IF YOU GO

What: Diamond Rio concert

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: SunRay Park and Casino

Tickets: $15

More info: Call 505-566-1200

FARMINGTON — Gene Johnson grew up in a family of musicians. Of the many instruments lying around the house, Johnson picked up a mandolin. By the time he was four years old, he was playing on stage with his father and siblings.

As he grew older, Johnson started to play bluegrass professionally.

"Even though bluegrass is tremendous music, it's not something you make a lot of money playing," Johnson said.

So, in 1984, Johnson and five other musicians got together to form country band Diamond Rio. The band is scheduled to perform at 5 p.m. today at SunRay Park and Casino.

The band signed its record deal with Arista in the early 1990s.

"Every musician dreams about having a record deal," Johnson said.

Arista provided them with song selections for their albums. Johnson said the members of Diamond Rio listened to about a thousand songs trying to decide what to put on the album. One of the songs stuck out to both Arista and Diamond Rio -- "Meet in the Middle."

"We loved its tempo and positive attitude," Johnson said.

In 1991, Diamond Rio released the song as its first single.

"We didn't have any idea it would go number one," Johnson said.

"Meet in the Middle" made Diamond Rio the first country band to have a debut single reach number one.

While Johnson no longer plays bluegrass professionally, he said it influences Diamond Rio's music.

"Any new act that comes out, you'll find that their sound came about because of what they listened to while they were growing up," Johnson said.

Diamond Rio's drummer, Brian Prout, listened to a lot of rock music, which lends a driving beat to his drumming. The keyboard player, Dan Truman, listened to jazz music, which comes through in his keyboard riffs.

"There's a little bit of each of us in there, like it should be," Johnson said.

After winning various awards, including a Grammy, the band isn't planning on slowing down.

Johnson said Diamond Rio will continue on its "bucket list." He explained that the bucket list is a list of things they've always wanted to do. Some of the things they've accomplished on the list include releasing a Christian album.

And in the future, Johnson said the band will produce a bluegrass album.

In addition to music, Diamond Rio dedicates some of its time to supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"If you help out the youth of the nation, you help out the future," Johnson said.

While Johnson was never able to be a Big Brother, he hopes he has been a positive influence children, including his own.

He hopes his children will learn from the perseverance that led to Diamond Rio's success. It took about a decade of playing small venues before the band achieved the fame it now enjoys.

"If you really love something, stick with it," Johnson said. "Hopefully it turns into everything you want it to be."

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.