Joe Diffie Biography

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Joe Diffie photo courtesy of

So when Joe looked up from finishing a self-produced, years-in-the-making set of remakes of his hits a couple of years ago and saw Rounder Records on the other side of the table, the way was cleared for the project to finally get under way—and in fact, he remembers that it was suggested by Rounder’s Ken Irwin, whose memory for talented bluegrass artists is long indeed. So while it might not be accurate to call this release "long-awaited," it’s surely right to say that it’s been a long time in the making, and perhaps all the better for it.

Indeed, one of the most striking things about this release is the way that it comfortably fits beside the very best of today’s bluegrass. Even when Diffie tackles a song he wrote back in those Special Edition days, there’s not a trace of nostalgia, nor a self-conscious reach for a retro feeling—yet neither is it in a newgrass, nor quite a country-grass mold, either. This music is, quite simply, state-of-the-art bluegrass, shaped by in-depth knowledge, played by some of the finest talents available, and sung by an artist who’s already widely admired—not only in the country world, but among bluegrassers, too—as a consummate vocalist.

"I knew Luke Wooten a little bit already," Diffie says of his co-producer for the project. "And he had been working with the SteelDrivers, and I loved the way that they sounded. He has a real love for bluegrass, and he kind of multi-tasked on this—he got the musicians set up and got the studio time booked. Luke and I were very simpatico when it came to choosing the musicians, choosing the material—we really worked well together." And indeed, though Wooten had plenty of input, Diffie’s approach was a seriously hands-on one. "I knew most of the musicians already," he recalls, "like Aubrey Haynie, who had played on some of my country albums, and Bryan Sutton, who we kind of leaned on in putting the group together. Luke brought some songs in, but so did I—in fact, I’d already had ‘Tall Cornstalk’ on hold once before for a country project—and I wrote a couple, too. Some were new, but ‘Tennessee Tea,’ that’s one that was written years ago, before I ever moved to Nashville. It never seemed appropriate for a country record, but we loved playing it live with Special Edition—Billy Joe would always introduce it by saying ‘it doesn’t mean anything about anything, but we love to do it’—so it was natural to put it on this project and just burn it up."

Old friends like Camp turn up elsewhere in the songwriting credits, while Harley Allen pulls double duty as both a writer and harmony singer—"That was a no-brainer," Diffie laughs, "he’s the kind of singer where you love to listen to his demos and steal every lick you can"—and another Diffie favorite, Larry Cordle, contributed the gripping "I Know How It Feels." "That’s one I resang a couple of times," Joe confesses, "because I knew I just had to put the same angst into singing it that he did."

Still, there’s no doubt that the completed project is Diffie’s from start to finish, as his masterful voice dominates every selection, no matter how brilliant the players or powerful the harmony singers—and there’s no doubt that bluegrass is an indelible part of his musical make-up. Most of all, though, Joe’s just glad to have finally gotten this one out. "It’s like the stars all finally aligned," he says with a chuckle—and for those who enjoy hearing an artist at the top of his game tackle the most demanding kind of music under the country umbrella, those stars must surely be counted as lucky ones.