Diesel was created in October 1978 by ex-Kayak drummer Pim Koopman. The group, at first no more than a hobby project, initially consisted of Koopman (drums, keyboard and vocals) and Rob Vunderink (guitar/lead vocals, composer and lyricist), Mark Boon (guitar, composer and lyricist), and Frank Papendrecht (bass). Their first album, Watts in a Tank, was released in the Netherlands in 1980.Two other singles from this album, "Down In The Silvermine" and "Sausalito Summernight" (also misspelled "Sausolito Summernight"), were released in 1980 and also became charted hits.

In 1981, Watts in a Tank was released in the United States.[The single "Sausalito Summernight" rose to #25 on the U.S. Top 40. It reached #1 in Canada.Watts in a Tank itself went up to #68 on the Billboard 200. This success prompted the return of Mark Boon and an American tour. At Boon's suggestion, guitarist Bas Krumperman joined the band just before the North American tour, moving the band's sound in a country-rock direction.

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