Joe Diffie was a creative juggernaut when he arrived on the national country music scene.
The Oklahoma native had spent his entire life preparing for the magical moment. Harmonizing when he was just 3 years old to records his parents were playing, he honed his musical skills to perfection in critically acclaimed gospel and bluegrass bands.
Migrating to Nashville in 1986, he quietly paid his dues, developing his top-drawer songwriting skills and becoming one of the most sought-after demo singers in Music City. He patiently waited for an opportunity, then struck like a cobra.
The big break came when prominent tune smith and former Buddy Holly producer Bob Montgomery inked him to Epic Records, with the stipulation that he would spend a year on hold. The extra time gave Diffie an opportunity to further polish tunes for his breakout first studio album “A Thousand Winding Roads.”
Diffie stormed onto mainstream radio with a title wave of hits, starting in 1990. The debut record “Home” was the first single to ever top all three major tracking services, including Billboard Hot Country Singles, Radio & Records and Gavin Report. Finally, his name was in lights and he never looked back.
His first five singles included a pair of No.1s, two songs that stalled in the brides-made position, and the classic “Is it Cold in Here,” which peaked at No. 5.
The 59-year-old Diffie was one of the most dominating figures in country music during the 1990s, a fact cemented by Jason Aldean's single “1994,” a Top 10 single the superstar released in 2013 as a Diffie tribute.
“The song opened a whole new fan base for me. Aldean fans were crossing over and checking out my music. It was pretty cool,” Diffie says. “There is a line in the song 'teach me how to Diffie.' I don't know what that is. I hear Aldean and Thomas Rhett were having dance contests, but I don't know how to do it. If you find out, let me know. I'll stick to the singing part.”
Diffie will appear at 7 p.m. Friday at the Benton Civic Center. Tickets are $25 for premium seating (based on availability) and $22 for general admission. Doors open at 6 p.m. John Spicer & The Fightin' Side Band, of Patoka, will be the opening act.
For more information, call 618-435-5700. The box office is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays.
“This should be an outstanding show,” says Jeremy Young, a member of the civic center board of directors. “Joe Diffie is a powerhouse performer that has dominated the charts for a long time. This is not just an acoustic show. Joe will be using a full band.”
Young said a portion of the admission fee is being donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
“Just by attending you support a great cause and there isn't a bad seat in the house,” Young said. “The general admission tickets are first come, first served. You gotta show up early to get the best spot.”
Diffie's childhood was filled with changing scenery. His family moved to Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, before finally settling in his native Oklahoma. He graduated high school in Velma, where he was voted Best All-Around Male Athlete in 1976 for his football, baseball and golf skills.
After first choosing a college career aimed at the financial security of the medical profession, he changed course. Getting married for the first of four times in 1977, he found employment in the physically challenging Texas oil fields, pumped cement and worked at a foundry. He also started dabbling again with his true love — music. He played in the gospel band Higher Purpose and the Special Edition bluegrass band.
Diffie's devotion to music escalated. He built a recording studio at his home and recorded demos of songs covered by Rickie Van Shelton and Alabama.
When the foundry closed, Diffie's cash flow was interrupted and he was forced to file for bankruptcy, which led to a lengthy depression and a divorce. He started pulling things together after moving to Nashville and starting to work for Gibson Guitars, where he was eventually discovered by Montgomery.
Diffie was the hottest name in country music in 1993 and '94, with a string of hits that included “Third Rock from the Sun,” “Honky Tonk Attitude,” “Prop me up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” and addictive “Pickup Man,” which topped the charts for four weeks.
Other fan favorites include: “A Night to Remember,” “Ships that Don't Come In,” “Almost Home” and 2004 effort “Tougher Than Nails,” his last Top-20 tune written by Kendell Marvel of Thompsonville.
Diffie stretched his versatility to the limit in 2013, singing harmony with D-Thrash of the Jawga Boyz on “Girl Ridin' Shotgun.” His smooth style blended incredibly with the country-rap tune, which has received 13 million views on YouTube.