Various tributes to and stories about the late Joe Diffie mention that he won one of music's top honors, a Grammy award, without telling how the Tulsa, Oklahoma-born singer and songwriter wound up bringing home a tiny, golden gramophone.
As it turns out, Diffie's moment of Recording Academy affirmation came from something other than a solo hit or album. He shared the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for "Same Old Train," an all-star musical event written by Marty Stuart and featuring the talents of Stuart, Diffie and 11 other country stars.
Stuart wrote the six-plus minute odyssey through country music history, transporting passengers from the twin cities of Bristol through Stuart's time on the road with Lester Flatt ("bring what it is you do"), all the way to the commercial success of '90's country.
The song also features Merle Haggard, Clint Black, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Pam Tillis and Dwight Yoakam. It appeared on Tribute to Tradition, a 1998 album of classic country covers, including Diffie's rendition of the Charlie Rich hit "Behind Closed Doors" and the Diffie and Collin Raye duet of Waylon Jennings' Billy Joe Shaver-penned hit "Honky Tonk Heroes (Like Me)."
Tribute to Tradition reminded Nashville of its classic country and bluegrass roots at a time when crossover opportunities drove change in the business. The project doesn't so much knock change as it reminds us that standing on the shoulders of such giants as Haggard, Harris and Scruggs offers a clear view of where the business has been and how it can best evolve without losing its identity.
"Country music was a ragged old coal train that had more character," Stuart told the Calgary Herald in Oct. 1998. "Now, country music reminds me of a Japanese train-- fast, smooth and it doesn't even make a sound."
Diffie's other Grammy nomination came in 1993 for the Mary Chapin Carpenter duet "Not Too Much to Ask."