Joe Diffie, Nineties Country’s “Pickup Man” and a consistent hit maker throughout the Nineties, died Sunday due to complications related to COVID-19 his publicist confirmed to Rolling Stone.
Joseph Logan Diffie was 61 and was born in Tulsa and raised in the tiny community of Velma, Oklahoma. While growing up the Diffie family lived in San Antonio, Washington state, and Wisconsin. Diffie learned about harmony by working in gospel and bluegrass groups, including, respectively, Higher Purpose and Special Edition.
Diffie also played bars, VFW halls, and honky-tonks as a solo act in Duncan, Oklahoma, where he lived with his wife and children while working in a local foundry. After the closing of the foundry and the dissolution of his first marriage, Diffie relocated to Nashville in 1986.
Signed to Epic Records, Diffie released his debut LP, A Thousand Winding Roads, in 1990. The album produced his inaugural hit, “Home,” which set a record by becoming the first debut single to reach the top of the country charts on all three trade publications at the time: Billboard, Gavin, and Radio & Records.
With a traditional-leaning voice that drew comparisons to George Jones, Diffie populated his records with honky-tonk ballads and lighthearted novelty tunes, earning the Oklahoma native five Number One singles in the first half of the Nineties. These began with his debut release, the deeply moving “Home,” followed by “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock From the Sun,” “Pickup Man,” and “Bigger Than the Beatles.” In all, Diffie charted 18 Top Ten singles, with the majority reaching the Top Five, including the 1993 radio staples “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” and “John Deere Green.”
He he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1993. In 1998, he won a Grammy award for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for the all-star recording “Same Old Train” with Merle Haggard, Clint Black, Emmylou Harris, and more.
Representative of his workingman persona, Diffie took a no-nonsense approach to his craft. “I just like the songs themselves,” he told Rolling Stone in 2019. “Finding songs I really liked and that I related to. Really, it’s not any more complicated than that.”
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