Joe Diffie : In Celebration of a ‘Regular Joe’ and His Bygone Era of Jukebox Country
Joe Diffie : In a post-modern world, he was the perfect old-school hillbilly singer. Like George Jones, there was no interest in going uptown, no need for turbo-sophistication. Give him a Manuel cow…
: In a post-modern world, he was the perfect old-school hillbilly singer. Like George Jones, there was no interest in going uptown, no need for turbo-sophistication. Give him a Manuel cowboy shirt, some clever wordplay, a hot band… and Joe, with that craggy, bluegrass-honed voice and the ability to twist notes like balloons at a kiddie party, was good to go.
Born in Oklahoma to working class people, Diffie made his way to Nashville and found a place among Music Row’s old guard who’d penned hits for Charley Pride, Tanya Tucker, Mel Tillis, Razzy Bailey and Kenny Rogers. Managed by Danny Morrison and Johnny Slate, who also produced his records, Diffie was a product of a world where writers hung out all night, and creative types were as much about high jinks as they were stitching together icehouse anthems that moved from the gut-wrenching pathos (“If I Had Any Pride Left At All”) to romping swing (“If The Devil Danced in Empty Pockets”), jacked-up honky-tonk (“Third Rock from the Sun”) and clever, morning-drive, laugh-out-loud novelty (“Pick Up Man,” “Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox”).
It wasn’t just the music, though the music was straight-cut George Jones or Gary Stewart tavern-tested. It was the culture. Working-class proud, he leaned into the Merle Haggard notion of making musicforthe people who populate the country bars, drive the 12-year-old trucks and think Wal-Mart is Saks Fifth Avenue. For all the novelty attention multi-week No. 1s like “Bigger Than The Beatles” attracted, it was the pastoral truth of the lower middle class that defined the nuance.
CREDIT: Courtesy Holly Gleason“Home,” his first singleandhis first No. 1, painted a simple but satisfying picture:…Home was a back porch swing where I would sitAnd mom would sing ‘Amazing Grace’While she hung out the clothesHome was an easy chair with my daddy there
And the smell of Sunday supper on the stoveMy footsteps carry me away, but in my mind I’m always going home…In most people’s hands, that would be bad Norman Rockwell or saccharine Hallmark. With a warmth that tempered the wistfulness, the mullet-sporting singer made even the most cynical listener pine for a place where hope wasn’t a fool’s game, and kindness was the measure of what a honest day’s work yielded.
That same notion of hope stained “Ships That Don’t Come In,” an ACM Awards song of the year nominee. Barstool commiseration, it reality-checked anyone thinking their life was too hard to shoulder. As strings simmered just below the middle of the arrangement, the 1992 CMA male vocalist of the year nominee unfurled a truth to temper life’s tough breaks:
He said it’s only life’s illusions that bring us to this barTo pick up these old crutches and compare each other’s scars‘Cause the things we’re calling heartacheHell, they’re hardly worth our timeWe bitch about a dollarWhen there’s those without a dime…
…before collecting that muscular tenor to raise a glass to……to those who stand on empty shoresAnd spit against the windAnd those who wait foreverFor ships that don’t come in…Joe Diffieended up a midlevel country star, because he arrived on the first crushing wave of young-stud country. Soundscan intersected with the suburbs’ exodus from pop radio, which was awash in rap at the same time grunge swallowed rock. It creating fertile soil for country music among housewives of a certain age, and even rock fans looking for something that felt a little less Nirvana, as well as the longstanding fans.
Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, John Michael Montgomery, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart and Ricky Van Shelton were all elbowing for nominations and space at the top of the charts. No matter how erotically charged his laments may’ve been, Joe Diffie was never going to light up that young hunk ethos.
If his debut album, “A Thousand Winding Roads,” flirted playing with the heartthrob template, the follow-up, “Regular Joe,” slammed that notion against the back wall. For the cover of his second album, Diffie was shot in a black tank top, gold chain, mullet pouring down his back, leaning over a cup of a coffee across Tootsies’ battle scarred front booth table and laughing. Back then, the crusty Lower Broadway bar was down-market, not today’s slick tourist trap; it was the perfect beachhead for the
realJoe Diffie to stake his claim.Like Jones, that was the deal. Don’t get above your raising. Rock those twin fiddles, spin your partner, celebrate small town romance — even if that meant climbing the water tower to paint the heart that said “Billy Bob loves Charlene” in “John Deere Green.” Break your own heart, listening to the songs made country the genre to drown your sorrows in. Then, when the final breath comes, take the whole mess of it to the house rollicking, as the gospel swagger of “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (When I Die)” mandated, suggesting “you can pay your last respects one quarter at a time.”
That kind of country doesn’t exist any more. Slightly coarse, back-40 funny, the clever was never machined, but just naughty old songwriters cutting up.Given the era, Diffie may well be the last of a breed. He was 25 years a member of the Grand Ole Opry, with 20 Top 10s. But even after the hits faded, Diffie remained a citizen of music. He wrote hits for Jo Dee Messina (“My Give-A-Damn’s Busted”). He cut a much-passed-among-musicians bluegrass album, “Homecoming,” that dipped into the Appalachian tragedy of “Rainin’ On Her Rubber Dolly” as well as a supple, charged take on the Black Crowes’ version of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” Just this fall, he issued a 500-copy vinyl run of his greatest hits called “Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie” — that title riffing on Jason Aldean’s “1994” name-check. He also paired with Louisiana’s Marc Broussard for a tangy version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride & Joy.” That was Joe, who loved all music, who knew how to crawl inside a song, turn it inside out.
And like those old-school country singers who sang about “White Lightning” and “Working Man’s Blues,” he kept taking it on the road and making music. You could find him at the Opry many Saturday nights, or working old-guard bastions like Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth or great big festivals where Aldean and so many of today’s stars looked to him as the ultimate elder country voice for their generation.
It takes a certain kind of guy to “Walk The Line (If It Ain’t Too Straight).” Joe Diffie was that kind of guy. Fearless, he’d lean into a song. But he was just as likely to give you a wink and a smile walking off the stage, tilt his head and let you know he was glad you were there.
Somewhere in heaven, there’s a band that’s smoking — and Joe’s reaching for a cigarette, a cold beer and a burger. Somehow, I know he’s rocking.Just let my headstone be a neon signJust let it burn in mem’ry of all of my good timesFix me up with a mannequin — just remember I like blondes
I’ll be the life of the party even when I’m dead and gone Read more: Variety »
Country music star Joe Diffie dies from coronavirus complications at 61'Pickup Man' and 'John Deere Green' singer Joe Diffie , who confirmed Friday that he tested positive for coronavirus, has died at 61. Help! I'm gang stalked and attacked by electromagnetic waves everyday by Authority and cult religion. They'll kill me! There are so many victims in Japan! 😢 Oh my gosh how terribly awful I am so sorry
Joe Diffie, Nineties Country's 'Pickup Man,' Dead at 61 From Coronavirus Joe Diffie , the Nineties country star behind hits like “Pickup Man” and “John Deere Green,” has died due to complications related to COVID-19 Oh no! John Deere Green is a great song. ☹️ My 3 favorite country songs are all Joe Diffie songs...3rd Rock From the Sun, John Deere Green, and Leroy the Redneck Reindeer. 😢😭 This virus sucks assholed!!!🤬 PICKUP MAN..NOOO
Country Music Legend Joe Diffie Dead Due to Coronavirus Complications Joe Diffie passed away due to Coronavirus on Sunday, March 29. 💔 Awwww he was so nice too! Rest easy R. I. P. Joe🎸
Country Artist Joe Diffie Dead From Coronavirus at Age 61The “Third Rock From The Sun' singer had gone public with his coronavirus diagnosis on Friday. 💔 Just wanna make the 🌎 Smile with my 🎶! Take a Listen 🔥and Can, I get a repost 💜Plz followasista👑 on ALL PLATFORMS 'Honey Marìa' 💋Smoocheez & Blessings!🙌 🎥VIDEO & NEW 🔥MUSIC COMING!🎵 😞😞😞
'John Deere Green' Country Singer Joe Diffie Dead at 61 From Coronavirus'John Deere Green' Country Singer Joe Diffie Dead at 66 From Coronavirus Dam! RIP 3rd Rock From the Sun. 61* Good news
Joe Diffie, ’90s Country Music Star, Dies of Coronavirus at 61 Joe Diffie , an icon to many country fans for his string of No. 1 hits in the 1990s, has died from complications related to the coronavirus, a spokesperson revealed Sunday afternoon. He was 61. &82… Thought this was Joe Exotic for a second So quickly! Sorry to hear this. Wtf this terrible !!!!