Joe Diffie, one of the most popular country artists of the ’90s and early 2000s, died Sunday, March 29, two days after announcing that he was being treated for coronavirus (COVID-19). He was 61.
A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Diffie moved to Nashville in 1986 and found work at Gibson Guitars. Prior to his signing to Epic Records, he had been one of Music Row’s most respected demo singers, appreciated particularly for his strong, clear, traditional tinged vocals. He charted a No. 1 hit with his first single, “Home,” in 1990.
Other chart-topping singles include “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock From the Sun,” “Pickup Man,” and “Bigger Than the Beatles.” He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1993 and appeared there in 2019 for the induction of Luke Combs, who cited him as an inspiration.
One of the finest traditionalists of his era, as heard on “Ships That Don’t Come In” from 1992, Diffie nonetheless built his career on lighthearted songs such as “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” from 1993, and “John Deere Green,” from 1994. Between 1990 and 2000 he charted 16 Top 10 hits on Epic Records. In 2002 he rebounded on Monument Records with the Top 10 single, “In Another World.”
As a songwriter, he claimed a three-week No. 1 hit with Jo Dee Messina’s “My Give a Damn’s Busted” in 2005. Holly Dunn reached the Top 5 with Diffie’s “There Goes My Heart Again” and Tim McGraw included Diffie’s “Tears in the Rain” on his 1993 self-titled debut. Tracy Lawrence, Charley Pride, Doug Stone, Hank Thompson, and Conway Twitty recorded his songs as well.
Songwriting credits in his own recording catalog include the singles “If You Want Me To,” “Is It Cold in Here,” “New Way (To Light Up an Old Flame),” and “Honky Tonk Attitude.” He also co-penned the novelty Christmas tune, “Leroy the Redneck Reindeer.”
While signed to Epic Records, his platinum albums included 1993’s Honky Tonk Attitude and 1994’s Third Rock from the Sun. He also reached gold with 1992’s Regular Joe and 1995’s Life’s So Funny. Other albums include: A Thousand Winding Roads (1990), Mr. Christmas (1995), Twice Upon a Time (1997), Greatest Hits (1998), and A Night to Remember (1999).
Diffie won a CMA Award for “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair,” the 1993 collaboration with George Jones. In 1999, he shared a Grammy with 12 country artists, including Merle Haggard, Earl Scruggs and Randy Travis, on the single “Same Old Train” (which was also the name assigned to the group). Other ’90s collaborations include “Not Too Much to Ask” with Mary Chapin Carpenter, “I’d Rather Have What We Had” with Lee Ann Womack, and “Glass Houses” with Tammy Wynette.
Diffie continued to chart into the early 2000s, eventually moving from Monument to Broken Bow Records, where he placed “Tougher Than Nails” at No. 19.
He released a bluegrass album for Rounder Records in 2010. Aldean paid tribute to Diffie by name in his clever 2012 single, “1994,” and Chris Young referenced him in the 2019 single, “Raised on Country.”