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Joe Diffie: Mr. Christmas Makes the Holidays Special for Needy Kids (1995)

To make sure he has plenty of time for his children during the hectic holiday season, Joe curtails his tour schedule during December and heads for home, where he surrounds himself with his four favorite fans as often as he can.

Originally published in the Dec. 19, 1995 issue of Country Weekly featuring Crook & Chase on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

For Joe Diffie, Mr. Christmas is more than just the title of his new holiday album. It’s also a fitting description of him. A loving father of four children—Parker, 14; Kara, 10; Tyler, 7; and Drew, 4—the Epic Records star makes every effort to ensure his loved ones experience Christmases as special as the ones of his youth.

“The old adage that Christmas is for kids really applies,’’ he told Country Weekly, as he toured the Opryland Hotel’s amazing yuletide display with five young friends. “We try to keep that in mind, because I remember how important they were to me.’’

To make sure he has plenty of time for his children during the hectic holiday season, Joe curtails his tour schedule during December and heads for home, where he surrounds himself with his four favorite fans as often as he can. He takes special care to provide a happy Christmas for son Tyler, who was born with Down syndrome. “Tyler is still a little young to understand what Christmas is all about,’’ Joe explained. “He likes the cardboard box that the toy comes in better than the toy, which is fine. There’s some recognition of Christmas, I’m sure, but Tyler’s the same regardless of what time of year it is. That’s the cool part about him.’’

Last year, Joe’s friend Tanya Tucker presented Tyler with a horse for Christmas because Down syndrome children are known to have an affinity to horses. That special gift brought back happy memories to Joe, who also once received a four-legged Christmas present—but with far different results. “My parents once bought ponies for my two sisters and myself and my cousins for Christmas,’’ he said. “So we went out to the barn and we had seven ponies. Of course, I had the only one that was unridable! They had bought them all at an auction and mine was too wild, it even threw the adults.’’

Tanya’s not the only country star to make a special effort to create happy holiday memories for children. Joe did his share by asking the Nashville Children’s Touring Choir to add their angelic voices to Mr. Christmas. “I wanted to sing with young voices, because a child’s voice is one of the great sounds of Christmas,’’ Joe explained. “I hope the album adds to their joy of the holiday by giving them something they and their parents can cherish.’’

“I love Joe and I loved singing on the album,’’ said young Jennie Slate. “He’s the nicest guy in country music.’’ To help spread a little holiday cheer and to say thanks to his young friends, Joe invited members of the choir to tour the Opryland Hotel with him. Joe and Jennie joined fellow singers Caley Cheney, Amanda Bradley, Parker Knox and Lance High on the tour.

Tagging along to bring smiles to everyone’s faces was Mr. Christmas’ new life-size mascot, Leroy the Redneck Reindeer—who takes his name from the album’s darling single about Rudolph’s country cousin. “I thought one of the park’s horses was making a pass at ol’ Leroy,’’ Joe joked to the kids at one point during the tour of the grounds as an Opryland horse trotted over to literally neigh “Hi’’ to Leroy, who was actually Mark Janese in a costume. “Leroy’s so popular, even the horses love him.’’

Fun-loving Joe’s Christmas admiration comes from his mother, Flora, whose love of the holidays is so deep, she’s even asked that Christmas music be played at her funeral. “Hopefully, we don’t have to worry about that for a long, long time,’’ Joe said. “Mama’s just one of the people who, at every holiday, always decorates the house. She especially likes Christmas. She loves the music, and she has a big collection of Christmas tapes—everything from Bluegrass to Gospel to you name it, she’s got them all. Now she’s got a new one.

“Christmas has become important to me through her,’’ he said. “I did this album with her in mind.’’ The album dedicated to Joe’s family was as fun to make as, say, a day at Opryland, Joe explained. “There was no pressure to make a big hit,’’ Joe said of the recording process for Mr. Christmas. “We just had fun, and everybody was really relaxed. If we wanted to put a harp on there, we put a harp on there. A French horn, or bells, or whatever. It didn’t matter. We didn’t have to worry that it wouldn’t sound right in the country clubs.’’

Unlike some Christmas albums, which are recorded in the decidedly non-holiday spirit of the heat of the summer, Mr. Christmas is far more authentic. “We recorded it right after Christmas, last January, and we still had the Christmas tree up,’’ Joe explained. As any star worth the title Mr. Christmas pointed out, “We brought gifts for everybody who worked on the album.’’

It’s a good thing Joe’s kept his musicians happy, because he has kept them busy as he’s taken the unique approach of releasing two albums almost simultaneously. The executives at Joe’s Epic Records think Mr. Christmas will not interfere with the promotion of the radio-friendly Life’s So Funny, the just-released all-new album which features the hit single “Bigger Than the Beatles.’’

“One’s a Christmas album, and the other’s an album full, hopefully, of hits,’’ Joe explained. The follow-up to the huge Third Rock From the Sun will raise the collective eyebrows of fans and critics alike, the artist believes. “I think they’re going to say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know he could sing some of those songs,’ ’’ he said of Life’s So Funny. “To me, the biggest thing was I got to use different parts of my voice. I got to sing in a real soft tone of voice on a couple of songs, and the album feels real relaxed. I’ve had that capability, but most of the songs I record haven’t lent themselves to that.’’ Sure, there are some up-tempo hits not too unlike his smash “Pickup Man,’’ but Life’s So Funny also contains some slower, fuller ballads such as “Tears in the Rain.’’

“I wanted an album that sounded real lush, that you could turn up and listen to or turn it down in the background and listen to,’’ he reasoned. “Hopefully, I’ve accomplished that.’’ At least one harsh critic has been won over by the effort. “I enjoy listening to it myself, even,’’ Joe admitted. “Usually by the time I’m through with a project, I’ve listened to it so many times, critiquing it and picking it apart and making sure everything is right, that I’m usually ready to put it away. But that’s not the case with this one.’’

So now we know what Joe’s listening to as he races around Nashville in his Ford Explorer, helping Santa with his holiday chores. “It’s just a lot more hectic these days. We have two or three different families, and you try to run here and go there and it gets difficult,’’ he said, referring to his and fiancée Liz Allison’s life together. “For me, lately, the best thing to do is to stay at home and let the folks come see me. Being in the profession I’m in, it’s difficult to go around all over the country to everyone’s houses, and I’d hate to disappoint anybody, and Liz and I have a Christmas together, so it’s just a lot easier for everyone to come see us.’’

Judging from his popularity with kids, Joe probably has a waiting list of folks to see him—not too unlike a certain jolly elf found at the mall.

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