Begun in 1982 as the Grizzly River Boys, then the Tennessee River Boys, the group was one of several recurring performers at the now-defunct Opryland USA, a country music theme park in Nashville. Fronting the original lineup were Matt Davenport, Danny Gregg, and Ty Herndon, along with Larry Beard, Mel Deal, Al Deleonibus, and Ed Mummert. The band quit working Opryland in 1985 due to a perception that their status as a theme park attraction discredited them as "real musicians" to the Nashville community. After several membership changes and unsuccessful attempts, they became Diamond Rio in 1990 and established the lineup that has held ever since: Marty Roe (lead vocals), Gene Johnson (mandolin, guitar, fiddle), Jimmy Olander (lead guitar, banjo), Brian Prout (drums), Dan Truman (keyboards, piano), and Dana Williams (bass).
Their debut single "Meet in the Middle", released via Arista Records Nashville in 1991, made them the first country band ever to hit #1 on the country music charts with a debut single. Over 30 singles followed in the band's tenure, including four more chart-toppers: "How Your Love Makes Me Feel", "One More Day", "Beautiful Mess", and "I Believe". Although the hits faded after the Turn of the Millennium, the band has continued to record and play to this day.
The band's sound is defined by three-part bluegrass-style vocal harmonies, with an unsually heavy rhythm section for the country genre, alongside a myriad of solos on piano, mandolin, and Telecaster. While later albums borrowed more heavily from pop and Christian music, the same six-man lineup has held since 1989, and other than string sections, they have never used session musicians on recordings. Their fourth album, 1996's IV, was the first country album to be recorded entirely on a digital console.
Diamond Rio are also thirteen-time Grammy Award nominees, with one win in 2011 for The Reason.
Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):
- Larry Beard guitar, fiddle, banjo (19821985)
- Anthony Crawford vocals (1983)
- Matt Davenport bass, lead vocals (19821988)
- Al DeLeonibus piano (19821983)
- Danny Gregg guitar, lead vocals (19821986)
- Ty Herndon vocals (19821983)
- Gene Johnson mandolin, guitar, fiddle, tenor vocals (1987present)
- Ed Mummert drums (19821983)
- Jimmy Olander guitar, banjo (1985present)
- Marty Roe lead vocals, guitar (1984present)
- Brian Prout drums (1989present)
- Virgil True vocals (1984)
- Dan Truman keyboards (1983present)
- Jimmy "J. J." Whiteside drums (19831985)
- Dana Williams bass, baritone vocals (1989present)
- Diamond Rio (1991)
- Close to the Edge (1992)
- Love a Little Stronger (1994)
- IV (1996)
- Unbelieveable (1998)
- One More Day (2001)
- Completely (2002)
- The Reason (2009)
- I Made It (2015)
Diamond Rio and its works provides examples of:
- Career-Ending Injury: Subverted by half of the membership. Before their debut album, Gene Johnson slashed his thumb in a carpentry accident, Dana Williams injured his legs in a boating accident, and Jimmy Olander developed a tumor on his esophagus. However, all three were able to heal in time for their first album.
- Chronological Album Title: IV
- Conspiracy Theorist: The subject of "It's All in Your Head" is the narrator's father, a snake-handling preacher who believes these: "We never walked on the moon, Elvis ain't dead / You ain't goin' crazy, it's all in your head".
- Crunchtastic: "Unbelieveable" contains the word "gotta-have-able".
- Darker and Edgier: "It's All in Your Head" has by far the darkest lyrical themes in the band's catalog, concerning (in order): an unwed teen mother dying in childbirth, a fundmentalist conspiracy theory-spouting preacher father who picks fights with "sinners" in bars and eventually dies of snakebite at a Pentecostalist revival, and the narrator of the song himself, the son who it all happens to.
- "Double, Double" Title: "Mirror, Mirror"
- Epic Fail: The narrator in "Beautiful Mess" put salt in his coffee and his shoes on the wrong feet.
- Good News, Bad News: The chorus of "You're Gone."And the good news is I'm better for the time we spent together
And the bad news is
- Homesickness Hymn: "Mama, Don't Forget to Pray for Me" is sung from the perspective of a man who's moved away to a new job where he is very successful, yet he's unhappy because he bitterly misses his home and family, and fears that the pressures of his current life may change him for the worse.
- Jekyll & Hyde: Present in "Bubba Hyde", where the song's main character Barney Jekyll is a grocery store employee and volunteer firefighter who seems like an unhip ordinary man, except on Friday nights, when he dons a leather jacket and zebra boots, and becomes the party animal "Bubba Hyde".
- Later-Installment Weirdness: The albums from Unbelieveable onward, their sound began taking a much stronger pop influence.
- Long Runner Lineup: The band's lineup has not changed since 1989.
- Lyrical Shoehorn: "How Your Love Makes Me Feel": "Then there's a cow in the road and you swerve to the left / Fate skips a beat and it scares you to death..."
- The Man in the Mirror Talks Back: Played with on "Mirror, Mirror":Mirror, mirror, on my wall
Tell me, who is the loneliest fool of all?
Oh, wait a minute, I believe I see
The answer staring back at me
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: In 1994, they recorded a cover of Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues" with then-labelmates Lee Roy Parnell and Steve Wariner, which was credited to "Jed Zeppelin".
- Motor Mouth: "Unbelieveable" has a series of very rapid-fire lyrics, as does "That's Just That".
- New Sound Album: Unbelieveable found the band employing string sections for the first time, while generally pursuing a more pop sound than the predecessors.
- Product Placement: "Bubba Hyde" name-drops A&P supermarkets and Hai Karate aftershave.
- Signature Style: As one of the only country bands to rely almost exclusively on their own members for musicianship, they were able to develop a more coherent sound than most of their contemporaries. Most of their songs combine elements of country (twangy guitar solos), rock (heavier drums and bass than typically found in country), and bluegrass (three-part vocal harmony, prominent mandolin).
- Vocal Evolution: Marty Roe's voice started slipping at the Turn of the Millennium, with the band noticing that he was giving dreadful performances in concert. They tried lowering the key on some songs, having Dan Truman sing lead a few times, and employing Auto-Tune, but nothing worked. His voice was ultimately restored after he consulted a vocal coach who determined that he was straining his voice by trying to overcompensate for a small degree of hearing loss, and was able to restore his voice to the way it sounded in The '90s.
- Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: "Walkin' Away" has a subject/verb disagreement in the line "These occasional moments of weakness only makes our love more strong."