Diamond Rio Biography
Whether or not Diamond Rio had become a star country-music band, its six members agree that somewhere tonight in America they’d all be making a living with music somehow.
Electric guitarist Jimmy Olander vows he’d either be in a recording studio or writing songs with somebody. Bass player and baritone harmony singer Dana Williams had a single-minded dedication to becoming a professional musician since he was in the seventh grade, so he’d definitely be picking or singing someplace. Classically trained keyboardist Dan Truman says he’d probably be teaching or working in theater. Mandolinist and tenor singer Gene Johnson believes he’d be a bluegrass sideman, which is what he’d been for years before stardom arrived. Drummer Brian Prout joined a rock band in Florida after graduating from high school, so his only career experience has been as a working musician. Lead vocalist Marty Roe figures he would have tried a solo career if Diamond Rio had never come to pass.
Classical, bluegrass, rock and country — the diversity of their backgrounds is striking. But the fact that all six are virtuoso players is what makes the whole so much bigger than the sum of its parts. On their new album, Completely, Diamond Rio spans an astonishingly wide array of styles, from the pop-ballad title tune to the country rocking “Big Ol’ Fire.” The collection includes everything from the jazz flavored “Something Cool” to the hardcore country weeper “Make Sure You’ve Got It All.”
“We All Fall Down,” “Wrinkles” and “I Believe” are a trio of powerful message songs that are among the strongest this illustrious group has ever recorded. “If You’d Like Some Lovin'” is a hardcore honky-tonk two-step, while “The Box” bristles with rock-rhythmic complexity. The dazzling musical sophistication of Completely ranges from the mid-tempo romance of “You’ll Find Me” to the breathtaking, lightning-flash instrumental “Rural Philharmonic.”
“Personally, I think we should have titled the album Beautiful Mess,” says Brian. “Not only because that’s the first single, but because if you listen to everything we recorded for this, it’s a ‘beautiful mess’ of songs.”
But Completely works as a title as well. For this collection, “completely” surveys the outstanding musical abilities of the only band on contemporary country radio that plays all its own instruments on every single record.
Completely is the follow-up to One More Day, which marked Diamond Rio’s resurgence in 2000-01. When the group issued that CD, it was somewhat in the doldrums. A string of 16 top-10 hits throughout the ’90s had slowed by 1999. Then, in the final weeks of 2000, the “One More Day” single was issued. The aching ballad became not only a Grammy nominated smash, but a genuine pop-culture phenomenon.
“It all started in Los Angeles, when [RCA Label Group-Nashville Chairman] Joe Galante played six of our new songs for some RCA people who were from outside country music,” recalls Dan. “When he came home, he told us he was just astounded, because after he played ‘One More Day’ everybody stood up and applauded. That’s why it was chosen for a single. And then, there it went.”
On February 18, 2001, auto racing legend Dale Earnhardt was killed during the last lap of the Daytona 500. A radio station in New York began airing a version of “One More Day” as a tribute song to the fallen driver.
“It was at that point we realized the song was taking on such a bigger meaning,” says Brian. “It was more than a hit. It was touching people’s lives.”
And then came the awful events of September 11, 2001. In their wake, “One More Day” was revived as one of America’s “healing” songs, and it has remained so to this day.
“Today, it’s such a delight to play that song,” says Dan. “It’s a wonderful thing to watch the reaction of fans coming out of their chairs when you’re doing it. There’s a reverence for that song, and you can feel it in the air. A lot of people are crying and a lot of people are singing along. There’s a definite vibe with that song that you don’t find with anything else we play.”
“It came out when we were examining and reevaluating our career,” adds Gene. “We were in that mode where we were wondering what to do to bring things back around. And ‘One More Day’ did that – an answer to a little prayer, I guess.”
The song is one of many Diamond Rio milestones. The first, of course, was when the group coalesced into its present lineup in 1986. The members hailed from all over the map – California (Jimmy), New York State (Brian), Ohio (Marty and Dana), Utah (Dan), Pennsylvania (Gene) – but they were billed under a name that reflected their adopted home, The Tennessee River Boys. Arista Records signed the band in 1989, marking their next big milestone. From then on, the newly renamed Diamond Rio made one memory after another.
Between 1991 and 1999, the band placed 22 singles on the charts, including such phenomenal successes as “Meet in the Middle,” “In a Week or Two,” “Love a Little Stronger,” “How Your Love Makes Me Feel,” “Imagine That,” “You’re Gone” and “Unbelievable.” Along the way, Diamond Rio picked up five Country Music Association awards, including four for Vocal Group of the Year. They also picked up two Academy of Country Music trophies as Group of the Year and eight Grammy nominations. Diamond Rio became the most award-nominated country band of the decade.
All six of their albums of the ’90s earned Gold Record certifications and three of those are Platinum sellers. As Diamond Rio entered the new millennium, the explosive success of “One More Day” led to an eleventh Grammy nomination and a seventh Gold Record.
“To think after 10 years of doing this and then to have one of the biggest songs of our career,” marvels Dana. “We said from the beginning we wanted to be like Alabama and not just a flash in the pan.”
“It’s hard to believe that we have gone from a new entity to being a veteran of this business,” adds Marty. “Because it feels to me like we have just hit our stride.”
Through it all, these six men have never had a major disagreement. Despite the fact that they come from widely different geographic regions, musical backgrounds, religious denominations and lifestyles, the members of Diamond Rio are a united front.
“One thing is, we share a work ethic, that’s for sure,” says Dan. “I can’t believe how motivated Jimmy is in all aspects of his life. Marty was just born with this drive. Brian’s just got the energy of life in him. You put that all together and that’s why we’ve been so fortunate to continue to grow as artists.”
Perhaps one secret of the band’s durability is that the members don’t socialize together when they’re at home in Nashville. Also, there is the mutual respect that these gifted players have for one another.
“A few years ago, I sent Jimmy a Christmas card,” Dan recalls. “I put a little note in there that said, ‘Jimmy, it’s been a thrill all these years to be able to play with you because I admire you so much.’ He came back to me with a phone call and was so gracious and appreciative that we were practically crying together on the phone. Our respect for each other goes that deep.”
They seldom disagree on songs. With Dana as the group’s listening-session leader, the boys screen upwards of 1,000 songs per album while they’re traveling to shows in their tour bus. Then Jimmy leads them in the studio as they arrange and transform each selection into the distinctive Diamond Rio style.
“We’ve always been picky about songs,” says Gene. “We’ve always tried to have a good mix of stuff on our albums — something that’s fun, something that’s very radio friendly, something that’s going to touch someone’s heart, maybe even something that’s pop influenced. More than ever, on this album, we wanted to show more than one musical side of Diamond Rio.”
“I’ll tell you what kept me motivated on Completely,” adds Dan. “My son is 17 years old now. I wanted to make this good because I want my son’s son to be saying, ‘Man, those guys really knew what they were doing.’ And when I listen to this album 20 years from now, I want to listen with a smile on my face, thinking, ‘Boy, we nailed that.'”
“Yes,” agrees Jimmy. “I remember that [co-producer] Mike Clute once asked me a very poignant question. He said, ‘If this was your last album, what would you record?’ I told him that I want to make records that will be played by friends in late-night listening parties, like I used to do, pulling out George Jones doing ‘The Grand Tour,’ The Dixie Dregs’ ‘Pride of the Farm’ or Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Round Midnight.'”
Comments Marty, “You want to feel with each project when you sit back and listen to it that you can say, ‘I like where we have come from, but I love where we are going.’ We keep it fresh by trying new things and going new places. As long as we’re doing that, I’ll stay with it.”
“This band is something I never thought would come my way, and when it did, it was the answer to so many questions in my life,” says Dana. “People ask us what kind of music we listen to and what did we listen to when we were starting out. Well, Completely is the answer to all those questions. There’s a piece of all of us in this record, a piece of everything we like.
“I have to tell you how proud I am of the music we’ve made over the years. It’s music that I will love forever,” Dana continues. “Every time we finish a new record, I think it’s the best we’ve ever done. And I guess as long as that continues, and people want to hear it, we will keep doing it. All I know is, I still love it!”
“Through it all, I’m still excited to be working with these guys,” says Jimmy. “Sorry, but I must admit – it really feels cool to be in Diamond Rio.”
“And as long as we’re able to be a vehicle for songs as great as these, we’ll always just keep coming back around,” adds Brian. “I’ve never really had a Plan B, because this is all I’ve ever done since I got out of high school.”
“I don’t know how to do anything else,” Dana cheerfully admits.
“I would have stayed in music no matter what,” comments Dan. “One way or another, we all would have.”