Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Interview Flashback - Talking Live With Joe Diffie

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in December 2009 on The 9513.

Before Jason Aldean sang of sitting on his “Big Green Tractor,” Joe Diffie was painting the town with his smash hit “John Deere Green.” Before Alan Jackson’s “Between The Devil And Me”, there was Joe Diffie two-stepping with “If The Devil Dance In Empty Pockets.” After working as a demo singer for three years in Nashville, Diffie signed his first record deal with Epic Records. Since that time he has recorded an amazing 17 top ten hits on Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks charts, five number ones, nine studio albums, two platinum albums and has written songs that have been hits for others like Tim McGraw and Jo Dee Messina. Diffie’s mantle is full with a Grammy, multiple CMA Awards, and been honored as Humanitarian of the Year by the Country Music Broadcasters.

Fast-forward to December 2009 and Diffie has a brand new album- his first live recording called Joe Diffie: Live At Billy Bob’s Texas- and is putting the finishing touches on a brand new bluegrass album for Rounder Records that will be out in just a few short months. And while history has been bright for this longtime country star who even Vern Gosdin called “the man with the golden voice,” Diffie’s quick to point out that the future is just as bright. He’s playing music with family and playing a style of music in bluegrass that was his country genre choice out of college. Forget “Ships That Don’t Come In,” Diffie’s ship is sailing straight ahead.

Ken Morton, Jr.- You have a live album that has just come out- give us the scoop on this brand new project.

Joe Diffie- It’s something I’m very excited about, I’ve never done a live album before. It’s kind of a cool deal- a nerve-wracking deal. The folks at Billy-Bob’s had done a series of these things over the years and asked if we’d like to participate in it. I said, “Sure!” We went down there and had a blast doing it. Like I said, though, it was pretty nerve-wracking though. Just thinking anything I said or do is going to be recorded and listened to forever is hard. We had a good time doing it. The crowd was just great. And it’s always great performing at Billy-Bob’s.

KMJ- Was it recorded in a single night or recorded over a couple nights?

JD- It was a single night. We went in there and they had all the recording stuff set up. We just took off and there we were.

KMJ- That is some pressure, you have to be on your game.

JD- Yeah, you really do. But I think we did okay. The thing I was worried about was trying to capture what we do live on a disc. It’s hard to transfer some of that energy onto an album, but I think we did pretty good at that.

KMJ- I know you had two special guests on the album. Tell me first about singing on an album with your son, Parker.

JD- Parker is a fine young singer and he travels on the road with me all the time anyways. We did a Little Feat song called “Willin’.” He’s been doing it awhile on stage so we did a duet on that thing. He did a great job on it. And he sings a bunch on the choruses on the rest of the songs- just messing around. Then I got my dad up and he and I did an old Johnny Cash cut of the “Folsom Prison Blues.” Of course, he stole the whole show and got the biggest round of applause for the whole night.

KMJ- That was one of the more special moments on the album I thought. You could sense your pride as he was singing and the crowd was singing along with him.

JD- Yeah, it was really special. He’s gotten up there with me before a couple of different times at shows. I think people are always amazed that he can sing, you know? But he can sing really well. It’s always a thrill for me to spring him on people.

KMJ- Did he do any stage performing before you made it big in the music business or is it newer to him than you?

JD- He’s always been really musical. He taught himself how to play piano and banjo and guitar. But he never ever pursued music as a career. He was never in a band. He’s gotten up in front of people and sang many times before over the years. And everyone always compliments him on the job that he does. He kind of gets a kick when he gets on up there. He’s always a mini-celebrity whenever he gets on stage. He’s always signing autographs and taking pictures with people afterwards- it’s a really fun deal for all of us.

KMJ- As it was with you with Parker, it sounds like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, did it?

JD- That’s right- more right than you’ll ever know. Most of what I learned about music, I learned from my parents. My dad, specifically, because he was so musical. That’s really who I developed my love of music from.

KMJ- I wanted to ask you about another project you’re working on- I hear you’re working on a bluegrass album with Rounder Records.

JD- It’s funny. I haven’t had a record out in three or four years and now I have three of them coming out within a four or five month period. It shows you I haven’t been sitting around at least. I’ve been recording all this new stuff. I’m really excited about this bluegrass project. You know, I sang bluegrass in a bluegrass group for six or seven years before I ever moved to Nashville. The group was called Special Edition. We had a blast doing it all those years and I developed a real love of bluegrass music, you know? I got the opportunity with Rounder to do a bluegrass album and I said, “Are you kidding me? Of course I want to do one!” We’ve brought in some great pickers into the studio. It was such a treasure just to not have any pressure- no pressure to make anything a hit. We wrote a few things for it and added a couple of old traditional songs. I’m just thrilled about it- I’m really really happy about how it turned out.

KMJ- How soon will your new bluegrass album be released?

JD- It’ll be sometime the spring of next year.

KMJ- What has it been like working with a label like Rounder Records?

JD- So far it’s been great. Everyone at Rounder has been very pleasant to work with and very helpful. They’ve played me some songs and offered me advice and it’s just been great- it really cannot be going any better.

KMJ- Your first job in Nashville was at the Gibson Guitar Factory. What was life for you like back in those days?

JD- (Laughter) Boy oh boy. When I first got hired there, it was actually through the bluegrass connection that I had believe it or not. I had a friend named Charlie that passed away recently and I met him singing through Special Edition. And Charlie got me a job there at Gibson. I went to work in the shipping and receiving department. I packed up guitars and sent them all over the world. It was quite interesting to see where those great instruments got shipped all over the world to.

KMJ- That’s the wrong end of working on a guitar for most people I’d imagine in Nashville, though…

JD- You got that right. Everybody would think it’s really interesting- and at first it is. But if you’re there to pursue music as a career, it’s the wrong side of the guitar, that’s for sure. But it’s a great place to work in the interim. They were really great to me. After working in shipping and receiving for about a year, they moved me over and I became an inspector. I had to inspect all the lumber that came in as it came in from the rough mill. I learned how to inspect guitars from the very beginning all the way to the very end of it.

KMJ- That had to give you a whole new respect for the instrument, I’d imagine.

JD- It really does. It’s kind of cool to have that in your back pocket and be able to look at an instrument and know whether it’s well-made or not. It’s pretty darn cool.

KMJ- What has Opry membership meant to you over the years?

JD- It’s been so great. It’s really the biggest thrills in my career- one of the biggest honors. I’ve been an Opry member since 93’. And I go play the Opry whenever I get the chance to. In fact, we’re playing there tonight. We’re headed over to the Ryman to do a couple of songs. I’ve always loved it. There’s so much history and so much tradition, it’s really a big family that I get to be a part of.

KMJ- As I was doing a little homework for questions for this interview, I discovered that you had a 2008 number one hit in Europe called “Long Gone Loner.” Tell me about that.

JD- That right there was a product of technology and today. It was really interesting. Through MySpace, Peter Dula contacted me and told me he was a big fan. So I checked his page, the same thing, to see he was legit. And he said he wanted to collaborate on a song. He’s made it to like eight European CMA Awards, he was definitely legit. So he emailed the tracks and outlined my parts and I loaded it up in my little Nashville studio and sang my part and sent it on back to him. Next thing I knew, he put it out there and it went all the way to number one. It was pretty darn cool.

KMJ- And I know you’ve started up a new little home project called Basement Tapes- what’s that about?

JD- We haven’t pursued that as much as much as we would like to eventually. But we loaded up a few songs that I thought people would like to hear- some different stuff. Not off-the-wall stuff, but some unfinished demos and guitar/vocal stuff. They’re some songs that I’ve written over the years that never got released. We load them up on MySpace occasionally. And people can go on there and download them whenever they want. It’s just a little something that I thought our fans would really like.

KMJ- Beyond the bluegrass album, what does the future hold for Joe Diffie?

JD- After we work doing our shows, and sprinkling in some bluegrass shows here and there, we have another album due for Rounder and at this point, it will probably be a more traditional country album. So, I’ve got that to look forward to. And we’ll keep touring and chasing my five-year-old girl around. That alone will keep me busy.

KMJ- Last question for you, what is country music to Joe Diffie?

JD- That question covers a wide spectrum of answers there. It’s been such a big part of my life from day one. I mentioned my dad being a huge country fan. I grew up listening to all of the great country artists through the years. Besides my family, I’ve derived more enjoyment and more emotions from my life in country music than anything else in my life.

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