Joe Diffie, the blue collar country musician who landed five number one hits in the 1990s, died Sunday following complications after contracting COVID-19. He had announced just two days before that he was undergoing treatment. He was 61.
Diffie was born in Tulsa, but raised in Texas, Washington and Wisconsin before returning to southwestern Oklahoma for his final high school years. After graduating from Velma-Alma High School, he briefling attended Cameron University in Lawton.
While working at a foundry in Duncan in the 1980s, he perfomed in the gospel group Higher Purpose, gigged regionally with the bluegrass band Special Edition and ran a small recording studio with his father.
He moved to Nashville in 1986, crating boxes for a Gibson guitar plant and steadily working as a demo singer. He earned writing credits on songs recorded by Hank Thompson and Holly Dunn.
After signing with Epic Records in 1990, Diffie landed two number one hits ("Home" and "If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)") and seven top ten hits over the course of three albums. Diffie was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1993.
But it was his 1994 album Third Rock From the Sun that really became what he was known for. The platinum album charted five singles, with “Pickup Man” and “Third Rock From the Sun” hitting number one and “So Help Me Girl” peaking at number two.
Diffie would land what would become his final number one single with "Bigger Than the Beatles" in 1995.
In 1998, he won a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for "Same Old Train," which featured a who's who of country music — Clint Black, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Pam Tillis, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt and Dwight Yoakam.
He was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
Jason Aldean's 2013 song "1994" is a tribute to Diffie, as he references several of the Oklahoma native's songs and uses Diffie's name in the chorus.
Diffie's catalog of down-home honky tonk and novelty songs made him a favorite of fellow musicians and fans alike. Tributes poured in Sunday from Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Travis Tritt, Billy Ray Cyrus, Big & Rich, Jason Aldean and many more.