Country musician Joe Diffie is driving while doing a phone interview. His Southern-accented voice is pleasant, smooth and relaxed — indicative of contentment. True to the theme of many a song within the country music genre, Diffie has managed to slow down and appreciate the life that the fruits of his labor have granted him.
These days, Diffie, who plays Friday, Aug. 4, at 6 p.m. at the Salt Lake County Fair, is content catering to the nostalgia of longtime fans.
“This is our busy time of year with fairs and festivals,” Diffie said of going on tour. “The last couple of weeks I have done nine or 10 shows. We’re just rockin’ out.”
Diffie made a name for himself in country music in the ’90s, in what he describes as the original “bro-country-music” scene.
“I had one of the early pickup, tailgating campfire kinda songs a long time ago,” Diffie recalled.
Diffie said that today, the country-music scene is once again bro-ing out. But this time around, he isn’t worried about topping charts — he did that already. The Nashville resident released his debut studio album “A Thousand Winding Roads” in 1990. Since then, he has released 10 more studio albums and has experienced several hit singles over the course of his career. His 1994 album, “Third Rock from the Sun,” which featured hits like “Pickup Man” and the album’s title track, is one of Diffie’s most popular albums to date.
The singer/songwriter has also contributed to songwriting for several other big-name country musicians.
At 58, Diffie, has been involved in the country music scene for three decades. He marvels at the drastic changes that have taken place in music since he began his career.
“I am glad that I’m not trying to get a record deal today,” Diffie said. “It seemed a lot more simple when I first started. There were probably only 70 or 80 country artists at the time when I got my start. Now, there’s a lot more competition. The advent of digital downloads has made it way more difficult.”
Diffie’s fame happened in an era when music success was measured by record sales and radio airplay.
“The business aspect of it has changed significant with the digital stuff,” Diffie said. “Now people can download stuff or listen to some of those internet radio things for literally pennies. The revenue stream has been narrowed down to doing concerts, so you don’t really make any money off of selling records or downloads. It’s quite a different deal.”
The changing landscape of what it means to be a successful musician has Diffie feeling grateful for where he is at in his own life.
He maintains a rabid fan base that attends his shows and begs him to play their favorite songs. He writes songs for himself without worrying about whether or not it will be the next big thing and he can hold onto the feeling of being considered unique in a genre that he said is becoming oversaturated by the same sounds.
“Nashville has always tended to be a follower,” Diffie said. “If somebody has a success with a certain thing, then there will be five more people that they try to get to do the same thing. It will change to something else eventually. There are so many artists that its difficult even for me — and I’m in the business — to tell who’s singing. A lot of singers sound alike, a lot of the songs sound alike. I think there is a little less uniqueness and individuality.”
The luxury of not needing to stand out is a result of the early success his career has given him. Now, Diffie enjoys performing for those who want to take a trip down memory lane.
And for him, that’s just fine.
“At my age, I’m not really getting any radio play anymore,” Diffie said. “I don’t really have to concern myself too much with that nowadays. I do songs that I really like and that speak to me. I’m not worried about whether it’s going to be a radio hit. It’s kind of freeing. I had a really good run and I am able to live off the nostalgia people are feeling now for artists of my age group and genre.”
When: Friday, Aug. 4; 6 p.m.
Where: Salt Lake County Fairgrounds, 2100 W 11400 South, South Jordan
Tickets: Free admission; www.slcfair.com/