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'Dirty Uniform' a badge of honor for Chicago Farmer

Cody Diekoff (second from left) and The Fieldnotes
Melodie Yvonne/Melodie Yvonne
Cody Diekoff (second from left) and The Fieldnotes at the Good People Good Times Music Festival in Nashville, Ind., on Sept. 24, 2021.

When Delavan native Cody Diekhoff returns to Kenny's Westside Pub in Peoria on Nov. 6, he'll bring his full band The Field Notes with him.

Known professionally as Chicago Farmer, Diekhoff has built a national following with his mesmerizing solo shows.

But since he usually records with a full band, he said it was time to take that bigger sound on the road.

“When I go to a show, I also like to get up and dance a little bit and move around. And so, the audience is obviously feeling more energy and they reflect that energy back. It's fun to make people laugh and smile and cry,” he said alluding to his solo shows. “But it's just as fun to make them get up and dance.”

Not that Diekhoff is the one dancing, according to “All in One Place” from his most recent album “Flyover Country” he recorded with Band of Heathens:

“I'm the song and dance man who never learned to dance.”

It's a funny line, right?

“I mean, I can't dance. But I can sway side to side pretty well,” smiled Diekhoff.

“All in One Place” is an up-tempo rockin’ Americana ditty that channels Diekhoff’s disappointment from receiving a much smaller than expected royalty payment from one of his streaming songs.

“I've been getting royalty checks for pennies and pennies for years. But I think the big one was from (the interactive music and entertainment platform) TouchTunes. When my song ‘Everybody in this Town’ hit like 10,000 plays or something, they notified me like it was a big deal or something. So, I got all excited. And then I got a check from them for like $11. And yeah, that was kind of a drag after I took the wife out to a fancy dinner to celebrate those plays and then find out the check I got was $11,” said Diekhoff.

I’ll be done in a couple hours
And I’ll have a little time to waste
We’ll just take this record deal
And go spend it all in one place

  • “All In One Place” by Chicago Farmer

The lead song on the album was also the first single: “Indiana Line.” As a prelude to telling the story, Diekhoff recalled learning to drive in relative safety in a Chevy Silverado on his Grandparents farm at roughly 11 years old. He hit the blacktop at 16.

“And it seemed like every time I would head east on I-74, it was under construction. And so, I was at a standstill one day in construction and I wasn't moving. Just like every other song I've written, I take a weird situation or a bad situation, being in traffic, and try to turn it into a song. And then I started digging in. You know, people have been bootlegging things across the Illinois/Indiana border for years. So, it kind of came from a true spot. ‘The standstill in Danville’ (a line in the song) is a true thing. I've been in that situation many times,” laughed Diekhoff.

Haven’t we all? Since last checking in with Diekhoff, one of his music heroes passed on. Roots music legend John Prine died of COVID complications in April 2020. Diekhoff said he’s still struggling to assimilate the death of the man he called “the greatest friend he never met.” He shared regrets for not seeing him more in concert, though he and his wife did catch him once at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet. He called it a life-changing experience.

“I had lost my dad and Prine has several songs that kind of hit that topic. I was just an emotional roller coaster through that. I was crying. But then other grown men next to me were bawling their eyes, so I think he took me on every emotion that you could be on. And then I played a lot across the street from the Rialto, a place called Chicago Street Pub. So, to have all these musical memories playing there, and then being right across the street from that little venue I know so well … to see him play there for the first time was it was overwhelming,” said Diekhoff.

Back to “Flyover Country.” Diekhoff is a rabid Chicago Cubs fan who seems to find a way to bring his beloved Cubs into a song or stage story as a song lead-in to a song. “Dirtiest Uniforms” is that song on “Flyover Country” that uses (unnamed) Cub Hall-of-Famer Ron Santo as one of three examples of people who may not have top-tier talent or work in a glamour job but use their talents to the best of their ability.

“Yeah, that first line was definitely from him,” said Diekhoff.

He hobbled down to first
With a lump on his face
And on the very next pitch
He stole second place
With the greatest speed
He wasn’t born
But he had the dirtiest uniform

“I love Ron Santo because he wasn't born with the greatest talent,” explained Diekhoff. “He definitely wasn't the fastest guy. But man, he played every play like it was his last.”

The next two verses poke fun at his own voice and give admiration to teachers (“From the wealthiest town, she wasn’t born”). Diekhoff’s mantra is that where and how one ends up is more important than a birthplace. He recalled teachers from his hometown who especially over the last 18 months have had a difficult and at times thankless job working through the pandemic.

“(They) might not be from the wealthiest town, but they put in the time and the extra time to make the town better. I think that's what it's all about — making the community better. Maybe not being the greatest baseball player, the greatest athlete of all time, but you're doing everything you can every second of the day to make your community or your team better ... same with being in a band. I definitely wasn't born with the greatest voice or the greatest musical skills, but I love it and I do everything I can to make my music and the music community and the band the best that I can bring to it,” said Diekhoff.

Chicago Farmer plays Kenny’s West Side Pub on Saturday night.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.