Joe Diffie

In October, when Jason Aldean released his latest album "Night Train," the song that seemed to get the most attention was "1994," a tribute to the music of Joe Diffie. The track ended up becoming the second single from the album, recently peaking at No. 10 on the Hot Country Songs chart. Needless to say, the song made younger fans aware of Diffie and his legendary run of classics. The singer says he was very grateful and humbled for the tribute.

"I actually heard Thomas Rhett's demo of it," Diffie recalled to Billboard about the first time he heard the song. "Somebody had written me and said there's a song that mentions you in it. I was talking to my managers, and they got a copy of the demo. I was stunned. I thought ‘What in the world is that?' It took a while to get over the shock factor of it, because they didn't just mention me -- the whole thing was about my songs and me. It was a pretty neat tribute." 

The singer was also moved by Aldean's video, which featured acts such as Jake Owen, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, and "Nashville's" Hayden Panettiere. 

"I wasn't expecting that," he said. "They kind of kept that a secret from me. I was really tickled and honored that people would take time out to do that."

The attention from "1994" has breathed new life into Diffie's career, resulting in a new contract with Bigger Picture -- and a new single. He admits that while it's been close to a decade since he released a single to radio, he hasn't gone anywhere. "It's been pretty interesting. People think if you don't have a single on the radio, that you've died. We never stopped touring -- or writing songs, for that matter. We put out a Greatest Hits CD a while back, and then we did "Homecoming" (a bluegrass record) in 2010. We've just been having a lot of fun."

The singer hopes fans will enjoy his new single, "Girl Ridin' Shotgun," a collaboration with the Jawga Boyz.

"I had been writing with a lot of new artists like Tyler Farr, Tate Stevens, Brett Eldredge, Josh Thompson, and on and on. My manager called me and said 'There's a group in from Georgia called the Jawga Boyz, and they do hick-hop. Would you be interested in writing with them?  I said ‘Sure, why not.' So, we got together, and wrote this song called ‘Girl Ridin' Shotgun,' and everybody else started getting excited about it," he said. He's also working on an album for Bigger Picture.

Among today's artists like Aldean, Joe Diffie is one of the most revered artists from the 1990s, a distinction he says takes a little getting used to. "It always amazes me because at the time you're just trying to do your thing, sing as well as you can, and find good songs. It's a big honor when you hear stories about how your music has affected others. Just yesterday, I was talking with a gentleman who served in the military, and he looked me in the eye and told me ‘You have no idea what your music meant to me when I was off overseas.' That blows by mind that it would mean that much, but on the other hand, I think about how much I cared about George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Waylon – and how much a part of the fabric of my life they were, so I guess I can see it now."

There's another project that his name on it that he is equally excited about – an album pairing him with touring partners Sammy Kershaw and Aaron Tippin. "It's called 'All In The Same Boat.' We have been doing the tour and having a blast with it. We're all from similar blue collar backgrounds, and the same age group – so we relate to each other rather well. We put this album out with each of us doing a few songs separately, and also with us doing some songs together. It's been a lot of fun." 

So, will any of his live performances or new songs feature that mysterious dance move mentioned in "1994" called "The Diffie." The singer laughs and says he doesn't even know what the dance is. "I wish I knew. Everybody asks me that, and I guess I need to learn something to tell them. I'm not much of a dancer, so I don't know what it would be."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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