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Members include Gene Johnson (born in Sugar Grove, PA), mandolin, vocals; Jimmy Olander (born in Palos Verdes, CA), guitar; Brian Prout (born in Troy, NY), drums; Marty Roe (born in Lebanon, OH), vocals; Dan Truman (born in St. George, UT), keyboards; Dana Williams (born in Dayton, OH), bass, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records, 7 Music Circle N., Nashville, TN 37203. Booking--William Morris Agency, 2100 West End Ave. #1000, Nashville, TN 37203, (615) 963-3000. Website--Diamond Rio Official Website: http://www.diamondrio.com.
In the spring of 1991 Diamond Rio managed the rare feat of reaching the number one position on Billboard magazine's country charts with its very first single, "Meet in the Middle." Since then country radio and record buyers have taken enthusiastically to the group's catchy melodies, perfectly executed three-part harmony singing, and first-rate instrumental work--so smooth that it virtually conceals the formidable skills of the individual players. The group exemplifies the solid, versatile professionalism that contributed to country music's burgeoning national success in the early 1990s. The group's two Academy of Country Music awards, five Country Music Association awards, and eight Grammy Award nominations have helped Diamond Rio earn popular and critical success as well as a top spot among today's country vocal groups.
Country America magazine called the group's eponymous first album "dazzling in its display of instrumental proficiency and exhilarating in its fusion of honky-tonk, bluegrass, mainstream country and other musical influences." Indeed, Diamond Rio made the mix seem effortless. But putting it together required many years of work on the lower rungs of the Nashville music ladder, not to mention six musicians of very different backgrounds who shared the ability to listen to each other and appreciate each other's varied skills.
During the classic period of country music, its practitioners were mostly small-town Southerners. But Nashville in the 1990s attracted musicians from all over the United States, many with experience in playing other sorts of music besides country. Diamond Rio lead singer Marty Roe was raised on traditional country music in small-town southern Ohio, while drummer Brian Prout started out playing rock in Troy, New York. Keyboardist Dan Truman studied jazz and classical piano in Utah. Bassist Dana Williams, mandolinist Gene Johnson, and guitarist Jimmy Olander cut their teeth on country and bluegrass. But all shared a desire to rise above the pack. Recalling his lean years on the bluegrass circuit, Johnson told Robyn Flans of Country Fever, "I ... wasn't making enough to raise a family. But I couldn't quit. I knew I shouldn't be doing this. But I had to. It was like a drug."
Diamond Rio had its beginnings as the Grizzly River Boys, a band employed at Nashville's Opryland amusement park. Vocalist Roe was a member from the early 1980s on, but the current lineup didn't come together until 1989, by which time the group's name had been changed to the Tennessee River Boys. At first, noted Bob Allen of Country Music, the band was "hampered by [its] sheer versatility: they could more or less play absolutely anything." Gradually, though, the band members began to size up each other's strengths and work out the distinctive layers of vocal harmony and instrumental detail that would become the group's trademark.
Longtime Restless Heart producer Tim DuBois heard the group's demo tapes and then saw them open for George Jones in concert. He was so impressed that he signed them to Arista Records on the spot, sealing the deal with a handshake. Arista executives asked the group to come up with a more modern-sounding name; they finally settled on Diamond Rio, taking the name from a member of the truck model line that had previously inspired the name of the rock group REO Speedwagon. Roe misspelled "Reo" as "Rio," but decided to make a virtue out of his mistake. "I like it like that. It has a country-Southwestern flavor," he told the Chicago Tribune's Jack Hurst.
Diamond Rio's first album was released early in 1991 and notched both critical and popular successes. Its debut single reached the top of the charts, and three follow-ups, "Mirror, Mirror," "Norma Jean Riley," and "Nowhere Bound," quickly ascended into the top five. Vocally and musically the band was at the height of its powers, but also propelling the recording's sales was the singular quality of its songs, several of which blended infectious pop fun with an earnest moral stance (which fit beautifully with the group's gospel-style harmonies) in a manner reminiscent of the Oak Ridge Boys. "Meet in the Middle" and, especially, "Nowhere Bound" were serious songs affirming the value of romantic conciliation, but each was enlivened by the band's toe-tapping instrumental mix.
Not long before the album's release, though, the band had been reduced to rehearsing in Prout's garage, using a clothes dryer for heat. Their sudden success intensified their touring schedule to a torrid pace of 300 concerts in 22 months. "[Anybody] who's never been through this can never understand the work load that comes with it," Roe told Country Music. Also unfamiliar to the hardworking band were the teenage groupies who began to mimic their styles of dress.
Would Diamond Rio ascend to the level of popularity at which fans begin to name their children after band members, as Marty Roe's parents were inspired to by the late Marty Robbins? That question seemed in the balance as the group released its second album, Close to the Edge, in the fall of 1992. The first record had generated a juggernaut of praise for the band, which ended up garnering awards from the Country Music Association for Vocal Group of the Year in 1992, as well as the Academy of Country Music's Top Vocal Group award in both 1991 and 1992. Diamond Rio even attracted favorable attention from the alternative-rock-oriented magazine Spin. But the trend toward groups in country music, initiated and continually stimulated by the success of the legendary act Alabama, meant a host of strong competitors for Diamond Rio, which by late 1993 had failed to repeat the daunting success of its initial record.
Close to the Edge nonetheless spawned three singles--"In a Week or Two," "Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby," and "This Romeo Ain't Got Julie Yet"--that cracked the top levels of the country charts. These titles alone reveal Diamond Rio's dependence on what pop songwriters call the "hook"--short, vivid chorus fragments that embed themselves in the listener's memory. The group's instrumental and vocal strength remained undiminished. Country Music referred admiringly to Diamond Rio's harmony singing, in which "the closely bunched voices stay in tight formation like sky-show airplanes." The album's critical reception on the whole, however, was mixed. The Music City News praised the group's "knack for picking commercial, but appealing songs," opining, "Diamond Rio clearly shows a new country supergroup has arrived." But Country Music went on to pan most of the songwriting on the album--supplied largely by hired tunesmiths--and pronounced the set "a fairly conventional outing in these days of [country superstar] Garth [Brooks]." The singles from Close to the Edge continued as fixtures of country radio for most of 1993, but the album stalled at number 24 on Billboard's country album chart.
The mid- and late 1990s saw Diamond Rio release four additional studio albums and a greatest hits compilation, as well as receive induction into the Grand Ole Opry in 1998. Love a Little Stronger, released in 1994, featured instrumentals more prominently, and IV, released in 1996, demonstrated the group's versatile country sounds. Greatest Hits was released in 1997, followed by Unbelievable in 1998. All Music Guide writer Thom Owens gave the album a positive review, saying that Diamond Rio "have a better, more memorable set of songs that makes [Unbelievable] their best album in a long time." Diamond Rio's 2001 release, One More Day, earned the group a number one position on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart with the title track, but stylistic missteps caused mixed reviews by critics.
Whether a critical success or not, the group maintains an inspiring work ethic. "We're not full of good rehab stories. We've got a super work ethic, and people with high work ethics tend to have careers that seem to be relentless," Olander is quoted in a Diamond Rio biography at Country.com. Roe added, "I feel good about our sound, about what we've become and about what we can do to a song.... But when it comes to choosing material, learning how to work in the studio efficiently and just doing what we do, we've just started to come into our own. I feel like we've just hit our stride."
by James M. Manheim
Diamond Rio's Career
As the Grizzly River Boys, then the Tennessee River Boys, band members played together at Opryland amusement park, Nashville, TN, 1984-89; band formed in Nashville, 1989; signed with Arista Records, 1990; released first album, Diamond Rio, 1991; released follow-up, Close to the Edge, 1994; released Love a Little Stronger, 1994; released IV, 1996; released Unbelievable, 1998; released sixth studio album, One More Day, 2001.
Diamond Rio's Awards
Named best group in Radio and Records readers poll, 1991-92; Top Vocal Group, Academy of Country Music, 1991-92; Vocal Group of the Year, Country Music Association, 1992-94, 1997; Album of the Year, Country Music Association, 1994.
- Selected discography
- Diamond Rio , Arista, 1991.
- Close to the Edge , Arista, 1992.
- Love a Little Stronger , Arista, 1994.
- IV , Arista, 1996.
- Greatest Hits , Arista, 1997.
- Unbelievable , Arista, 1998.
- One More Day , Arista, 2001.
- Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1991.
- Country America, March 1993.
- Country Fever, October 1993.
- Country Music, January/February 1993; May/June 1993.
- Guitar Player, January 1994.
- Music Row, March 8, 1993.
- Spin, October 1992.
- Tennessean (Nashville), April 3, 1993.
- "Diamond Rio," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 11, 2001).
- "Diamond Rio," Country.com, http://www.country.com (October 11, 2001).
- Additional information obtained from International Artist Management, 1993.
Diamond Rio Lyrics
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