George Jones, Diffie populated his records with honky-tonk ballads and lighthearted novelty tunes, earning the Oklahoma native five Number One singles in the first half of the Nineties. These began with his debut release, the deeply moving “Home,” followed by “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock From the Sun,” “Pickup Man,” and “Bigger Than the Beatles.” In all, Diffie charted 18 Top Ten singles, with the majority reaching the Top Five, including the 1993 radio staples “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” and “John Deere Green.”

Signed to Epic Records, Diffie released his debut LP, A Thousand Winding Roads, in 1990. The album produced his inaugural hit, “Home,” which set a record by becoming the first debut single to reach the top of the country charts on all three trade publications at the time: BillboardGavin, and Radio & Records. Opening for acts including George Strait and Steve Wariner, Diffie continued his hit streak with six Top Five singles in a row, one of which, 1992’s somber “Ships That Don’t Come In,” would likely have gone to Number One but for its use of the word “bitch” in the lyrics.

In 1993, the year he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, Diffie released the platinum-selling LP Honky-Tonk Attitude, followed by 1994’s Third Rock From the Sun, which was also certified platinum. Following moves to Monument and Broken Bow Records, Diffie signed with the Rounder label, returning to his bluegrass roots with Homecoming. In 1998, he won a Grammy award for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for the all-star recording “Same Old Train” with Merle Haggard, Clint Black, Emmylou Harris, and more.

Representative of his workingman persona, Diffie took a no-nonsense approach to his craft. “I just like the songs themselves,” he told Rolling Stone in 2019. “Finding songs I really liked and that I related to. Really, it’s not any more complicated than that.

The music of Joe Diffie is dear to the heart of all of us country music fans who fell in love with the genre during the nineties boom.  He had a lot of novelty songs which were often quite entertaining.  “Good Brown Gravy” was always a personal favorite of mine.

But his ballads were a whole another level.  “A Night to Remember” is my favorite thing he ever recorded, but he had so many other beautiful ones:  “Home,” “Is it Cold in Here,” “Ships That Don’t Come In,” “In My Own Backyard,” “That Road Not Taken.”  Just to name a few.

He was also an accomplished songwriter, most notably penning hits for Holly Dunn (“There Goes My Heart Again”) and Jo Dee Messina (“My Give a Damn’s Busted.”)

What a tremendous loss.

7 Comments

  1. Sad to hear about JD. only 61. Favorite JD songs: “It the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets”, “Ships That Don’t Come In” and his duet with Mary Chapin Carpenter “Not too Much to Ask”.

  2. It definitely is a terrible thing for someone like Diffie to be felled by COVID-19; and the thing of it is, he isn’t the only music legend to have been diagnosed with it. Americana musician Larry Campbell; and legendary singer/songwriters Jackson Browne and John Prine have it now. Prine, in fact, is as of this moment in a hospital in critical condition with COVID-19 symptoms, as is his wife.

    Truly, this virus is hitting us in every conceivable place, and we all need to keep taking it seriously.

  3. This one really hurts, guys, and I still wasn’t over losing Kenny Rogers, yet. I just can’t believe I’m actually reading this. I grew up on Joe Diffie’s music. One of my earliest memories of liking Joe Diffie was when me and my dad were both watching his “Is It Cold In Here” video on TV when it first came out. I was about six. I also remember enjoying “If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)” around that time. I still love both of those songs to this day, along with a lot of his early hits like “Home,” “If You Want Me To,” “New Way To Light Up An Old Flame,” “Ships That Don’t Come In,” “Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox,” and “In My Own Backyard.” In the early 90’s, he was one of the very best of the neo-traditionalists, imo. His first three albums are some of my favorite ones to listen to from that era. His music from that time period never fails to bring back some great childhood memories for me, as well. Also I feel that he never got enough recognition for his wide vocal range, especially as he became more known for his novelty songs. He was pretty much unbeatable when it came to ballads. Glad Kevin mentioned “That Road Not Taken.” What a beautiful, very underrated song.

    I also enjoy some of his latter day hits. I especially agree with Kevin on “A Night To Remember.” That is one of my all time favorite songs from the late 90’s. The album of the same name is another one of my favorites of his, actually. Also always liked “It’s Always Something,” and “In Another World.”

    Just can’t believe this awesome talent is no longer with us. :( I hate this virus now more than ever. What a huge loss!

  4. A versatile talent, Joe came from a musical family (his sister Dawn Anita Diffie is a highly regarded western/western swing artist), Joe dabbled in a number of musical forms. His 2010 album on Rounder, HOMECOMING: THE BLUEGRASS ALBUM, is truly excellent and there wasn’t much in his discography that I didn’t like

    I regret that I never got to see him live

    RIP

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