Joe Diffie, perennial country singer and songwriter – and former and occasional bluegrass artist – has died today from complications of the corona virus. He was 61 years of age.
It had been announced on Friday that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and that he was receiving treatment. Nothing released on Friday suggested that he was in serious condition, though he and his family requested privacy.
Diffie was born and initially raised in Tulsa, OK, in a family who played and sang bluegrass, Gospel, and country music. After moving around a good bit to Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, the family returned to Oklahoma and Joe went to high school in Velma, between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. He became involved with both the bluegrass and country music scene in Norman after he finished school, performing with Billy Joe Foster, who also became prominent with Country Gazette and Ricky Skaggs. He also operated a successful recording studio there in town.
Joe eventually moved to Nashville in 1986 to give pop country a serious try, and got his start singing demos and pitching songs. By 1990, he was signed to Epic Records and scored a #1 hit with his first single, Home. Many more followed, both for him as a singer, and as a songwriter for other artists, with awards and critical acclaim in spades.
As country made a turn away from the neo-traditional sound, Diffie continued to tour, but playing smaller venues. In 2011, he did an album for Rounder Records called Homecoming – The Bluegrass Album, which found him back in the grass medium, supported by artists like Rhonda Vincent, The Grascals, Bradley Walker, and Alecia Nugent. He used a band of Nashville super-pickers with Rob Ickes on reso-guitar, Aubrey Haynie on fiddl.e, Mike Compton on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Mark Fain on bass, and Charlie Cushman on banjo. It included a new set of songs, and one Flatt & Scruggs classic, showing that he never lost the touch of grass.
He is remembered not only for his stellar songwriting and singing, but as someone who never let success go to his head. Joe retained his “regular guy” persona throughout his career, and in his personal life. Folks in the greater Nashville area would see him around town, in the grocery store, or picking his daughter up from school.
No information about arrangements have been announced.
R.I.P., Joe Diffie.