Almost 20 years after Joe Diffie's career peaked, and then sank, the music gods smiled on the country singer.
It came in the form of "1994," written by Thomas Rhett (Rhett Akins' son), and released by Jason Aldean as a single. "1994, Joe Diffie comin' out my radio," sings Aldean, who included the song on his 2012 album, "Night Train."
And now, those people who remember and loved Diffie (particularly for his songs "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox" and "Third Rock From the Sun"), along with younger country-music fans, curious about Aldean's song, are fueling a comeback by Diffie.
Or so he hopes.
Diffie says he had heard Rhett sing a version of "1994," but was surprised when Aldean released it as a single, and again when he performed it at the Academy of Country Music Awards, with a video showing Diffie back when he had a mullet.
"It's pretty cool," Diffie says by phone. "How can you not like a song about yourself?"
Diffie says he's been playing about 85 shows a year, mostly at smaller venues.
"I'm in the middle of my life, and I never feel like I slowed down any," says Diffie, 54, who released a bluegrass album in 2010. "But you know how it is: If you're not on the radio for several years, people think you've died."
He recently hustled out a single titled “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” in conjunction with the Jawga Boyz, who rap the main verses — in a style known as hick-hop — while Diffie sings the chorus. On Diffie’s Facebook page, some fans pan the Boyz’s contribution to the song, while praising his singing.
“That’s OK. At least people are talking about it. I’ve been kind of on a quest lately, and people who handled my publishing asked to set me up with new artists,” says Diffie, who has written songs for Tyler Farr, Brett Eldredge and “X Factor” champion Tate Stevens.
“I’m learning how to hick-hop, which is obviously a departure for me,” Diffie says. “It’s pretty common, nowadays. Every 20-year-old, if you look at their music lately, they’ve got everything under the sun.
“Everybody’s trying things, and the business has gotten tougher and tougher, and people are trying new things and going multigenre,” he adds. “Hey, if you want to remain relevant and current, you have to go where the path leads.”
He acknowledges the song is a departure for him, and as far as his recent years go, he says “everyone has their ‘hot period’ where things are rolling and that eventually fades away.”
“For me, I’m very fortunate I can still work on my past success, which is really a big blessing for me. Look, I love all kinds of music. Hick-hop is not my favorite, but I’ll try all kinds of things,” he says.
On the current state of country music, he says, “I think it’s OK. I’m not bashing anybody, but it seems there’s no strong identity, save for one or two artists. They have kind of the same sound in a lot of ways. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know.”
Joe Diffie will perform 10 p.m. Thursday at Renegades, 600 Village Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Admission is $15. Go to RenegadesWPB.com.