Joe Diffie returns to bluegrass, the music that started it all for the award winning country star. Co-produced by Diffie and Luke Wooten, the album features a who’s who of guest performers including The Grascals, Rhonda Vincent, Bradley Walker, and Alecia Nugent. Diffie enlisted a band that includes Rob Ickes, Aubrey Haynie, Paul Compton, Bryan Sutton, Mark Fain and Charlie Cushman to back his better-than-ever vocals on this set of songs that are sure to appeal to Diffie’s long-time fans and bluegrass traditionalists alike.
Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album
1. Somehow Tonight 2:58
2. Lonesome and Dry as a Bone 3:52
3. Tall Cornstalk 2:47
4. Fit For a King 4:11
5. Route 5 Box 109 3:57
6. Rainin’ On Her Rubber Dolly 2:54
7. I Know How It Feels 3:39
8. Tennessee Tea 2:50
9. Free and Easy 3:00
10. Stormy Weather Once Again 3:02
11. ’Til Death 4:28
12. Hard To Handle 2:30
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Earl Scruggs (APRS, BMI)
Lonesome and Dry as a Bone
Shawn Camp – Matt Lindsey – Sonny Tillis (Sony/ATV Tree Publishing, BMI / Big Yellow Dog Music, BMI / Travelin’ Arkansawyer Music, BMI / Matt Lindsey Music, LLC Admin. Bluewater Music, ASCAP / Songs of Universal, Inc. / Tunes Of The Village, BMI)
Harley Allen – Shawn Camp (Coburn Music, Inc., BMI / EMI Full Keel Music, ASCAP / Universal Music Corp., ASCAP)
Fit for a King
Carl Jackson – Jim Rushing (Two Strong Songs, ASCAP / The Old Professor’s Music, ASCAP / EMI April, ASCAP)
Route 5 Box 109
Galen Griffin – Kerry Kurt Phillips (Circle C Songs, Admin. Full Circle Music Publishing, LLC, ASCAP
Rainin’ on Her Rubber Dolly
Joe Diffie – Shawn Camp (Difftunes, BMI / International Dog Music, BMI / Scamporee Music, BMI / Dove’s Flight Publishing Co., BMI)
I Know How It Feels
Larry Cordle – Rusty Morrell (Wanda Cord Music, BMI / Sony/ATV Tree Publishing, BMI / Brewin’ Music Group, ASCAP)
Joe Diffie – Billy Joe Foster (Difftunes, BMI / Billy Joe Foster Music, BMI)
Free and Easy
Harley Allen (Coburn Music, Inc., BMI)
Stormy Weather Once Again
Shawn Camp – Jimmy Stewart (Sony/ATV Tree Publishing, BMI / Big Yellow Dog Music, BMI / Travelin’ Arkansawyer Music, BMI / EMI April Music, Inc., ASCAP)
Joe Diffie – Stevan Pippin (Difftunes, BMI / House of Pip, BMI)
Hard To Handle
Otis Redding – Allen Jones – Alvertis Bell (Irving Music, Inc., BMI)
Produced by Joe Diffie and Luke Wooten
Recorded at Oceanway Nashville
Luke Wooten - Engineer
PJ Fenech - 2nd Engineer
Vocals recorded by Joe Diffie and Luke Wooten at Down In the Hole Studio and Station West
Background vocals/mixing/mastering at Station West
“Rainin’ on Her Rubber Dolly” recorded at The Tracking Room
“Rainin’ on Her Rubber Dolly” recorded by Patrick Murphy
Photography by Scott Simontacchi
Design by Nancy Given
Bryan Sutton acoustic guitar
Aubrey Haynie fiddle
Rob Ickes Dobro
Mark Fain bass
Charlie Cushman banjo
Mike Compton mandolin
Grascals special guest on “Rainin’ on Her Rubber Dolly”
“Fit For A King”
“Free and Easy”
Joe Parker Diffie
“Hard to Handle”
Michael L. Rogers
“Hard to Handle”
“I Know How It Feels”
“Lonesome and Dry As a Bone”
“I Know How It Feels”
“Fit For a King”
“Lonesome and Dry As a Bone”
“Route 5 Box 109”
“Route 5 Box 109”
“Free and Easy”
James B. Stewart
“Stormy Weather Once Again”
“Fit for a King”
First, I’d like to thank Ken Irwin and the staff at Rounder for giving me the opportunity to record this project. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and a-dream-come-true!
Thanks to Luke Wooten and staff for all the hard work and your expertise in the studio. Wouldn’t have been the same without you! Thanks for caring about the music!
Thanks to Jeff Lysyczyn and Al McManus at Big Show Music Co. for helping to assemble all the parts necessary to make this endeavor possible! I appreciate you guys busting your rear ends!
A big thanks to the incredible musicians and singers who lent their immeasurable talent to this project. It puts a big smile on my face to listen to what you did! Can’t say enough!
Thanks to all the songwriters for the wonderful songs you entrusted to me! Wouldn’t be much of a project without you!
Thanks to my wife Theresa and daughter Kylie for their love and support for whatever I do.
Thanks to my other kids and all my family for all the love and encouragement through the years.
A special thanks to my Dad and Mom for instilling a love for music, and in particular, bluegrass music in me.
Thank you to all the fans for your undying support through the years. It really means a lot!
Thanks to the good Lord for His grace and love and for giving me the ability to play and sing!
When the talk turns to great contemporary country singers, it doesn’t take long for the name of Joe Diffie to come up. You can count up the tokens of his success easily enough, of course—a long string of top country hits, hundreds of thousands of tickets and millions of albums sold, to name a few—but while these measure important things, they don’t measure artistry. The defining achievements of a great singer can’t be calibrated by numbers, no matter how great; instead, they’re found in the curl of a note, the push of a syllable, the weight of a pause, whether they’re invested in a heartbreak ballad or a light-hearted romp. A great singer like Joe can do just about anything—and more importantly, a great singer like Joe knows when to do what. That’s a gift that can’t be taught, but it can be learned, and all the greats, this one included, learned it pretty much the same way: by wedding raw talent to a purposeful study of those who have come before.
By definition, those who focus on the big-time don’t see much beyond it, and so it’s easy to see why country critics and fans looking for antecedents to Joe’s emotive power would come up with the names of stars like George Jones. Nor are they wrong—but if you look more widely, you’ll come up with something else. For while the roots of Diffie’s vocal mastery are surely planted in the ground tilled by earlier honky tonk geniuses, that’s not the only place they can be found. There’s more there, and next to the singing itself, it’s arguably the most important piece of the story behind this album.
If you’re lucky enough to have a copy of the August, 1985 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited, dig it out. Leaf through the pages, past the festival announcements, news from bands (the Lonesome River Band, then not quite three years old, were heading to Monaco to play for the royal family), articles and ads for bluegrass LPs selling for $6 or $7 apiece. Slow down, though, when you come to the record reviews, or you’ll miss it—a three-paragraph write-up on The Special Edition’s new release, All The Good Times Are Past & Gone, describing the band as one that “seems to have a lot of potential,” and tossing out in passing what was probably the first mention in nationally-distributed print of a guy named Joe Diffie.
Hard as it may be for some to fathom, an artist making a bluegrass album doesn’t really need to dish up credentials testifying to a life-long interest—but for those who think it’s needed, there it is. For Diffie, though, that review’s not a credential, just a modest milestone that mostly signifies good memories. “Bill Grant’s festival in Hugo, the one in McAlester—Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, we played a lot of them,” he recalls. “We didn’t make a dime, really, but we loved it—and musically speaking, that was the most fun I ever had.” As the list of states traversed suggests, it wasn’t just a casual pastime, especially not under the tutelage of Billy Joe Foster, who had, by the time that review was written, already left the band, eventually winding up in Nashville and a member of Ricky Skaggs’ epically talented Kentucky Thunder (though not before he and Diffie had written “Tennessee Tea,” which appears here).
So when he came to Nashville, Diffie arrived not just as an experienced singer, but as an experienced bluegrass musician—one who had served the same kind of apprenticeship that generations before (and after) him have undergone, learning not just how to sing, but a whole canon of songs, an understanding of how a bluegrass band works as a unit, and the distinctive elements that make bluegrass what it is. And while his career took him in a different direction for many years, the lessons he learned then weren’t forgotten (indeed, they surfaced on occasion, as when he delivered a knock-out version of “Another Night” on Ralph Stanley’s award-winning, all-star Clinch Mountain Country).
Now, with the release of a project he’s long had in mind, Joe offers undeniable proof that, when it comes to bluegrass, he knows the real deal. For this is no thrown-together affair that simply recaps the bluegrass classics or serves up an assortment of his many hits done in bluegrass style. Working with co-producer Luke Wooten, he’s put together a dandy package that supports his compelling vocals by weaving together strands of his own background with threads of both classic and contemporary bluegrass, leaning on the remarkable community of musicians that’s taken root in and around Nashville, one able to precisely delineate bluegrass from country and yet affirm the underlying connections between the two. It’s no accident, either, that these particular players were called upon; some, like fiddler Aubrey Haynie, he had already been acquainted with for years through earlier sessions, while others were familiar stylists from shared personal appearances at the Grand Ole Opry or from radio and CDs—since, as Joe says, “most of what I listen to is bluegrass.”
Appropriately enough, the album introduces the bulk of its cast with an eminently satisfying nod to the past through a gold-plated Flatt & Scruggs classic. Over rock-solid backing, and leaving room for deft soloing that both references past masters and dishes out tasteful creativity, Diffie’s singing serves muscular notice that he’s got that same double-barrelled approach himself. And while the next three songs range broadly, they disclose the mingling of country and bluegrass as neatly as one could ask for—coming, as they do, from the pens of writers who share a similar blend of bluegrass upbringing and experience with contemporary country savvy. Indeed, the song selection is one of Homecoming’s greatest strengths, for Diffie has not only dug into his own past (as mentioned, “Tennessee Tea” dates back to his pre-Nashville years, while he’d earlier had an eye on the droll “A Tall Cornstalk” for country projects) and into the classic repertoire, but into the modern repertoire (“Lonesome And Dry As A Bone,” recorded by Ricky Skaggs, and Larry Cordle’s brilliantly moving “I Know How It Feels”)—and, of course, he’s written a couple of fine songs of his own, too.
Indeed, if one were forced to look for just one selection to serve as an emblem for this entire album, “It’s Raining On Her Rubber Dolly Now” would surely present itself as an outstanding candidate. Written by Joe and fellow country/bluegrass veteran (and long-time friend) Shawn Camp, it has a knowing, 21st century edge while being cast in the mold of a Jimmy Martin classic; Diffie delivers it with exactly the right combination of vocal finesse and power, while walking the line between sincerity and wry wit to perfection—and to help him out, he’s got a major contemporary band that not only has an unsurpassed grasp on Nashville bluegrass (not to mention the IBMA’s Banjo Player of the Year), but includes among its members still another old friend from back in his earliest days in Music City, Danny Roberts.
Yet while “Dolly” distills the many virtues of Homecoming into a single performance, every cut is a wholly realized effort that delivers the quintessential bluegrass experience. As always, Joe’s singing is a work of art in itself, rich, nuanced, and drawing out the heart of each song. But every time, it feels not like a singer in front of a studio ensemble, but like a band—a really, really good band—that’s intent on sinking its collective teeth into material chosen for well thought out reasons. That, really, is the ultimate proof that, when it comes to bluegrass, Joe Diffie’s not a visitor from afar, but more like a traveller coming home—probably not “never more to roam,” as it might be put in one of those old songs, but home nonetheless. And in every important way, it’s like he never left.
-Jon Weisberger, Cottontown, TN, December, 2009
Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album
Street Date: October 26, 2010
“I always had in mind to do a bluegrass album someday,” says Joe Diffie. “It was something I wanted from the first day that I got my country deal.” And while he might not be the first to say that, it not only has the ring of truth when you hear it straight from the man himself, it’s got a lifetime’s worth of bluegrass roots and connections to back it up. In fact, the most surprising thing about the translation of that thought into reality—and given the way that the country music industry has kept bluegrass at arms length, it’s not very surprising at all—is that it’s taken this long.
The simple truth is that while this is Joe’s first bluegrass release, it’s not the first bluegrass release on which he’s appeared; that distinction belongs to a 25 year old album by The Special Edition, released when he was already immersed in the bluegrass scene of his native Oklahoma and environs. “My dad was a big bluegrass fan,” he notes, and Joe had followed something of a traditional path when he went into the music after first singing in a gospel group—yet it’s also true, and not insignificant, that he was absorbing country and honky-tonk influences at the same time. “I didn’t see much difference between country and bluegrass,” he says, echoing a sentiment that finds its justification in the history of heroes like Flatt & Scruggs, along with more contemporary peers like Keith Whitley. And like them and plenty of others, including Special Edition bandmate Billy Joe Foster, he decided that where he belonged was Nashville.
On his way to Music City, he stopped in to visit one young bluegrass friend he’d already made, an Arkansas fiddler by the name of Shawn Camp, and he visited others, too, in Memphis—an occasion still remembered by the SteelDrivers’ banjo man, Richard Bailey. And naturally enough, when he finally landed in Nashville, Joe took to hanging out at the bluegrass Mecca, the world famous Station Inn; there he ran into still another bluegrass buddy, the late Charlie Derrington, who gave him a job at Gibson Guitars. He began in the shipping department and moved up to the role of inspector—making yet another bluegrass friend along the way in fellow Gibson employee Danny Roberts, then playing with the New Tradition—but it was clear he was destined for other things.
The subsequent arc of Diffie’s career can be followed in any number of sources, from internet articles and fan sites to research staples like the Country Music Foundation’s Encyclopedia Of Country Music, so there’s no need to retrace it here. But even as he was racking up Top 10 hits as quickly as he could turn them out, Joe kept up his bluegrass connections, and not always in the most obvious ways. He co-hosted and performed on the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual awards show in 1993 and 1999 (the latter time in a notable appearance with the Lonesome River Band and the Del McCoury Band’s fiddler, Jason Carter), and he popped up on the legendary Ralph Stanley’s award-winning, all-star production, Clinch Mountain Country, with a gripping rendition of “Another Night,” but he also turned over a strong co-write of his, “I Got A Feeling,” to bluegrass singer David Parmley years before he got around to recording it himself. And he kept listening, not just to the classics and contemporary releases he’d grown up on in the 70s and 80s, but the new stuff, too. Indeed, he says, “most of what I listen to is bluegrass.”
So when Joe looked up from finishing a self-produced, years-in-the-making set of remakes of his hits a couple of years ago and saw Rounder Records on the other side of the table, the way was cleared for the project to finally get under way—and in fact, he remembers that it was suggested by Rounder’s Ken Irwin, whose memory for talented bluegrass artists is long indeed. So while it might not be accurate to call this release “long-awaited,” it’s surely right to say that it’s been a long time in the making, and perhaps all the better for it.
Indeed, one of the most striking things about this release is the way that it comfortably fits beside the very best of today’s bluegrass. Even when Diffie tackles a song he wrote back in those Special Edition days, there’s not a trace of nostalgia, nor a self-conscious reach for a retro feeling—yet neither is it in a newgrass, nor quite a country-grass mold, either. This music is, quite simply, state-of-the-art bluegrass, shaped by in-depth knowledge, played by some of the finest talents available, and sung by an artist who’s already widely admired—not only in the country world, but among bluegrassers, too—as a consummate vocalist.
“I knew Luke Wooten a little bit already,” Diffie says of his co-producer for the project. “And he had been working with the SteelDrivers, and I loved the way that they sounded. He has a real love for bluegrass, and he kind of multi-tasked on this—he got the musicians set up and got the studio time booked. Luke and I were very simpatico when it came to choosing the musicians, choosing the material—we really worked well together.” And indeed, though Wooten had plenty of input, Diffie’s approach was a seriously hands-on one. “I knew most of the musicians already,” he recalls, “like Aubrey Haynie, who had played on some of my country albums, and Bryan Sutton, who we kind of leaned on in putting the group together. Luke brought some songs in, but so did I—in fact, I’d already had ‘Tall Cornstalk’ on hold once before for a country project—and I wrote a couple, too. Some were new, but ‘Tennessee Tea,’ that’s one that was written years ago, before I ever moved to Nashville. It never seemed appropriate for a country record, but we loved playing it live with Special Edition—Billy Joe would always introduce it by saying ‘it doesn’t mean anything about anything, but we love to do it’—so it was natural to put it on this project and just burn it up.”
Old friends like Camp turn up elsewhere in the songwriting credits, while Harley Allen pulls double duty as both a writer and harmony singer—“That was a no-brainer,” Diffie laughs, “he’s the kind of singer where you love to listen to his demos and steal every lick you can”—and another Diffie favorite, Larry Cordle, contributed the gripping “I Know How It Feels.” “That’s one I re-sang a couple of times,” Joe confesses, “because I knew I just had to put the same angst into singing it that he did.”
Still, there’s no doubt that the completed project is Diffie’s from start to finish, as his masterful voice dominates every selection, no matter how brilliant the players or powerful the harmony singers—and there’s no doubt that bluegrass is an indelible part of his musical make-up. Most of all, though, Joe’s just glad to have finally gotten this one out. “It’s like the stars all finally aligned,” he says with a chuckle—and for those who enjoy hearing an artist at the top of his game tackle the most demanding kind of music under the country umbrella, those stars must surely be counted as lucky ones.