Known for his vocal range, Joe Diffie is a much-respected interpreter of both traditional and modern country songs. His warm voice and clear phrasing of lyrics have proven to be crowd pleasers, whether he’s singing ballads or more rambunctious numbers. With that range, Joe was a dominant singer through the ’90s, with four gold and platinum albums, 17 Top 10 hits and more than 6 million in record sales.
Those early hits included “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” “New Way (To Light Up an Old Flame),” “Home” and “Ships That Don’t Come In.” Throughout the ’90s, Joe topped the charts with the likes of “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die),” “Bigger Than the Beatles,” “Third Rock from the Sun” and “A Night to Remember.”
Born and raised in a musical family in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Joe gave his first public performance at age 4 with his aunt’s country band. By the time he was in college, he’d done stints in a rock group, a gospel act and a bluegrass band called the Special Edition — signs of the flexibility he would exhibit as a recording artist. After school, Joe worked on songwriting while handling a day job at an iron foundry. He had his first break when country legend Hank Thompson recorded his song “Love on the Rocks.” (In 2002, Joe and Hank were inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame simultaneously.) That initial success encouraged him to head for Nashville in 1986.
Joe’s deep knowledge of country music and versatility rapidly attracted attention in the songwriting and publishing community.
Between working shifts at the Gibson Guitar warehouse, Joe sang demos on “I’ve Cried My Last Tear for You” (later a hit for Ricky Van Shelton), “Born Country” (likewise for Alabama) and “You Don’t Count the Cost” (Billy Dean). Conway Twitty, Charley Pride, the Forrester Sisters, Tracy Lawrence and Doug Stone all recorded his songs. In 1989, Holly Dunn reached the top five with “There Goes My Heart Again,” a song Joe co-wrote. Those successful cuts have continued since Joe started having his own hits in 1990, when “Home” topped the charts. Tim McGraw included one of Joe’s songs on his debut album and Jo Dee Messina hit No. 1 in 2005 with Joe’s “My Give a Damn’s Busted.”
“Even though I’ve been doing this for a long time, it’s like I want to pinch myself still,” Joe says. “It’s an awful neat deal to be able to live out your dream.”