Joe Diffie, the country hitmaker behind such songs as “Pickup Man” and “John Deere Green”, has died from complications of COVID-19. He was 61 years old.
Diffie went public with his coronavirus diagnosis on Friday. “I am under the care of medical professionals and currently receiving treatment. My family and I are asking for privacy at this time,” he wrote at the time. “We want to remind the public and all my fans to be vigilant, cautious and careful during this pandemic.” His passing from the disease was announced via a press release from Adkins Publicity (via Billboard).
Born in Tulsa, Diffie’s music career began as a member of the gospel group Higher Purpose and the bluegrass band Special Edition in the late ’70s. At the same time, he worked at a foundry and built his own recording studio, where he wrote and recorded songs for other artists, including Hank Thompson (“Love on the Rocks”). When the foundry closed in 1986, he sold the studio and declared bankruptcy. Not long after, he got divorced from his first wife. After battling through the resulting depression, he moved to Nashville and began working for Gibson Guitar Corporation.
All the while, he continued writing demos that would go on to be recorded by the likes of Alabama, Billy Dean, The Forester Siters, and Ricky Van Shelton. After he co-wrote and sang backing vocals on Holly Dunn’s “There Goes My Heart Again”, Diffie was signed to his own deal with Epic in 1990. His debut album, A Thousand Winding Roads, was released later that year. Diffie would go on to record 12 more LPs, spawning 17 top 10 hits on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs list. Five of those tracks reached No. 1, including his very first single, “Home”.
Diffie was welcomed into the Grande Ole Opry in 1993, and won a Grammy for his all-star collaboration “Same Old Train” (with Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, and more) in 1998. In 2002, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. In addition to his solo material, Diffie penned songs for the likes of Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, and Conway Twitty.
His string of ’90s honky-tonk hits about “good ol’ boys” led to him becoming a beloved country figure. Jason Aldean name-checked him heavily in his 2012 track “1994”. That song’s hook — “Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie” — became the title of Diffie’s 2019 album, his first-ever vinyl release. Chris Young also sang of Diffie on the 2019 song “Raised on Country”.
Revisit some of Diffie’s classics below.