Country Throwback nod to ‘90s hitmakers

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Thomas Rhett’s single “1994” – a Jason Aldean hit off his “Night Train” CD – may have catapulted Joe Diffie to the forefront for some, but the crooner sees it differently. 

He’s been busy writing, recording and touring since topping the country charts in the ‘90s with “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” and “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets).” 

Diffie first heard about Rhett’s “1994” from his manager, who got a copy of the demo.

“I thought it might mention my name, but it turns out it was a tribute of a song,” Diffie told Gumbo. “I never expected that but it’s been really good for me.”

A man’s invitation to his best gal, the tune includes reminisces of Diffie songs – “Pick-Up Man,” “John Deere Green” and “Third Rock from the Sun.” The chorus is an ode to the Grammy and multiple Country Music Award winner: “Hey Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie; Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie; Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie.”

“It was a real surprise to all of us,” Diffie humbly admits.

Nods like that are generally reserved for the dead, and Diffie – and his career – are anything but, however.

With 13 albums, 20 Top 10 hits and a steady touring career to his credit, the singer/songwriter’s schedule is busy. And Diffie, Mark Chesnutt and Terry Clark play an unplugged “Country Throwback Tour” Jan. 17 at Cypress Bayou Casino.

Just before the holiday break, Diffie and Chesnutt played a couple of gigs.

“We had a blast,” Diffie said. “Occasionally we see each other out on the road. Getting to play at these types of things is a lot of fun.”

Road shows usually include the backing of the full band. But the “Country Throwback Tour” is a stripped down acoustic show. And the Charenton show will be the first time Clark joins the boys onstage.

“It’s gonna be the three of us sitting up there with guitars, swapping stories and cutting up,” Diffie said. “People really get a lot of bang for their buck. It’s like one of those in-the-round things.

“We play all of our hits. The audience really gets to hear what the music sounds like.”

Combined, the trio has more than 50 Top 10 hits, 32 number one hits, nine platinum records and a myriad of awards.

Chesnutt is the baritone behind “Too Cold at Home,” “Goin’ Through the Big D,” “It Sure is Monday” and the country cover of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

Canadian crooner Clark, too, has enjoyed her share of hits with “Better Things to Do,” “When Boy Meets Girl” and “Suddenly Single.”

Country artists of the 1990s and earlier still net play time on Country Gold stations and Sirrius, Diffie said. 

“There’s not as much attention on older stars on today’s country stations,” he said. “They’re generally looking for the new, hot young thing.

“That’s why you look for doors to open and walk through when they present themselves.”

Opportunity knocked recently when Diffie joined the hick-hop Jawga Boyz on “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun.” The uptempo single earned radio time and name-checked Aldean for his version of “1994.”

“I’ve had a good career,” Diffie said. “And there’s a lot of people who are in nostalgia. They remember what it was like to turn on the radio and hear originals with distinctly different sounds. They wish it was still like that.

“There aren’t many original voices anymore. People miss that,” he said.

The Nineties proved to be a prosperous era for country music. Public demand put the genre at the top of the heap.

“We’ve all kind of had a resurgence as of late,” Diffie mused. “I welcome it. For me, with single shows or teamed up with other artists, it’s not the same thing all the time. You never know what’s going to happen in these shows.”

Fans can rest assured, at age 56, Diffie shows no signs of slowing. “I have a 10-year-old daughter, and she’s expensive,” he laughed when asked about future plans. “I enjoy doing what I do. I’m not always a fan of the travel part, but I love to see people who’ve enjoyed my music over the years. Performing for them is always a great honor.”

Joe Diffie, Terry Clark and Mark Chesnutt lit up the country charts in the 1990s, delivering hits such as “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” “When Boy Meets Girl” and “Too Cold at Home,” respectively. The trio play an unplugged show Jan. 17 at Cypress Bayou Casino.