20 Questions With Diamond Rio

Marty Roe and Brian Prout Talk Eight-Tracks, Piano Lessons and Working in Cancun

Diamond Rio’s singles have been on the country charts each year since their debut single, “Meet in the Middle,” hit No. 1 in 1991. That’s a lot of hits. Now they have collected many of their biggest singles — such as “One More Day,” “I Believe” and “Beautiful Mess” — on Greatest Hits II. Here, lead singer Marty Roe and drummer Brian Prout answer fan questions about keeping it fresh, their friendship with NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and passing their musical talent on to their kids — for better or worse.

1. I want to know where the song “I Believe” came from. I had it played at my husband’s funeral, and every time I hear it I cry.

Roe: We were pitched that song by the songwriters, Skip Ewing and Donny Keys. Skip is a good friend of ours. I used to work at Opryland with Skip. He pitches us songs for every project we’ve ever had, and they’re always awesome. He’s a great songwriter. This was no exception. When we first heard it, it was piano and vocal. … How do you not cut that song? It was a great, great song. And then when we recorded it, it turned into a marvelous record.

2. What do you look for when a song is submitted to you? Is there any particular thing that it has to say to each of you before you cut it? Also, when you choose a song, do you Rio-ize it in order for it to fit your style of music or cut it as written?

Roe: There’s a lot in that question! Initially, there are probably two things: We’re looking for a hit, and within that scenario, it has to be something that hits us. It’s got to be a hit with us. The six of us have to say, “Man, I love that. That’s a great song!” From that point on, as far as making the record, if there are things on the demo we like, there might be a unique intro lick or a way they cut it, we might keep that. But a lot of times, there are things about the song that we’d like to change, and that’s more often the case. We’ll change it up and make it our own by the time we get into the studio and record it.

3. I remember the first CD I ever bought was in 1995, and it was Diamond Rio’s Love a Little Stronger. What was the first CD that you ever purchased?

Roe: CD or album? (laughs)

Prout: Actually, mine would be a 45. That would probably be either “She Loves You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles.

Roe: The first record I ever bought with my own money was actually an eight-track tape — and it was Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” I joined the Columbia House record club. My dad was mad at me. He said, “Now you have to buy something every month!”

4. When you are performing songs you have done hundreds of times, how do you keep it fresh? What keeps it fun for you?

Roe: Who says we do? (laughs) Honestly, there are days when I may not be as thrilled as I ought to be, but when I step on stage, it’s like meeting a new person with every audience. I like to take on the challenge to feel like we’ve connected by the end of the show. That’s what keeps it fresh for me. Plus, we’ve been around long enough that if there are songs that are getting tired for us, we just take them out of the show and put in another hit we haven’t done in a while.

5. Some of your songs like “It’s All in Your Head” and “You’re Gone” get a great reaction in your shows (even better than some songs like “Meet in the Middle”), yet you guys haven’t played them live in a while. How do you determine which songs stay in your shows?

Roe: As far as “You’re Gone,” it’s back in the show. We just put it back in the show.

Prout: It’s part of a hits medley. We do it more like what the demo was like, pretty much just the acoustic guitar, piano and vocal. It’s really nice.

Roe: (to Prout) Because you don’t have to play!

6. With each of your CDs, you can tell it’s Diamond Rio music from the first note. Will you tell the fans how you came up with the sound?

Roe: The sound happened all on its own. … None of us were in this band when it was first founded. I was asked to join, two years into that [lineup]. Shortly after that, so was Dan [Truman] and Jimmy [Olander]. Jimmy’s guitar was a really unique thing. Playing the Fender, he’s just a very unique stylist. No one else sounds like Jimmy Olander. That definitely gave us an identity, instrumentally. Then when Gene Johnson came along with the mandolin, I think that combination of mandolin and electric guitar and piano made for an instrumentally unique sound. It was identifiable, as much so as the vocal sound. I think that’s why, when most people hear Jimmy’s guitar and the mandolin and the piano kick off and, of course, this incredible snare drum that Brian plays …

Prout: I knew he’d get around to it eventually. (laughs)

Roe: … it is easy to recognize us.

7. We see you at a lot of NASCAR races singing the national anthem. Who are your favorite drivers?

Roe: Oh, Tony Stewart! He’s our friend. We have a lot of guys out there that we know. Kyle Petty has become a pretty good friend, and I’m really cheering for he and his dad and their team. The Pettys are back. They’re actually competitive and doing very well and continue to do better. … Dale Jr. … Michael Waltrip is a really good friend. We’re fans of all of them. We love what they do. It’s a great sport. We’ve been around it and involved in it for many years. But when push comes to shove, Tony Stewart is the man.

8. How did you get to know Tony Stewart?

Roe: He booked us for his wedding. In his rookie year, he was engaged to be married, and he and his fiancĂ©e were big fans of us, and one of our songs — I can’t remember which one it was — was going to be played in their wedding. Anyhow, I said, “We don’t do weddings.” And then they said, “How much do you need?” He made an offer, and we said, “We’ll do weddings for that price.” So we booked it. And about 30 days before the wedding, he won his first race. Then, the next week, we got a phone call saying, “The wedding’s off.” So I don’t know if the sea all of a sudden got bigger now that he won a race or what. But during all that, our managers became friends. We got introduced. I actually went to a race with him for a couple of days, and he came to a show with us for a couple of days. It just became a friendship over time.

9. When my daddy passed away in 2001, it was one of the hardest times in my life. Over the past few years, “One More Day” and “I Believe” pulled me out of the loneliness of missing my daddy so much. I just wanted to thank you. How does it feel to know that you have helped so many others in situations like mine?

Prout: We don’t sit there and say, “If we record this song, we can touch a lot of people’s lives.” We just record a good song that touches us. Actually, “One More Day” was recorded as a love song. Then one of Oklahoma State’s basketball team’s plane went down, then in early 2001 we lost Dale [Earnhardt] in Daytona, and then of course, 9/11 came after that. And every event of that year, the song took on a different meaning to different people. … These kinds of responses on these two songs in particular are not uncommon. We hear quite often in e-mails and people talking to us in shows. If you’re asking how it makes us feel? Pretty darn special … to know that you had that impact on someone’s life and helped in a tough time of healing and hope.

10. Did you instantly know that “I Believe” was going to be a big hit?

Roe: I did. I thought for sure. You have to have that gut feeling that this is a smash. People need to hear this and will want to hear it. Most definitely. I remember that, thinking, “This is big.”

11. What happened with the single “Can’t You Tell I Love You”? The first time I heard it on the radio, I loved it. My local station played it several times but then it was gone. I saw you perform it in concert in February. Will it ever be on an album?

Roe: (laughs) That’s a good question! When you find out, will you e-mail us and tell us? Thanks for noticing. … It was out two weeks, and the label decided to pull it. We do it in the show.

12. I love so many of your songs, but “Mama, Don’t Forget to Pray for Me” is very special to me. It came out when prayer worked a miracle for me. With songs like “One More Day” and “I Believe,” I was hoping that there might be a gospel album in the future. Would you ever consider doing a gospel album? I would sure buy one.

Roe: “Mama, Don’t Forget to Pray for Me” is probably my favorite song. If I had to be pinned to the wall and only pick one, that would be the one I would pick. … It always speaks to me and keeps me grounded. Hopefully, that mama’s still out there praying for me. We’ve done some gospel stuff and recorded one song, “Walking in Jerusalem.” We’ve done it, and it’s a part of who we are, but I’m not sure we would ever record a whole gospel album. I just don’t think all six of us would. But it’s possible that any one of us would do a solo album that is a Christian-oriented project.

13. What is your favorite thing to do on the road with a day off or before a show?

Roe: I go play golf. It may not be my favorite thing to do, but it’s definitely the only thing to do for me out there. It beats my other options, for sure. I enjoy golf. I have a lot of fun with it, but it’s a great way to pass the time when we’re on the road.

Prout: Once in a blue moon, I’ll go out there and play golf, too, but I’ll go out for a walk around whatever town or city we’re in and get a feeling for the local area and the people. Grab some lunch somewhere. Get a feel for the town.

14. What was your most enjoyable music video that you have ever made?

Roe: Mine is “How Your Love Makes Me Feel,” because I didn’t have to be there very long. (laughs) I actually got a round of golf in that day.

Prout: I’m with Marty. “How Your Love Makes Me Feel” was a lot of fun. “Stuff” was even a lot of fun. By this time, we were using green-screen technology, which is what we used for the “God Only Cries” video. Literally, I don’t think we were together as a band for the “How Your Love Makes Me Feel” video.

Roe: Just for the tricycle scene. Jimmy’s dad had open-heart surgery that day, so Jimmy spent literally 30 minutes and they shot a few different takes of him doing his guitar solo — and that was it. So at the end of the day, we lined up six tricycles and left one of them empty and did the end of the video. Like the missing Beatle.

15. How do you feel about the changes in the CMA Music Festival?

Roe: For a few years, it was tapering off, but since they moved it to the Coliseum [in downtown Nashville], it’s cool. … They’ve really made it a little more desirable to go to. But as for the booths, that’s really taken on a different life. There’s not as much sweat involved. (laughs) The one thing that happened that changed it for us, it got changed to a weekend. Before, the shows were never on a weekend. They were during the week because they were asking the country artists — all of them — to take a week off in the summer when you make your best money. That was a difficult change because we’re having to say no to a good paycheck. And contrary to popular belief, the CMA doesn’t pay a dime. We have fun doing it, though. I’m not sure we’ll have a chance to play the big stage this year. We may be going to Cancun for a couple of days. It’s hard work, but somebody’s got to take it.

16. When you’re on the road, where is your favorite place to eat?

Roe: Catering. (laughs) The price is right. Subway is the most common place we end up buying food at on the road. But we’re stocked up in the bus, so most of the time, we eat on the bus. Every now and then, we go out and eat.

Prout: If we’re on the road, and we actually have time to eat, I like to go to a sit-down restaurant. Usually, it’s like, “I need something to eat right now.” So you find the quickest thing you can — a truck stop or whatever. In my walking around during the day, I always look for a J. Alexander’s. I never find one, and I go downhill rapidly from there.

17. Are any of the guys a grandparent yet?

Roe: None of us present. (laughs) Yes, Gene Johnson is a proud grandfather of two grandsons.

18. I’d like to know what are some of your favorite songs of the last year?

Prout: The first thing that comes to mind, because it’s so recent and it has a similar title, is Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe.” Ronnie Dunn, man. Golly, does he sing that song.

Roe: I like Keith Urban’s new song, “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” It’s a great feeling record.

Prout: And I like Rascal Flatts’ new one, too, “What Hurts the Most.” What a great sounding record.

19. Do you recommend for kids to stick with music lessons even though they might prefer to quit? My daughter has been playing the piano for 8 years. She’s 13 now. It’s a struggle to keep her in lessons, though she’s actually very good. Any suggestions?

Roe: If it’s not piano, maybe she should try another instrument. If she loves music, then that’s great. If she loves playing the piano, that’s great. If she hates lessons — at 13, after 8 years — my advice would be to let her take a break from it. See what she comes up with. No one made me practice guitar or made me practice singing. They had to make me stop in the middle of the night to go to bed. I know that’s consistent with every guy in this band and every musician I’ve ever known. Something clicked with them, and that’s all they wanted to do. Maybe she just doesn’t like the lessons. Maybe she needs a new teacher. Just let her go. She’s only 13.

20. Has your musical talent been passed on to your kids. And if so, would you encourage your children to try the music business as they get older?

Roe: Unfortunately. (laughs) Yes, I will encourage my children in anything they want to do, but I have not pushed them in it. That’s for sure. The music business is very difficult. It’s such a long shot. But I’ve come to learn that success in any business is a long shot. If you’ve got talent in something, that’s what you need to do. Find something that you love and that you’re good at, and find a way to make a living at it. That’s usually what you’re going to do your best work at.

Prout: Mine are too young. My daughter is 3 and a-half. She has quite the capacity to quickly learn songs. She loves musicals and everything with movement, dance and singing. She knows more songs — and can sing them all — than I ever dreamed of knowing. It’s uncanny. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Roe: Both of my daughters are singers. My oldest is very shy about it, but all of a sudden, she auditioning for every solo there is. It’s clicked with her — “I like this, and I’m better than a lot of people at this.” That’s a good thing to recognize about yourself because everybody has something they’re a little better than the average at doing. The sad part is not ever discovering that about yourself. All of a sudden, she’s saying, “I really like music, and it’s fun to do something you’re pretty decent at it.”

I’d never heard her sing. She’s 15 years old, and I heard her sing two days ago. She would not sing for me, and I would not make her. I’ve heard her sing to the radio, but we actually sat down, and she actually performed a song for me. I was like, “Man, she’s really good.” At the same time, I’m going, “Gee whiz! Am I in trouble now!” (laughs)