Diamond Rio is an American country and Christian music band. The band was founded in 1982 as an attraction for the Opryland USA theme park in Nashville, Tennessee, and was originally known as the Grizzly River Boys, then the Tennessee River Boys. After undergoing several membership changes in its initial years, the band has consisted of the same six members since 1989: Gene Johnson (mandolin, guitar, fiddle, tenor vocals), Jimmy Olander (lead guitar, Dobro, banjo), Brian Prout (drums), Marty Roe (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Dan Truman (keyboards, organ, synthesizer), and Dana Williams (bass guitar, baritone vocals). Among the group's previous members is Ty Herndon, who became a solo country artist in the mid-1990s.
After assuming the name Diamond Rio, the band was signed to Arista Nashville and debuted in 1991 with the single "Meet in the Middle", which made them the first band ever to send a debut single to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. "Meet in the Middle" was followed by 32 more charting singles throughout the band's career, including four more that reached No. 1: "How Your Love Makes Me Feel" (1997), "One More Day" (2001), "Beautiful Mess" (2002), and "I Believe" (2003).
Diamond Rio has recorded seven studio albums, two Greatest Hits compilations, and an album of Christmas music. Three of the band's albums have achieved RIAA platinum certification in the United States. In addition, Diamond Rio has received four Group of the Year awards from the Country Music Association, two Top Vocal Group awards from the Academy of Country Music, and thirteen Grammy Award nominations. The band is known for its bluegrass and rock-influenced country and the near-exclusive use of only its own membership on recordings, as opposed to using session musicians.
In 1982, Matt Davenport and Danny Gregg founded a band at the Opryland USA theme park in Nashville, Tennessee called the Grizzly River Boys, who were originally intended to give a one-time performance on television as a means of promoting the park. Davenport played bass guitar, Gregg played rhythm guitar, and both shared lead vocal duties with Ty Herndon; other original members included Larry Beard (lead guitar, fiddle, banjo), Mel Deal (steel guitar), Al DeLeonibus (piano), and Ed Mummert (drums). The group "swapped lead voices, told jokes, and balanced old-school country concert shtick with a contemporary sound." Due to their popularity, the band became a regular act there. Herndon later quit the group to compete on Star Search, which eventually led to him becoming a solo singer for Epic Records in 1995. He was temporarily replaced by Anthony Crawford and then Virgil True before his role was taken over by Marty Roe, who already worked in the park by doing impersonations of Larry Gatlin in the Country Music USA show. Another park employee, Dan Truman, later joined the group when his own previous gigs in the park ended. Following Herndon's departure, Mummert and Beard quit the group in 1985, with Jimmy "J.J." Whiteside and Jimmy Olander, a former sideman for Mel McDaniel, taking their respective places. The band, through the assistance of session drummer and producer Len "Snuffy" Miller, submitted demos to various Nashville record labels with no success, although they did receive counseling from Jim Ed Norman, then the head of Warner Bros. Records' Nashville division.
By 1985, the members of the Tennessee River Boys had quit working at Opryland; according to Roe, "Music Row completely discredited what we did out there because it was a bunch of kids and 'they're not real musicians. They're not real artists.'" For the next few years, the Tennessee River Boys played at small venues such as high school auditoriums, and usually worked no more than four concerts a month. They also competed on Star Search, but were eliminated in the first round. Frustrated by the sporadic touring schedules, Whiteside quit the group and was replaced by Brian Prout, who previously performed in another band called Heartbreak Mountain. Prout remarked that he "wasn't entirely comfortable with" the "cheesy factor" that the Tennessee River Boys had as an Opryland-based musical act, but that he joined them anyway because of their "great talent, desire, commitment to each other, and stability in a personal life", while Roe and Truman felt positively about his skills as a drummer. Around 1986, Deal and Gregg both left the group, the latter due to health complications from a serious illness he had developed as a teenager. They initially chose to operate as a quintet, with Davenport as the sole lead vocalist and Roe singing high harmony, while having another member sing a lower harmony. After an unsuccessful attempt to have Prout as low harmony vocalist, they chose to recruit a replacement for Gregg, and found mandolinist Gene Johnson through the help of a friend. Johnson had previously been a member of Eddie Adcock's IInd Generation, a bluegrass group of which Olander was a fan as a child. Johnson debuted at a concert in Clewiston, Florida in May 1987, by which point, Davenport was the sole lead singer, Johnson the tenor vocalist, and Roe the baritone vocalist. Also at this point, the band members worked second jobs for extra money: Johnson continued to work in carpentry, as he had done before joining the band, while Olander and Roe mowed lawns and Prout drove tour buses.
In 1988, the band caught the attention of Keith Stegall, a singer-songwriter and record producer who would later become known for his work as Alan Jackson's producer. Stegall produced demos for the Tennessee River Boys, but noted that due to Davenport being both a lead singer and bassist, he could not record the lead vocal and bass parts at the same time, as they would be difficult to separate in the control room. As a result, Stegall had Roe sing a "scratch" vocal track live with the other musicians, which would then be replaced by Davenport's voice in post-production. Upon hearing Roe sing the "scratch" track, Stegall began to convince the other members that Roe should be the lead vocalist instead of Davenport. This led to Davenport quitting by the end of 1988, both due to his discomfort outside the lead role, and his wife's dissatisfaction with his career choice. The group quickly had to find a replacement, as they were scheduled to appear on Nashville Now on January 23, 1989; among the potential replacements was Alan LaBeouf, who had just left Baillie & the Boys, but he declined due to other commitments. They finally chose Dana Williams, a nephew of the bluegrass group Osborne Brothers and former sideman for Jimmy C. Newman, who had been a fan of the Tennessee River Boys since Herndon was a member.
1990: Signing with Arista Nashville:
Williams officially joined before the Nashville Now appearance, but the band still did not have a record deal at this point. They continued to record demos in Prout's garage with assistance from Monty Powell, who had previously hired Roe and Olander for recording jingles, but wanted to produce commercial music. Powell was a friend of audio engineer Mike Clute and songwriters Tim DuBois and Van Stephenson; the former was talking with record executive Clive Davis about creating a country music branch of Arista Records called Arista Nashville, while the latter would later sign to that label as a member of Blackhawk. DuBois was initially hesitant about signing the Tennessee River Boys, as he felt that there were too many popular bands in country music at the time, and he was about to sign both Asleep at the Wheel and Exile to the label. DuBois was interested in signing Roe as a solo artist, but at Powell's insistence, he agreed to see them open for George Jones at a May 1989 concert, and officially signed them to Arista Nashville in 1990. The band also chose to rename itself, as the members thought that the name Tennessee River Boys sounded more suitable for a bluegrass or gospel group than a country one. Among the names they had chosen were Kilroy and T-Town Mavericks, the latter of which was rejected by Arista executives. Prout suggested Diamond Rio, a merger of two truck manufacturers, Diamond T and Reo. The name had been previously rejected by another country band, Shenandoah, whose lead singer Marty Raybon gave Prout permission to use the name even though Shenandoah "conducted business" under that name.
Shortly after the band received its record deal, Olander, Johnson, and Williams came down with health problems. On August 9, 1990, Johnson was injured in a carpentry accident at Arkansas a day before his 41st birthday, severely cutting his left thumb. Robert Bolin substituted for Johnson during the band's tour in Brazil with Kevin Welch and Jann Browne. On September 6, four weeks after Johnson's accident, Williams was water skiing with his family in Cookeville, Tennessee as his boat came forward at high speed when his wife was picking him up. The propellor slashed Williams' legs and he was rushed to a hospital for his injuries. Brian Helgos and Paul Gregg (Danny Gregg's brother, and a member of Restless Heart) substituted for Williams. Meanwhile, Olander discovered that he had a lemon-sized tumor that was pressing against his esophagus. The tumor was never successfully diagnosed, although it ultimately vanished.
1991-1992: Diamond Rio:
In 1991, after Olander, Williams, and Johnson had recovered, the six musicians set to work on their debut album. In the creation of the album, Johnson discovered that the injuries to his hands had altered his dexterity on the mandolin; he also threatened to walk away after Powell offhandedly remarked that he would have Roe dub in his own high harmonies instead of having Johnson sing them. They also had commitments to finish under the original name of the Tennessee River Boys, some of which overlapped with their visits of radio stations to promote themselves under the name Diamond Rio.
Arista Nashville released Diamond Rio's debut single, "Meet in the Middle", on February 6, 1991. As the lead single to their self-titled debut album, "Meet in the Middle" went on to spend two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, thus making Diamond Rio the first country music group ever to send its first single to the top of that chart. Following its release, the band performed its first official concert as Diamond Rio on May 4, 1991. They shared the bill with Wild Rose, whose membership included Prout's then-wife, Nancy Given Prout. Released three weeks later with DuBois and Powell as producers,Diamond Rio was met with positive critical reception from critics such as Allmusic, Chicago Tribune, and Entertainment Weekly, which praised the band's vocal harmonies, instrumentation, and song choices.
Four more singles were released from Diamond Rio, all reaching top 10 on the Billboard country singles charts: "Mirror, Mirror", "Mama Don't Forget to Pray for Me", "Norma Jean Riley" (which was previously the B-side of "Mama Don't Forget to Pray for Me"), and "Nowhere Bound". Roe and Prout had found both "Mama Don't Forget to Pray for Me" and "Mirror, Mirror" by attending shows at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, a popular spot for performances by aspiring songwriters. Truman and an employee of Arista had found "Norma Jean Riley", which was originally titled "Pretty Little Lady" until DuBois remarked that the lady in the song should have a name: "It could be 'Norma Jean Riley', anything!" Johnson spoke positively about "Mama Don't Forget to Pray for Me", which was written and originally recorded by Larry Cordle, and the impact that it had on fans. He recalled a letter sent to him by a female fan who had run away from home and chose to return after hearing that song: he stated that "We already didn't wanna do the drinkin' songs and stuff...if you're gonna touch someone, touch them with something that's positive."
Diamond Rio was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipping one million copies in the United States. In addition, the band won the Academy of Country Music's Top Vocal Group, and were nominated for Top New Vocal Duet or Group by the same association. Also included on the album was a bluegrass instrumental track entitled "Poultry Promenade", which earned the band its first Grammy Award nomination.
1992-1993: Close to the Edge:
Close to the Edge, the group's second album, was released in 1992. Although the album was certified gold by the RIAA for U.S. shipments of 500,000 copies, only two of its four singles -- "In a Week or Two" and "Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby", the latter of which was originally recorded by George Strait -- reached the Top 10, followed by the No. 13 "This Romeo Ain't Got Julie Yet" and No. 21 "Sawmill Road". According to Roe, Close to the Edge was a weaker album than its predecessor because the band only had one month to pick the songs for it; in a 1994 interview with New Country magazine, he stated: "There aren't ten great songs out there for everybody, certainly not that you could find in a 30-day period of time." Olander was also critical of the novelty factor of "This Romeo Ain't Got Julie Yet", which he co-wrote, saying that it was "by far not my favorite Diamond Rio recording--but that's at the time when I'm thinkin', 'Oh, this is easy, let's write this. It's kinda cute."Brian Mansfield of Allmusic was also critical of this song, but described the rest of the album with favor, saying that its "strongest material emphasizes the virtues of God, family and honest living--traditional stuff, no doubt influenced by the members' bluegrass background", while Jack Hurst of the Chicago Tribune thought that "In a Week or Two" and "Sawmill Road", "which is about the diverse trails some rural schoolmates follow in adulthood", were the strongest tracks.
Love a Little Stronger and Jed Zeppelin:
Love a Little Stronger, Diamond Rio's third album, was released in July 1994. The album was recorded on a more relaxed schedule than the previous album; as a result, they did not have a single on the charts for three months after "Sawmill Road" fell off the charts. The title track (co-written by Billy Crittenden, later a member of the vocal group 4 Runner), reached a peak of No. 2 on the Billboard country singles charts, and No. 1 on the country singles chart published by Radio & Records. It was followed by the No. 9 hit "Night Is Fallin' in My Heart" and the Top 20 hits "Bubba Hyde" and "Finish What We Started". Because the band had taken a longer period of time to choose songs for Love a Little Stronger, they considered it a superior album to its predecessor; Mansfield shared a similar opinion in his review of the album, stating that "Spurred by the relatively lackluster performance of Close to the Edge...Diamond Rio explored the musical possibilities of its talents rather than digging for easy commercial success." This album also earned the band its second platinum certification.
IV, Greatest Hits, and Unbelievable:
IV, Diamond Rio's fourth album, was released in 1996. It wa sthe "first country release recorded entirely on a digital console". Four singles were released from the project: "Walkin' Away", "That's What I Get for Lovin' You", "It's All in Your Head", and "Holdin'", of which all but "It's All in Your Head" were top 10 hits on Billboard. The music video for "It's All in Your Head" featured Martin Sheen and Ramon Estevez, the former playing the part of a snake handling preacher.
A year after IV, Diamond Rio released its first Greatest Hits package, which included two new songs as well as the greatest hits from their first four albums. Both new songs, "How Your Love Makes Me Feel" and "Imagine That" (co-written by Bryan White), were released as singles. The former was not only the band's second No 1 on Hot Country Songs, but also the biggest chart hit for any country group that year, while the latter reached Top 5 in 1998.Greatest Hits became the band's third platinum album.
Diamond Rio was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in April 1998, becoming the first band in fourteen years to be inducted.Unbelievable was the title of the band's fifth studio album. Released in 1998 and certified gold, the album produced consecutive Top Five country hits in the ballad "You're Gone" and the title track. Co-written by Jeffrey Steele and former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, "Unbelievable" peaked at No. 2 on the country charts and crossed over to Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Diamond Rio its first appearance on that chart. Its followup ("I Know How the River Feels") peaked at No. 33 on the country charts. This song was originally recorded by Ty Herndon and would later be released as a single by McAlyster as well.
One More Day and Completely:
One More Day, Diamond Rio's sixth studio album, was released in 2001. Although "Stuff", its first single, peaked at 36, the album's title track went on to become a No. 1 single. "One More Day" first went into rotation in February 2001, shortly after the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. A radio station in New York began playing the song as a tribute, and other stations soon followed suit. "One More Day" also gained heavy rotation after 9/11 as a tribute song to the victims of the attacks. Overall, the song also peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, in addition to reaching Top Ten on the Adult Contemporary charts (the band's first appearance on that chart). The song's success helped boost One More Day to gold certification, making it the band's fourth album to achieve that certification. The third and fourth singles from One More Day, were less successful: "Sweet Summer" made Top 20, while "That's Just That" failed to make Top 40. The album featured a guest vocal from Chely Wright on "I'm Trying".
In 2002, the band released its seventh studio album, entitled Completely. Completely, which was certified gold as well, produced two consecutive No. 1 singles in "Beautiful Mess" and the Skip Ewing co-write "I Believe", the latter being the band's last single to top Hot Country Songs. As with its predecessor, however, Completely produced less successful hits in its third and fourth singles (the Top 20 hit "Wrinkles" and "We All Fall Down", which peaked outside Top 40.)
2005-2007: Can't You Tell and Greatest Hits, Volume 2:
A seventh album, tentatively titled Can't You Tell, was recorded in 2003. However, it was cancelled after its first two singles -- the title track and "One Believer" -- both failed to make Top 40. Diamond Rio's second Greatest Hits package, Greatest Hits, Volume 2, was released in 2006. Like their first Greatest Hits album, this compilation included several new songs as well as the band's greatest hits; one of these new songs, "God Only Cries", was released as a single, peaking at No. 30. Shortly after the album's release, Diamond Rio parted ways with Arista Nashville, marking the end of a fifteen-year relation with that label.
2007-present: New record label and The Reason:
On August 31, 2007, Diamond Rio signed with Word Records, a Christian music label based in Nashville. Their first album for Word was a Christmas album entitled A Diamond Rio Christmas: The Star Still Shines.
The group released their very first contemporary Christian album, The Reason, on September 22, 2009. The first single released from the album was "God Is There".
In 2014, Jimmy Olander told The Arizona Republic that the group was no longer signed to Word Records and planned to release new material independently. "I will say that I was proud of the material, but maybe it's not the best version of Diamond Rio," Olander told the publication. "We were kind of in a no-man's land. We didn't fit in with country radio and we didn't fit with Christian radio. It was something that wasn't fully realized."
The band has contributed to several projects featuring multiple country artists. Throughout 1993 and 1994, the band contributed to three different tribute albums which all featured various country artists. The first was the Eagles tribute album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, on which Diamond Rio covered "Lyin' Eyes". Diamond Rio had originally wanted to record the song for what would become their third album, but DuBois rejected the idea because he felt that they were not yet well-established enough to record a cover song. The second was Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album, to which they contributed a cover of Keith Whitley's 1986 hit "Ten Feet Away", and the third was a cover of Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues" for a tribute album entitled Mama's Hungry Eyes. This rendition, which featured guest appearances from Lee Roy Parnell and Steve Wariner (both of whom were also signed to Arista Nashville at the time), was credited to "Jed Zeppelin". In addition to peaking at No. 48 on the Billboard country charts, this version of the song was made into a music video. In 1997, Diamond Rio contributed a recording of the gospel standard "Walkin' in Jerusalem" to a compilation entitled Peace in the Valley: A Country Music Journey Through Gospel Music.
Some of the individual members have also contributed to songs by other artists. Roe sang duet vocals with then-labelmate Pam Tillis on "Love Is Only Human", a cut from her 1992 album Homeward Looking Angel. Olander was featured along with bluegrass musicians Carl Jackson and Mark O'Connor on the track "Hap Towne Breakdowne" from Steve Wariner's 1996 instrumental album No More Mr. Nice Guy, in addition to co-writing Kenny Chesney's 2001 single "I Lost It" and Marshall Dyllon's 2001 single "You". Truman co-wrote Shane Minor's 1999 single "Ordinary Love", and joined with songwriter Jason Deere in 2003 to form a side project called the Nashville Tribute Band, which has recorded three albums for missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Roe and Williams, along with bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley, were also featured on Josh Turner's 2006 single "Me and God" (from Turner's Your Man album).
Diamond Rio received the Academy of Country Music's award for Top Vocal Group in 1991 and 1992. In 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1997, they also received the Country Music Association's award for Vocal Group of the Year (an award for which they received fifteen total nominations, more than any other country music group). In addition, Diamond Rio has received thirteen Grammy Award nominations. In 2010 they received 3 nominations for the GMA Dove Awards, and on April 22 won the award for Country Album of the Year. In 2011 they received their first Grammy Award in the Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album category for The Reason.
In the country music industry, Nashville record producers hire mostly session musicians to record tracks for an album for both solo artists and bands, as opposed to rock bands who record their own instrumental and vocal tracks on their albums. Diamond Rio has been one of few self-contained country bands to have followed the practice of each member playing their own instruments and singing their own vocals on all their albums themselves, without any additional input from outside musicians; starting with "I Know How the River Feels" and continuing through the One More Day album, some of their songs have occasionally featured accompaniment from a string section.
Their early music blended neotraditionalist country with occasional traces of country rock, primarily in the song's rhythm sections. A bluegrass influence has also been shown, primarily in the three-part harmonies among lead vocalist Marty Roe, baritone vocalist Dana Williams, and tenor vocalist Gene Johnson. Bluegrass influences are also shown in the band's prominent use of the mandolin, as well as in the bluegrass instrumentals featured on many of their earlier albums. The band's later material has tended towards pop-oriented ballads, such as "I Believe" and "One More Day" -- songs which received critical acclaim for their often religious-themed messages, but were considered departures from the more traditional material of their first four albums.
Another trademark of Diamond Rio's sound is the custom-built B-Bender guitar played by Olander. He refers to this instrument as the Taxicaster because of its yellow body and black-and-white checkered pickguard, which give it the coloration of a taxicab.
Early in the band's career, the other members noticed that Roe often had problems maintaining proper pitch, a problem which was initially remedied by fitting every member of the band with ear molds so that each member could hear the other more clearly in a live setting. By 2001, the other members had noticed that Roe was once again beginning to have difficulty with pitch, but they did not want to confront him about it for fear of "bruising his ego", although they eventually convinced Roe of his problems by recording each concert and listening to it together. He also consulted unsuccessfully with vocal coaches and throat doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The band also attempted to cover up Roe's problems by removing certain songs from concert set lists, while lowering the key on others and sometimes having Truman take the lead vocal; they also began using pitch correction software at live performances, but even these did not fully correct the issues. Finally, they consulted another vocal coach named Diane Sheets, a friend of Johnson's son-in-law. She determined that Roe was over-compensating for a small degree of hearing loss induced by several years of live performance, thus tightening muscles in his throat and diaphragm and causing him to lose pitch. Although Roe was initially "cynical" toward Sheets's coaching, she was ultimately successful in restoring his voice.
Several of the members of Diamond Rio had experience in other bands before Diamond Rio's foundation. Lead vocalist Marty Roe was previously a member of a band called Windsong, which toured nationally in the early 1980s. Dana Williams, the band's bass guitarist, is a nephew of the Osborne Brothers, a bluegrass group which is a member of the Grand Ole Opry; Williams also played in a bluegrass band, and served as a backing musician for Cal Smith, Vassar Clements and Jimmy C. Newman. Dan Truman is a classically trained pianist who had previously toured with Brigham Young University's Young Ambassadors musical troupe. Gene Johnson, the oldest member of the group, plays mandolin, fiddle, and guitar, had previously worked with David Bromberg, Keith Whitley and J. D. Crowe before joining Diamond Rio in 1985. Drummer Brian Prout was previously a member of the Hot Walker Band, before joining Heartbreak Mountain, a band whose lineup also included Marty Raybon (who would later become the lead singer of the band Shenandoah). Jimmy Olander, the youngest member of the band, had previously been a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
On December 28, 2001, Brian Prout married singer-songwriter Stephanie Bentley, a one-time solo singer who co-wrote Faith Hill's 1999 crossover single "Breathe" and charted four singles of her own between 1996 and 1997.
Gene Johnson - (born August 10, 1949; mandolin, guitar, fiddle, tenor vocals),
Jimmy Olander - (born August 26, 1961; lead guitar, Dobro, Danelectro, banjo),
Brian Prout - (born December 4, 1955; drums),
Marty Roe - (born December 28, 1960; lead vocals, rhythm guitar),
Dan Truman - (born August 29, 1956; keyboards, piano, organ, synthesizer),
Dana Williams - (born May 22, 1961; bass guitar, baritone vocals)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license