Monday, March 30, 2020

Howard Perdew Helped Joe Diffie Inspire an Entire Generation


"Joe Diffie possessed one of the most incredible pure country voices on the planet," said Steve Wariner after learning of the singers death on Sunday. According to Diffie's publicist, the 61-year-old Oklahoma native died from the effects of the Coronavirus. He had just announced his illness on Friday.

Diffie, who helped set the standard for upbeat, rock-influenced country music in the 1990's, was born in Tulsa on Dec. 28, 1958. He came from a musical family. His aunt had a country music band, his father played guitar and banjo, and his mother sang. Following in her footsteps, Diffie began to sing at an early age, often listening to the albums in his father's record collection. According to him, his parents claimed he could sing harmony when he was three years old.

After college, Joe had several jobs. He worked in oil fields, drove a concrete truck and ended up working in a foundry. It was during this period that he began working as a musician, first in a gospel, then in a bluegrass. He built a recording studio and began sending demos to publishers in Nashville.

After the foundry closed in 1986, Diffie declared bankruptcy and sold the studio out of financial necessity, divorced his wife and spent several months in a state of depression before deciding to move to Nashville, where, he took a job at Gibson Guitar Corporation. While at Gibson, he contacted a songwriter and recorded more demos, including songs that would later be recorded by Ricky Van Shelton, Billy Dean, Alabama, and the Forester Sisters. By mid-1989, he quit working at the company to record demos full-time. It was along about that time that he met Howard Perdew.

Howard had been writing songs most of his life. In 1978, Kenny Starr and Loretta Lynn recorded a duet of a song he wrote entitled "Tuffy." But, everything up until meeting Joe Diffie was met with minimal success. "Meeting Joe changed everything," he told me on Sunday. "He was my career." Between 1993 and 1995, Diffie had major hits on three songs Howard had a part in writing: "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)," "Pickup Man" and "So Help Me Girl."

"Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)" was released on July 19, 1993 as the second single from Joe Diffie's album, "Honky Tonk Attitude." Written by Howard, Kerry Kurt Phillips and Rick Blaylock, it peaked at #3 on Billboard, which ranked it #13 on its year-end chart.

"Pickup Man," written by Howard and Kerry Kurt Phillips, was released by Joe Diffie on October 17, 1994 1994 as the second single from his most successful album, "Third Rock from the Sun." The song was his longest-lasting #1 hit, having spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard country chart between December 1994 and January 1995.

Rolling Stone Magazine wrote "Inarguably one of the best truck songs in country music history, “Pickup Man” excels for two reasons: songwriters Howard Perdew and Kerry Kurt Phillips’ fine-tuned wordplay, and Joe Diffie’s charming delivery. In lesser hands, such a song - chockfull of double-entendre - could come off as creepy, but Diffie sang it with a grin, well aware of the absurdity in lines like 'I got an 8-foot bed that never has to be made.' "Pickup Man" became Joe Diffie's signature song.

"So Help Me Girl," written by Howard and Andy Spooner, was released in January 30, 1995 as the third single from the "Third Rock from the Sun" album. It peaked at #2 on Billboard. The song was covered by Gary Barlow of the pop group, Take That, and included on his debut solo album, "Open Road," which was released in England on July 11, 1997 and in the U.S. on September 30th. The single was eventually released in 65 countries around the world and topped the charts in 13 of them. In America, it peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.

Joe Diffie was a country star who was treasured by many of his peers. Several of them took to social media to praise Diffie after learning of his passing. "He was a singers singer," said Marty Rabon of Shenandoah. Tim McGraw said he was "one of the most influential vocalist of our time in country music." "Joe was a great singer, songwriter, and entertainer that left his mark in Country Music," said Ricky Skaggs. "His clear voice and unique singing style made him immediately recognizable." Billy Dean said "Joe Diffie set the standard for our Country sound back in the 90’s. He was just a regular Joe, as he would put it, but he also will go down in history as one of the greats, I do believe.”

By the way, the two Joe Diffie albums containing songs co-written by Howard Perdew, "Honky Tonk Attitude" and "Third Rock from the Sun," both shipped a million copies in the United States and were certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Diffie was inducted into the Grand Old Opry in 1993.

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