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From the Vault: Diamond Rio (1998)

Diamond Rio shines as the band joins the Opry

Originally published in the May 12, 1998, issue of Country Weekly featuring Faith Hill on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

Diamond Rio tunes up softly backstage until mandolinist Gene Johnson whispers, “It’s time.” The band has played the Grand Ole Opry before as guests, but this march onstage is special—the band is about to become the hallowed institution’s 71st current member.

Little Jimmy Dickens introduces the group and makes it official: “We are delighted to have you gentlemen join our family,” he says. The band’s six players open with “Meet in the Middle,” their smash 1991 debut, and soon the Opry audience is singing along. They close with “Tennessee,” a tune they’ve chosen for just this moment because it’s a song that says “home” to the band.

The applause is thunderous.

After nine years and thousands of performances, this is a shining moment in Diamond Rio’s career. It’s a professional honor, but for the band it has a personal side, too. Bass player Dana Williams is a nephew of the Opry greats the Osborne Brothers, and he began his career as a teenager playing for Opry members Jimmy C. Newman and Jeanne Pruett. All of them are on hand for Diamond Rio’s induction.

”The Opry’s been in my family since 1964, when my uncles became members,” Dana says backstage before the show begins. “This is an extra-special thing for me. I used to come to the Opry as a kid, when it was at the Ryman, and my friends and I would play around backstage and get in everybody’s way. But never did it cross my mind that one day I would be here as a member. I guess I’m continuing that blood thing!”

Lead singer Marty Roe has a connection to the Opry, too. “I remember listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio show late at night with my father,” he recalls. “He would always listen hard for Marty Robbins, because he was a big fan even before Marty came to Nashville. My dad named me after him. It’s kind of ironic, too, that Little Jimmy Dickens is inducting us, because he actually discovered Marty Robbins.”

Drummer Brian Prout, keyboardist Dan Truman and guitarist Jimmy Olander slowly file in. Gene has his own memories. “My father was a square-dance fiddler and called dances in Pennsylvania, where I grew up,” Gene says. “I got into bluegrass early, but at that time the only bluegrass you could find was on the Opry. On clear nights, when you could tune it in, I’d listen all night long hoping I could catch either Flatt & Scruggs or Bill Monroe.” If he has a wish, it is that his parents could be with him this evening. “Both my father and mother have died, so I don’t have them to share this with,” he says. “But I know they’d be proud.”

As showtime approaches, the nerves build. “Normally, you’re very relaxed whenever you play the Opry,” Marty says. “You visit, do your two songs, visit some more and head on home. Tonight, I’ve got some butterflies.” Brian and Marty try to relieve their pre-show jitters by getting a handwriting analysis from makeup assistant Debra Burton. When she looks at Brian’s sample, she notes that his “O” in Opry is a complete circle. That, she says, indicates determination. “Yeah! That’s it!” Brian agrees. “Determination is what got us here.”

Jeanne Pruett, Jimmy C. Newman and Charlie Walker keep an Opry tradition alive, dropping by the band’s dressing room for a few moments. Porter Wagoner offers advice: “I know you guys are a little nervous, but they’ll love you out there.”

Comedian Chonda Pierce, who worked with Marty and Dan at Opryland’s Country Music USA in the early ’80s, pops in. Invited to perform on the same Opry segment, she’s teasing Dan: “If I’d known you’d become so famous, I’d have paid more attention to you.”

After the induction, their buddy Vince Gill appears in the dressing room to give them a little friendly grief. “All right, you guys know the drill,” says Vince. “New members serve the lemonade.” Marty has vanished for a minute, so Vince assumes his spot in a group photo. “I’ll be Vinny Roe for this,” he cracks.

At a reception, Diamond Rio’s members greet family and friends and join in a group toast. “It’s been a long journey for this band,” Marty says. “We are big believers in the Opry, because it’s the heart of what got us here.”