In a world where country music is defined by Faith Hill and Shania Twain, and the only controversy left in that type of music is the freakish nationalism of Toby Keith, it's hard to believe that the same genre gave us David Allan Coe. Coe is the rightful heir to the throne of Outlaw Country. He even claims to have coined the phrase, inadvertently, when a photographer snapped a photo of him with Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Coe's back was turned, revealing his biker "colors". His gang was the Outlaws.

David Allan Coe is a larger than life figure. His ego is larger still. His tales are the tallest, and notoriously unverifiable. He wrote the song "I'd Like To Kick The Shit Out Of You" for Rolling Stone, after they questioned whether Coe had really been on Death Row. When Rolling Stone checked with them, prison officials had a different story. But legends aren't built on triple-referenced facts.

Carefree Youth

David Allan Coe was born September 6, 1939 in or around Akron, Ohio. Not much is written about his childhood, but it's a safe guess that it wasn't pleasant. He spent years in reform school and was first imprisoned at a young age. He claims he spent 20 of his first 34 years locked up.

Coe began writing songs in prison. He claimed to have killed a man on the inside who propositioned him for oral sex, but that's the Death Row story, and not necessarily true. However, it is true and verified that he did time, and lots of it. He's sometimes called the Outlaw's Outlaw, and there's your reason. Johnny Cash was only arrested once, for drunk driving. Coe is a de facto lawbreaker.

He was paroled in 1967. His first album, "Penitentiary Blues", consisted entirely of material he'd written as an inmate. For all he relived (some might say glorified) his prison years in his music, Coe has done his part to help people get out of the system. He worked with the Seventh Step Foundation, which supported former prisoners, and Aliases Inc., which helped them get music published while still locked up.

The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy

After prison, Coe moved to Nashville to be a country star. Not content to wait humbly for fame to drop into his lap, he developed a bizarre persona and complementary course of publicity stunts. Nightly, he would park a hearse painted with his name outside the Grand Ole Opry and hang around the backstage area. By the night's end, he'd be covered in sweat, and when he emerged (wearing a mask) through the side door in his rhinestone costumes, people assumed he was a star. He signed autographs to people who'd never heard of him, and one of them dubbed him "The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy."

He was reportedly very bitter about the success of the Glen Campbell song "Rhinestone Cowboy" for several years.

He signed his first contract in 1968 with Sun Records. He never received much airplay, having been labeled too country for country radio, so a lot of his shows were played to biker audiences in biker bars. Standing just behind him was an all girl backup band. To whatever end, he managed to stand out from the crowd of Nashville hopefuls.

Dirty Talk

A number of people identify Coe by his racism, misogyny, homophobia, and general offensiveness. Credit for those impressions is due mostly to two albums released at the end of the 70s and made available via mail order only. Known collectively as the "X-Rated Albums", "Nothing Sacred" and "Underground" contains several lyrics that have made a few people fall in love with Coe and a lot more people hate him.

Without getting into any specifics, for risk of offending someone, I'll state this personal opinion: the songs on the X-rated albums represent the best and worst of David Allan Coe. Some are just so ugly and offensive that you have to turn them off. But some are damned funny. Say what you want about him personally, Coe is a genius songwriter.

On his website, he says:

"...Over the years people have gotten the impression that I am prejudiced. I’m not prejudiced. Sure, I have this thing about controversy. But I don’t dislike anybody because of their color or sexual beliefs or whatever..."

At first it sounds like bullshit, but then you remember that this is a very talented man of reasonable intelligence who seems to have no qualms about doing anything that will make him more famous. The 70s and 80s weren't a great period for country music, and a lot of country artists who were popular then are now just footnotes in cheap infomercial compilation CDs.

The shock value of Coe's X-rated albums appealed to his base at the time, redneck bikers for whom political correctness was not a day to day concern. And it made him memorable.

The only David Allan Coe song you'll find in most karaoke books is "You Never Even Called Me By My Name", which he didn't write, but added a verse to. The verse mocks country music and the boilerplate plot of any number of country songs written by Coe and his contemporaries.

I was drunk when my mom got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain
But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
She got run over by a damned ol' train

On his two most infamous albums, Coe as a songwriter plays every negative stereotype anyone has ever made about rednecks, ex-cons, white people, men, etc. You have to allow for the possibility that he's manipulating those stereotypes to harden or even mock his image.

Respect

Coe has had 63 songs on the Billboard Singles chart, as a writer, as a singer, and as both. His songs have been recorded by Tanya Tucker, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, The Oakridge Boys, Kid Rock, and The Dead Kennedys. His hits include "Take This Job And Shove It", "The Ride", "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile", and "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)".

He ain't no Dolly Parton, but he's left his legacy.



Discography


1969 Penitentiary Blues (SSS International)
1973 Requiem For A Harlequin (SSS International)
1974 The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy (Columbia)
1975 Once Upon A Rhyme (Columbia)
1976 Longhaired Redneck (Columbia)
1977 David Allan Coe Rides Again (Columbia)
1977 Tattoo (Columbia)
1978 Human Emotions (Happy Side/SU-I-SIDE) (Columbia)
1978 Family Album (Columbia)
1978 Buckstone County Prison soundtrack (DAC)
1979 Spectrum VII (Columbia)
1979 Compass Point (Columbia)
1979 Nothing Sacred (DAC)
1980 Underground (DAC)
1980 I've Got Something To Say (Columbia)
1981 Invictus Means Unconquered (Columbia)
1981 Tennessee Whiskey (Columbia)
1982 D.A.C. (Columbia)
1982 Rough Rider (Columbia)
1983 Castles In The Sand (Columbia)
1983 Hello In There (Columbia)
1984 Just Divorced (Columbia)
1984 Darlin' Darlin' (Columbia)
1985 Unchained (Columbia)
1986 Son Of The South (Columbia)
1987 A Matter of Life Or Death (Columbia)
1989 Crazy Daddy (Columbia)
1990 Songs For Sale (DAC)
1993 Standing Too Close To The Flame (DAC)
1993 Granny's Off Her Rocker (DAC)
1996 Living On The Edge (DAC)
1997 David Allan Coe: LIVE - If That Ain't Country (Lucky Dog/Sony)
1998 Johnny Cash Is a Friend of Mine (King)
1999 Recommended for Airplay (Sony)
2000 Long Haired Country Boy (King)
2001 Songwriter of the Tear (Cleveland International)
2002 Original Outlaw of Country Music (King)
2002 Whoopsy Daisy (DAC)
2002 Live at the Iron Horse Saloon (DAC)
2002 Sings Merle Haggard (King)
2002 Country and Western (King)
2003 Country Outlaw (BMG)
2003 Live at Billy Bob's Texas (Smith Music Group)
2003 Sings Johnny Cash's Biggest Hits (Good Time)
2004 Essential David Allan Coe (Sony)

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