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Diffie finds life isn't always so funny

By Jeffrey B. Remz, March 1996

He may be thought of as just a regular Joe, but that is not exactly the case this time around for Joe Diffie.

In reality, his latest disc, "Life's So Funny," represents a departure from previous efforts. The man known for the comedic touch in song has eschewed that to some extent anyway for a more serious approach.

And that suits the Oklahoma native just fine. "No risk," he said. "No reward."

"I tried to stretch and do different things, and I might gain a little bit of a different audience," he said. "I just hate to do the exact same thing. I think it hopefully translates into longevity, into being a little bit different with each album. Just veering off the beaten path. It was definitely a conscious decision."

For the uninitiated, Diffie, 37, has a long history of serving up humorous ditties. That was true from the start. On his 1990 debut, Diffie scored with "If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)."

But he did not stop there. Songs of a similar bent - "John Deere Green" and "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)" - showed up on his third album, "Honky Tonk Attitude."

And, of course, there were the humorous songs from "Third Rock From the Sun" - the title track, the double-entendre of "Pickup Man" and "I'm in Love with a Capitol 'U.'"Was Diffie turning into an artist only known for his humor? After all, he does possess a distinctive, full-bodied baritone capable of belting out ballads as well ("Ships That Don't Come In").

But when Epic released the ballad "That Road Not Taken" as a single from "Third Rock," the song only made it to about number 30 on the charts.

Yet, that did not dissuade Diffie. "Before we even walked in the studio, my producer (long-time producer Johnny Slate) asked me what sort of album I wanted to do. I said, 'well I haven't done just a stone country kind of album.'""But we couldn't find enough songs for that," Diffie said. "I hadn't written very many songs. So we just couldn't."

In picking the 10 songs, Diffie said he thought they covered "the whole range of emotions. After we completed it, and I listened to it a bunch of times, it covered a different range of emotions from being happy to being sad, from really very tender, to feeling vulnerable."

"They covered how I have felt before," Diffie said. "I could really relate to them."

Diffie's favorites from the new disc include two on the serious side, "Never Mine to Lose" and "I'm Willing To Try." The former describes a short-lived relationship, while the latter is about convincing oneself to try and take the plunge.

"I've been there before, you know," Diffie said. "That's what I try to do when I'm in the studio, put myself in the situation of the songs. Once in awhile, you'll get a magic moment."

Referring to "Never Mine..." Diffie said, "I just like the emotion of that song, the simplicity of it, the elegance of it. I really like the feel of it. The vocal you hear is the compilation of two vocal passes. The first I had to kind of kind of quit in the middle of it. "Despite trying for a more varied approach, "Life's So Funny" does contain its collection of working class songs and humor, to wit, "Down in a Ditch" and "Back to the Cave" with references to The Flinstones.

And at least title-wise, the number one hit, "Bigger Than the Beatles" wreaks of humor until you listen to the words about a lounge singer and waitress with pipe dreams. "I just figured once people picked up the album, they would understand," Diffie said. "That's what I was hoping."

Don't think Diffie's jaded about hitting the top again. "I like it," he said. "I'd take it for awhile longer, you know. That's a good feeling. I was joking with somebody. I guess its kind of comparable to sex. You never get tired of it."

"Is it going to happen again?" he asked rhetorically. "It's kind of a thrill each time. It's a new challenge. It really has a good feeling. I keep thinking, 'cool. We did it again.'"While Diffie has written songs for artists including Holly Dunn ("There Goes My Heart Again"), Conway Twitty, Tracy Lawrence and Doug Stone, he has not exactly been prolific for his own discs. He only had a hand in writing one song, the tender "Tears in the Rain."

"I've been a little disappointed in myself," Diffie said. "I just haven't applied myself a lot in that area. I probably have made excuses when I should have been out writing out writing songs. But I don't want to be too hard on myself. We found some great songs, and I had written three or four, but they just didn't compare with the songs that we found."

"It's a time factor, and I've been doing this for six years now, out on the road, and this is the first year I've ever taken any extended period of time off," he said, speaking from a short vacation stop to play golf near Tampa. "When I get home, I want to...be with the family and stuff like that. And do other things. Play golf or whatever. Just get away from it a little bit. Just kind of keep my sanity."

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