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Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Country star Diffie tops fair billing

Concert set opening day

By Colin Foster
Joe Diffie was answering a question during a June 26 phone interview when dishes clattered in the background.
"Sorry, I'm doing dishes while I talk to you," the Grammy Award-winning country musician said before later adding. "You know, I've got my two daughters and my granddaughter at my house right now. They just had breakfast and, of course, they leave it a giant mess."
Even Diffie has to do dishes. He also still jams.
The star who brought the world hits such as "Pickup Man," "John Deere Green," "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)," "Bigger than the Beatles" and "Honkey Tonk Attitude" plays about 80 shows per year - and he will be visiting Celina on Friday night. Diffie, fellow country icon Neal McCoy and up-and-comer Walker Hayes will take the stage for an 8 p.m. show at the Mercer County Fairgrounds.
Diffie has 13 albums and more than 20 Top 10 singles to his credit. Five of those singles climbed to No. 1 on the charts, including "Third Rock From the Sun," "Home," and "Pickup Man," which stayed on top for four weeks. The Oklahoma native won a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with "Same Old Train" in 1998. He's a member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and is also an established songwriter - having written hits for Tim McGraw, Hank Thompson, Holly Dunn and Conway Twitty. Most recently he wrote Jo Dee Messina's "My Give a Damn's Busted," which stood atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs for two weeks.
Diffie worked a series of blue-collar jobs before fame, having gotten his hands dirty in an oilfield, a foundry and a loading dock. While that was happening, he played in various bands, with styles ranging from gospel to bluegrass to honkey tonk. In 1990, he released his debut album "A Thousand Winding Roads" and it scored four No. 1 singles in "Home," "If you Want me To," "If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets" and "New Way to Light up an Old Flame."
"It took a lot of luck, just being at the right place at the right time, a little talent and the next thing you know, it's like you're out there just having fun," Diffie said about making it big. "I don't really have a great formula. You just work hard at it, surround yourself with good people and hope good things will happen."
The younger generation may or may not remember some of Diffie's hits, but they've certainly heard the name before. Jason Aldean's 2012 hit "1994" was a full-on tribute song to Diffie. The song, written by Thomas Rhett, cleverly references several of Diffie's hits and features a chorus that caught Diffie by surprise, with Aldean - alongside several other popular country musicians appearing in the video - spouting the line 'Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie' to end the chorus.
"I'll be real honest, my first reaction when I heard it was 'What the hell is that?' " he said, laughing. "Honestly, we've had a lot of fun with it. Thomas Rhett actually wrote that song, so the first time I actually heard that song was Thomas Rhett's demo. Somebody had told me 'Hey, man. There's a song with your name in it. I thought 'OK, that's cool.' I thought it'd be one line, like I don't know, 'Listening to Joe Diffie on the jukebox' or something. Then the next thing you know, they're going 'Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie.' I'm just like 'What the hell is this?' But we've had a lot of fun with it. A lot of Jason's fans and Thomas' fans too, come to a show and they're like 'Hey, that's the dude he's talking about.' It's pretty cool."
Lately, Diffie has joined Mark Chesnutt and Lorrie Morgan on an unplugged tour while also doing his own thing on the side. Diffie said he enjoys the unplugged experience because it allows him to show a little more personality on stage.
"If you don't have something on the radio, people think you've died," Diffie said. "But all of those guys in my same genre are still out there. I do probably 80 shows a year and I stay busy."
McCoy stays busy, too. The Jacksonville, Texas, native has double-digit albums to his credit and generated a string of top hits during the 1990s. He scored two No. 1 Billboard country hits with his third album, "No Doubt About It," in the title track and "Wink." He went on to release other popular hits such as "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On," "Nothin' But a Love Thang," "The Shake" and most recently "Take a Knee My (Butt)," which criticized the national anthem protests by NFL players.
Country music's new generation will be represented at the fair, too. Hayes won't sound anything like Diffie or McCoy. His lyrical material is a little heavier than most in this generation of country music. In the song "Craig," he tells the story of a man who helped him out while he had been struggling with alcohol addiction and trying to make ends meet for his family after his deal with Capitol Records had fallen through.
It took the Mobile, Alabama, native a decade to break into the mainstream. He eventually teamed with hit-maker Shane McAnally and then struck a deal with Monument Records. Hayes released his album "Boom" in December 2017 and earned a Platinum certification for his hit single "You Broke up With Me."
Days prior to his June 26 phone interview/dish session, Diffie had played a show with McCoy in Wisconsin. He anticipates a great show on Aug. 10.
"Neal's a great entertainer," Diffie said. "He's fantastic, and I always hate when I have to follow him. He's like the Robin Williams of country music. He's so fast and so quick with his wit. He's real energetic and jumps around and runs around and all the stuff. He does a great show.
"Basically, I've always figured if I have a good time, hopefully everybody else will," Diffie continued. "I've got a great band. They kick butt. We just have a good time together. We'll do a bunch of songs that people expect me to sing, a bunch of the hits I've been lucky to have. Then we'll do a couple of new ones. But mostly, we just try to have fun."

Fair schedule:
• 8 a.m. - fair opens
• 9 a.m. - agriculture judging; dairy cattle show
• 10 a.m. - home, arts, domestic and household judging; booth judging
• 1 p.m. - commercial building opens
• 2 p.m. - floral judging
• 2-6 p.m. - Red Cross bloodmobile
• 3 p.m. - opening ceremony
• 4 p.m. - rides and games start; rabbit breed show
• 5 p.m. - cakes, pies and produce auction; Wolves of the World show
• 5:30 p.m. - special-interest awards
• 6 p.m. - crowning of specie royalty
• 6:30 p.m. - junior fair king and queen contest
• 7 p.m. - Town Team Class A Horseshoe Tournament; Erastus tailgate party before concert with T-102; Wolves of the World show; Lake Area Arts Guild showcasing area artists
• 8 p.m. - Neal McCoy, Joe Diffie and Walker Hayes in concert
• 9 p.m. - Erastus
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