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Joe Diffie is tougher than nails

By Dan MacIntosh, June 2004

Joe Diffie had good reason to postpone the originally scheduled interview. You see, his wife Theresa gave birth to their new baby daughter, Kylie Tarissa Diffie, on the date of the initial appointment.

Needless to say, Diffie was in a grand mood when we eventually spoke, even though he was in the middle of slugging his way through a day's worth of back-to-back interviews, rather than bonding with his newborn daughter.

But it was the birth of a completely different kind - the arrival of his bouncing new album called "Tougher Than Nails" - that prompted Diffie into playing interview-o-rama.

Even though there's a whopping 22- year span between Diffie's oldest son, Parker, and his brand new daughter, this latest family addition was by no means what you might term an "accident."

"At first, I thought I was finished having children," Diffie admits. "But then my wife's maternal clock got to ticking, and I said, 'Hey, what the heck.'"

Coincidently, the new "Tougher Than Nails" album has a lot of fatherhood moments contained within it. One such parentally centric track is called "Daddy's Home." It's a song that celebrates that celebratory moment every weekday when dads finally get home from work.

The title track - although it is obviously overtly spiritual, as it talks about the nails Christ took on the cross - also speaks to Diffie about what it means to be a good father.

Once again, though, such parenting-friendly songs were never intentional on the artist's part. "When I wrote these songs, it was before we knew she (Theresa) was pregnant," Diffie shares.

"Oddly enough, I was drawn initially more to the father-son aspect of the song ("Tougher Than Nails")," Diffie explains. "That's what kind of grabbed my attention. I was looking for a story type song because I haven't had many of those in the past. So that (song) seemed like a really good vehicle for that. Obviously, the religious aspect of it came up, and we talked about it and discussed it and everything. One of the things I liked about it, was after hearing so much bad news, it's nice to hear some decent news for a while, which the song kind of conveys. (It presents) a good, positive kind of a life lesson thing."

In stark contrast to this Christ-centered/family-centered track, Diffie's new album also includes a duet with George Jones on "What Would Waylon Do?," which ponders how Waylon Jennings might react to various situations.

"One of the musicians commented, 'We've gone from 'What Would Jesus Do?' to "What Would Waylon Do?,'" says Diffie with a chuckle.

Sadly, Diffie had few chances to personally witness what Waylon might have done first hand.

"I did spend a really cool night when we were doing the Opry," he recalls. "We were in Porter Wagoner's dressing room, and me and Waylon and Porter and Travis Tritt - and I think Steve Wariner was there - we did a little guitar pull on the Opry that night. It was pretty special. I just kind of sat beside him (Waylon) and kept my mouth shut. I listened to all the stories he was telling; he was an enthralling storyteller. It was pretty cool. He told 'inside the industry' stories about people he knew and worked with and what not."

One imagines that more than a little bitterness was expressed through these personal remembrances. Waylon wasn't called a music outlaw for nothing; he certainly had his philosophical differences with the Nashville industry 'powers that be' during his lifetime.

"I think he was pretty vocal about it near the end of his life and career," Diffie speculates. "I think anybody who is known - or is a legend or that kind of thing - I think they always have the tendency to do it their own way, and Waylon was definitely one of those kinds of people."

"'What Would Waylon Do" was actually written by Wynn Varble and Leslie Satcher."

"They said they had attended a Waylon show somewhere. There was some fracas when the promoter came in and decided he wanted Waylon to do an extra show or something, and wasn't going to pay him or something. They (Varble and Satcher) just happened to be privy (to what was going on), sitting backstage when Waylon packed all his stuff up and left."

Jennings and his fellow Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash) were/are truly larger than life figures. "The first time I met Johnny, I was totally intimidated," Diffie recalls with some embarrassment. "I couldn't even talk. I felt like such a dummy. The only thing I could say was, "Um, my dad's a big fan of yours." And he was, like, 'Tell your dad I said thanks.'"

"Tougher Than Nails" is being released by the independent Broken Bow and arrives after Diffie's full decade with Sony where he had hits like "Pickup Man," "Third Rock from the Sun," "Bigger Than the Beatles" and "Home."

"I had a great relationship with Sony," says Diffie, 45. "I still see a lot of the people occasionally that I worked with at Sony. They just came to me and said, 'Look, honestly, we don't know what to do. We feel like we've done all that we can do with your career. Let's just part ways, and end as friends.' And that's just kind of how it happened. There was no animosity, whatsoever."

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