Joe Diffie: His Impact on 90s Country Music

by | Nov 12, 2020

“The only thing I see ahead is just the heat rising off the road. The rainbows I’ve been chasing keep on fading ‘fore I find my pot of gold.”

Thirty years ago this week, Joe Diffie’s debut single, “Home,” became the most-played song on country radio. It hit number one on Billboard, Radio & Records, and the Gavin Report charts. He was the first artist to ever top all three charts simultaneously with their first single. 

I didn’t want to write this article. It’s been nearly eight months since his untimely passing. Tributes have poured in throughout the year, and now the CMA’s are remembering Joe Diffie with a performance by Jon Pardi. This one hits me even harder because the 2019 CMAs were the last time I’d ever see Joe. The final time I’d ever be in the same room. 

He was my favorite person to discuss music with. His knowledge expanded across the musicians, writers, and performers of timeless country songs. And as a former demo-turned superstar, he was loved by so many within the industry and a fan-favorite as he attracted generations of country music lovers.

As a writer, I hope to continue shedding light and remembering the impact Joe Diffie had on the genre. If you’re looking to discover his music, I’d like to offer this list of essential singles he recorded.

1. Home 

2. Ships That Don’t Come In 

3. New Way to Light Up An Old Flame 

4. A Night to Remember 

5. Is It Cold In Here 

6. John Deere Green 

7. In My Own Backyard 

8. Bigger Than The Beatles 

9. So Help Me Girl 

10. Pickup Man 

While you’re digging into his hits, here are some of Joe Diffie’s memorable career achievements.

  • He won a CMA for Vocal Event of the year in 1993 as part of the all-star collaboration “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” with George Jones.
  • Both the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association has honored him with nominations for the Year award’s prestigious Male Vocalist.
  • Joe Diffie was elected to the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
  • His iconic “Pickup Man” single was used in a Superbowl commercial in 1996 by Ford, and later Applebees’ used it in a 2005 ad campaign. 
  • Racking up several platinum and gold records, Joe Diffie was also one of the most-played artists in the 90s. Five of his songs hit number one, and he released a total of 38 songs to radio. 
  • He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1993, where he would spend 25 years as a frequent performer.
  • On several occasions, he was featured in the “Nancy” comic strips. 
  • He was honored for his never-ending charitable work by the Country Radio Seminar as the 1997 recipient of the Humanitarian Award. Joe Diffie spent countless years performing concerts to benefit charities. 

During what turned out to my last exchange with Joe, I told him how much I loved his song, “Bigger Than the Beatles.” He laughed and said, “I played that song since 1995, and I finally stopped putting it in the show.” Later that night at his show, he surprised me when he mentioned my name onstage and played the 90s classic. 

I have so many treasured memories of times I got to talk with him about old songs, our hometowns, and life. His wife and children were the center of his world. I’ll never forget standing on the Opry stage and watching as he brought his family into the famed circle because he was just so proud of them. 

About the Author

Amanda Tempel
Amanda Tempel
A love for country music and all things Nashville is an understatement when it comes to Amanda Tempel. Her creative storytelling takes you on a journey keeping readers connected by sharing all the latest and greatest hits, up-and-coming acts, and behind-the-scenes magic of Music City that will keep you coming back for more.