Joe Diffie: In a post-modern world, he was the proper old-school hillbilly singer. Like George Jones, there was little interest in going uptown, no want for turbo-sophistication. Give him a Manuel cowboy shirt, some intelligent wordplay, a scorching band… and Joe, with that craggy, bluegrass-honed voice and the power to twist notes like balloons at a kiddie occasion, was good to go.
Born in Oklahoma to working class folks, Diffie made his approach to Nashville and located a spot amongst Music Row’s previous guard who’d penned hits for Charley Pleasure, Tanya Tucker, Mel Tillis, Razzy Bailey and Kenny Rogers. Managed by Danny Morrison and Johnny Slate, who additionally produced his information, Diffie was a product of a world the place writers frolicked all evening, and inventive sorts had been as a lot about excessive jinks as they had been stitching collectively icehouse anthems that moved from the gut-wrenching pathos (“If I Had Any Pleasure Left At All”) to romping swing (“If The Satan Danced in Empty Pockets”), jacked-up honky-tonk (“Third Rock from the Solar”) and intelligent, morning-drive, laugh-out-loud novelty (“Choose Up Man,” “Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox”).
It wasn’t simply the music, although the music was straight-cut George Jones or Gary Stewart tavern-tested. It was the tradition. Working-class proud, he leaned into the Merle Haggard notion of constructing music for the individuals who populate the nation bars, drive the 12-year-old vehicles and suppose Wal-Mart is Saks Fifth Avenue. For all of the novelty consideration multi-week No. 1s like “Greater Than The Beatles” attracted, it was the pastoral fact of the decrease center class that outlined the nuance.
“House,” his first single and his first No. 1, painted a easy however satisfying image:
…House was a again porch swing the place I might sit
And mother would sing ‘Superb Grace’
Whereas she frolicked the garments
House was a straightforward chair with my daddy there
And the scent of Sunday supper on the range
My footsteps carry me away, however in my thoughts I’m all the time going house…
In most individuals’s fingers, that might be dangerous Norman Rockwell or saccharine Hallmark. With a heat that tempered the wistfulness, the mullet-sporting singer made even probably the most cynical listener pine for a spot the place hope wasn’t a idiot’s sport, and kindness was the measure of what a trustworthy day’s work yielded.
That very same notion of hope stained “Ships That Don’t Come In,” an ACM Awards track of the yr nominee. Barstool commiseration, it reality-checked anybody pondering their life was too arduous to shoulder. As strings simmered just under the center of the association, the 1992 CMA male vocalist of the yr nominee unfurled a fact to mood life’s robust breaks:
He mentioned it’s solely life’s illusions that deliver us to this bar
To choose up these previous crutches and evaluate one another’s scars
‘Trigger the issues we’re calling heartache
Hell, they’re hardly value our time
We bitch a couple of greenback
When there’s these with out a dime…
…earlier than accumulating that muscular tenor to boost a glass to…
…to those that stand on empty shores
And spit in opposition to the wind
And people who wait perpetually
For ships that don’t are available in…
Joe Diffie ended up a midlevel nation star, as a result of he arrived on the primary crushing wave of young-stud nation. Soundscan intersected with the suburbs’ exodus from pop radio, which was awash in rap on the identical time grunge swallowed rock. It creating fertile soil for nation music amongst housewives of a sure age, and even rock followers on the lookout for one thing that felt rather less Nirvana, in addition to the longstanding followers.
Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, John Michael Montgomery, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart and Ricky Van Shelton had been all elbowing for nominations and house on the prime of the charts. Irrespective of how erotically charged his laments could’ve been, Joe Diffie was by no means going to mild up that younger hunk ethos.
If his debut album, “A Thousand Winding Roads,” flirted enjoying with the heartthrob template, the follow-up, “Common Joe,” slammed that notion in opposition to the again wall. For the duvet of his second album, Diffie was shot in a black tank prime, gold chain, mullet pouring down his again, leaning over a cup of a espresso throughout Tootsies’ battle scarred entrance sales space desk and laughing. Again then, the crusty Decrease Broadway bar was down-market, not right now’s slick vacationer entice; it was the proper beachhead for the actual Joe Diffie to stake his declare.
Like Jones, that was the deal. Don’t get above your elevating. Rock these twin fiddles, spin your accomplice, have a good time small city romance — even when that meant climbing the water tower to color the center that mentioned “Billy Bob loves Charlene” in “John Deere Inexperienced.” Break your personal coronary heart, listening to the songs made nation the style to drown your sorrows in. Then, when the ultimate breath comes, take the entire mess of it to the home rollicking, because the gospel swagger of “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (After I Die)” mandated, suggesting “you’ll be able to pay your final respects one quarter at a time.”
That sort of nation doesn’t exist any extra. Barely coarse, back-40 humorous, the intelligent was by no means machined, however simply naughty previous songwriters slicing up.
Given the period, Diffie might be the final of a breed. He was 25 years a member of the Grand Ole Opry, with 20 Prime 10s. However even after the hits pale, Diffie remained a citizen of music. He wrote hits for Jo Dee Messina (“My Give-A-Rattling’s Busted”). He lower a much-passed-among-musicians bluegrass album, “Homecoming,” that dipped into the Appalachian tragedy of “Rainin’ On Her Rubber Dolly” in addition to a supple, charged tackle the Black Crowes’ model of Otis Redding’s “Onerous to Deal with.” Simply this fall, he issued a 500-copy vinyl run of his biggest hits known as “Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie” — that title riffing on Jason Aldean’s “1994” name-check. He additionally paired with Louisiana’s Marc Broussard for a tangy model of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pleasure & Pleasure.” That was Joe, who beloved all music, who knew how one can crawl inside a track, flip it inside out.
And like these old-school nation singers who sang about “White Lightning” and “Working Man’s Blues,” he saved taking it on the highway and making music. You could possibly discover him on the Opry many Saturday nights, or working old-guard bastions like Billy Bob’s in Fort Price or nice massive festivals the place Aldean and so lots of right now’s stars regarded to him as the final word elder nation voice for his or her era.
It takes a sure sort of man to “Stroll The Line (If It Ain’t Too Straight).” Joe Diffie was that sort of man. Fearless, he’d lean right into a track. However he was simply as doubtless to present you a wink and a smile strolling off the stage, tilt his head and allow you to know he was glad you had been there.
Someplace in heaven, there’s a band that’s smoking — and Joe’s reaching for a cigarette, a chilly beer and a burger. Someway, I do know he’s rocking.
Simply let my gravestone be a neon signal
Simply let it burn in mem’ry of all of my good instances
Repair me up with a model — simply bear in mind I like blondes
I’ll be the lifetime of the occasion even once I’m lifeless and gone
Holly Gleason is a Nashville-based author and the editor of the ebook “Girl Stroll the Line: How the Ladies in Nation Music Modified Our Lives.” Pictured above with Diffie, she was the top of publicity at Sony Nashville within the early 1990s when the singer had his platinum breakthroughs.