David Allan Coe - Biography
With his long hair, earrings, rebel-flag emblazoned Flying V guitar and almost 400 tattoos, outlaw country singer David Allan Coe is the penultimate renegade. His infamy has been further enhanced by a loudly trumpeted personal resume that included claims of murdering a fellow inmate while incarcerated, a conversion to Mormonism that allowed him to take nine wives, his recording of two outrageously vulgar albums of XXX-rated material and habitual onstage barrages of profanity. He is also a songwriter of considerable accomplishment and surprising tenderness, whose songs have become major hits for other artists, Tanya Tucker's “Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone,” Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It." His own recordings have become rabble-rousing anthems for at least a million hardcore rednecks and self-proclaimed white trash aficionados. Coe's taste for extreme hard rock and his anti-social Fuck the World attitude are offset by a stated simpatico for cross-dressers and an abiding respect for the country music traditions exemplified by Roy Acuff and Hank Williams. Coe is a complex, often contradictory figure who ranks as one of the most starkly individualistic artists of his time.
Born September 6, 1939 in Akron, Ohio to a Mormon father and an Amish mother, Coe was raised in poverty and outlandish circumstance--his mother has said that he wore dresses until age seven; at nine he was sent to reformatory and for the next twenty years, was in and out of institutions and jails so regularly that his longest stretch on the outside was only six months. His pronounced criminal tendencies (convictions range from auto theft to possession of obscene materials) threatened to destroy him, but Coe ultimately managed to overcome them. Released from the Ohio State Penitentiary in 1967, the singer directed his ferocious energy towards a professional music career, albeit through a strange, aberrant tactic: parking his tricked-out, customized hearse in front of Grand Ole Opry headquarters, the Ryman Auditorium every Saturday night, the first step in a bizarre campaign to establish himself as a singing star. He was on the fast track to becoming Nashville’s worst nightmare, running with the equally scruffy likes of Billy Joe Shaver (both of whom took turns sleeping on a couch at the office of congenial misfit Bobby Bare). Music had always been a force in Coe’s life, but interestingly, country was not his first choice: “I pretty much grew up with a lot of different kinds of music, my parents were listening to Spike Jones, the Dorsey Brothers, Bessie Smith.” Coe said in 2004. “Then I got into R&B, Hank Ballard, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland, I was heavy into that and that’s what I started cutting.”
After Music City record man Shelby Singleton signed Coe, his first album, Penitentiary Blues (1969 SSS International), was a graphic set of penetrating hard blues that focused on life in the joint and what led him there. The record was well-received in blues circle (UK periodical Blues Unlimited voted it the year's best album) and Coe got his first taste of life on the road working the blues circuit. Coe's second release for SSS was Requiem For A Harlequin, a strange concept album without track names. Side one was simply entitled “The Beginning” and side two was “The End.”
Coe took an extended sabbatical and concentrated on songwriting. When he re-emerged in 1972, he came roaring down Music Row like a whiskey-fueled, honky tonk King Kong. After Tucker’s version of the Coe-penned song, "Would You Lay With Me In A Field Of Stone” went to number one (and was quickly covered by dozens of singers), Columbia signed him in 1973 and quickly released, Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy in 1974 and Once Upon A Rhyme in 1975. Coe scored his first Top Ten country hit with a rabid, tailor-made version of Steve Goodman’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” while his follow-up “Longhaired Redneck” made the Top Twenty. “Longhaired Redneck” was the title track off his third record for Columbia, Longhaired Redneck (1976).
Coe just about out-outlawed Waylon and Willie with 1976 hit, "Willie Waylon & Me” (Rides Again 1977 Columbia) and his steely pipes and wily knack for songwriting produced a respectable string of country hits through the mid-1980s. But Coe never backed away from his confrontational image and routinely gave outrageous, vulgarity-laden interviews, finished fights and raised hell wherever he went. On the shady side of the street, he also cut a series of hyper-pornographic albums, starting with Nothing Sacred (1978 DAC) and Underground (1982 DAC), records full of charmers like, "Pussy Whipped Again" and "Masterbation [sic] Blues."
The consummate anomalous country star, Coe rode with the aptly named Outlaw motorcycle gang and seemed unstoppable--until he went head to head with the IRS. The Feds bled him so badly that he lost his Florida home, sold his song catalog (a catastrophically poor decision ) and reportedly ended up living in a cave for a year or two. But Coe always came back, and his devoted followers have remained loyal. Coe has continued to write challenging, idiosyncratic songs, like "Heaven Only Knows" a harrowing broken family ballad (daughter works in porn, son OD’s, wife dead) and the recent mind blower “Takes All Kinds,” that speaks directly to closeted cross-dressers and course-of-hormone body modified transsexuals. Into the 21st century, Coe just kept on roaring, enjoyed a profile-raising alliance on the road with fan Kid Rock and recorded the much anticipated Rebel Meets Rebel (recorded 2003, released 2006 Big Vin), a collaboration with metal extremists Pantera (which, as it turned out, was the final studio work done by the slain onstage hard rocker Dimebag Darryl). Coe is one hell of a multi-faceted character, an accomplished magician, author, film actor and, with almost fifty full length albums to his credit, a frighteningly prolific musical talent.
But more than anything else, Coe is country, stone-hard country. Songs like "Jack Daniels If You Please," "Now I Lay Me Down To Cheat" are some of the finest examples of hyper-masculine hardcore honky tonk ever made, and has for the most part, gone his own staunchly independent route throughout his career. More than a bit mad, definitely blessed with an inordinate amount of talent, David Allan Coe is in a league all his own.