Joe Diffie, award-winning country music singer, dies at 61 of COVID-19 complications

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Joe Diffie, a country music star who won Country Music Assn. and Grammy awards and charted five No. 1 country singles in the 1990s, died Sunday from complications of COVID-19. He was 61.

The news was confirmed by Adkins Publicity, which announced his death in a news release. Diffie revealed his positive coronavirus diagnosis on Friday.

The Tulsa native’s career spanned three decades and more than 20 Top 10 hits including “Home,” “If the Devil Danced (in Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock From the Sun,” “John Deere Green” and “Pickup Man.” Diffie also wrote hits for others, including Tim McGraw, Conway Twitty and Jo Dee Messina.

Diffie started out working in the Oklahoma and Texas oil fields. He also drove a cement truck and worked at a foundry, all while flirting with the idea of launching a career in country music.

Several years later, after getting a divorce and losing his job at the foundry, Diffie packed up and moved to Nashville, where he got a job working at the Gibson guitar factory, eventually earning a promotion to quality control specialist.

“When I moved here, I moved with the idea of being an artist,” he said in 1990. “I wanted to hone my songwriting skills. When you come here, it takes a while to be accepted because there are so many people who come to Nashville who are talented but they have some personality flaw or they are not dependable. By hanging around long enough, they find out if you are dependable.”

While at Gibson, Diffie spent nights and weekends recording demo records and was eventually introduced by a coworker to Johnny Slate, who owns a music publishing firm in Nashville. Slate brought the demos to Bob Montgomery of CBS Nashville, who eventually signed Diffie to a contract.

“I know what I look for,” said Diffie when describing his formula for finding the right country song. “It’s something that moves me emotionally or makes me smile, or gets a lump in my throat. It’s something that I have lived.”

“It’s hard to express how good this feels,” said Diffie of his success in 1990. “I’m just a country boy, although that sounds like a cliche. But it’s true; I was raised on a farm. The success is more than I could have ever dreamed of.”


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