STILL SPARKLING

Diamond Rio celebrates 10 years of hits and good times

Story by Wendy Newcomer

Ten years ago, Diamond Rio released their first single, "Meet In The Middle," a grooving song with a memorable guitar intro and distinct harmonies. The tune went on to top the charts and launch the group's career.

Yet it was a song the group - vocalist Marty Roe, guitarist Jimmy Olander, mandolinist Gene Johnson, bassist Dana Williams, keyboardist Dan Truman and drummer Brian Prout - nearly didn't record.

After hearing the demo, Marty and Jimmy dismissed "Meet In The Middle" because it sounded too pop. "Luckily the rest of us - and our label head, Tim DuBois - wanted to try it," recalls Dan. "As soon as we did, everybody said, 'Oh, this definitely works' - including Marty and Jimmy."

"When we played the final version for Tim," adds bassist Dana, "he listened to about half of it and then stopped it. He said, 'Boys, if the second half is as good as the first half, we've got something on our hands here.' "

"Meet In The Middle" became the first in a long string of hits for the group - including Top 5s "Mirror Mirror," "Norma Jean Riley" and "In A Week Or Two." During the next couple of years there was no stopping Diamond Rio.

But along with the hits came the endless hours on the road living on a tiny tour bus.

"We were with each other every day, either on the road or in a meeting," says Dan - whom the other members nicknamed "the ghost" for his tendency to disappear, once the tour bus parked, for hours at a time. "I knew we were going to be together from 5 p.m. [at soundcheck] until the next morning on the bus. So I'd go off somewhere shopping for baseball cards. One day, Marty and Dana said, 'Hey, are you all right? You're just never around during the day anymore.' I said, 'Yeah, I'm doing my own stuff. Is everybody all right with that?' We were adjusting to each other then. Now, no one sees anybody until five o'clock before a show," he adds with a laugh.

Then there was the incredible feeling of taking home regular pay. "You're talking about six guys whose financial funds were very depreciated," Dana recalls. "I'll never forget the first time I got a salary check - and the second week another! Finally I went to the guys and said, 'Are we going to get this kind of money every week?' And they said, 'Yeah, and hopefully it'll go up!'

"I said, 'Are you serious?' I went home and said to my wife, 'Honey, I've got a job and it's paying every week!' We were so green," he remembers with a smile.

As the '90s unfolded, Diamond Rio continued to shine, snagging four CMAs, two ACMs and scoring 17 Top 10s. And in 1998, they became the first group in 14 years to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

But for guys who were - and still are - as different as night and day, it was tough to be seen as one unit, not six individuals.

"We got some great advice one time from Randy Owen of Alabama," recalls Dana. "He told us, 'Guys, get used to being in a group. They'll argue you to the end that there isn't a group bias out there, but I'm here to tell you that there is, and you're not going to be the ones to change it.'

"He gave us an example. He said, 'Just like on our label - they'll send one limo for Clint Black, one limo for Ronnie Milsap - and they'll send one limo for [all four of] Alabama.' He said, 'Just deal with it, because that's the way it is.' That was priceless advice, because we did think we were the band that was going to change the world," says Dana.

Armed with that wisdom, Diamond Rio created a foolproof plan for harmony offstage. "We locked ourselves in a hotel room one day with our manager and powwowed," says Dana. "We figured out what each guy wanted out of Diamond Rio. 'Do I want to be a star? Do I want to make money? Do I need my ego stroked?'

"We came to the conclusion that we got into this business to make music and - just like everybody else - make money. We wanted to figure out the best and quickest way to do that. We've stuck to that plan still to this day."

Dana explains Diamond Rio's "majority rules" principle. "We don't argue about things," he says. "We make decisions as a group so that when we come up with one, it's a single decision. It's not an argued point."

No one can argue with the Diamond Rio philosophy. As the new millennium began, they found their star hadn't lost its luster. Earlier this year the band released their seventh album, One More Day. The title cut, a bittersweet take on losing a love, became the band's latest chart-topper.

" 'One More Day' has definitely got a different vibe than any other hit we've had," says Dan. "After 10 years of doing this, we know what we like, but we don't really have any huge expectations. So it was a surprise that it did this well."

"This song has affected people," adds Dana. "The letters, cards and e-mails we get about this song have been unreal."

Even with a decade of music under their belts, they still have a few goals left to achieve. "When I'm 80, I hope there are many Diamond Rio albums that I'm still proud of," says Dan. "One goal that all six of us have that we haven't reached yet is winning a Grammy. We've been nominated nine times - we'd like to win one!"

And they clearly haven't lost their competitive edge.

"We want to stay on the radio and continue to be a threat to every act out there," adds Dana. "We want them to say, 'Look out, here comes a Diamond Rio record.' We've had a wonderful 10 years. As far as I'm concerned, let's go for 10 more!"

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