10 Badass David Allan Coe Moments

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The question about David Allan Coe has never been if he’s a badass, but if he’s a little too badass. Some of his stories are hard to believe. Others are even harder to validate. And others are hard to herald because of the malevolent nature of the occurrences or outcomes. David Allan Coe is a living dichotomy. He’s a scary, weird, train wreck of a man; one of these people we all knew growing up in school or in the neighborhood that was always in someone’s face and that could twist off at any moment. At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, David Allan Coe is an American treasure, and a country music legend. And country music, and the rest of the world, would be a lot less of a colorful place without him. Because whether you like him, respect him, or hate him, there will never be another person or performer in country music or the American culture like David Allan Coe.

READ: Look, This is the Deal with David Allan Coe (An Editorial)

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1. Spending 20 Years In Reform School & Prison

david-allan-coe-prisonIn a genre of music where what you’ve done and how you lived goes a long way into putting legitimacy behind the songs you sing, David Allan Coe’s story is arguably filled with more street cred than any other major performer in the history of the genre. Institutionalized from 9-years-old in reform schools, David Allan Coe committed crimes such as robbery and grand theft auto in early adulthood, and ended up in and out of jail and prison for two decades. Though Coe claims a lot of miraculous meetings with former and future famous individuals and other rowdy incidents while in the pen, including killing a man in self-defense and spending time on death row (see at bottom), one claim that is widely accepted is that while incarcerated in Ohio, Coe met fellow Ohio native Screamin’ Jay Hawkins who encouraged Coe to pursue songwriting. David’s rough and tumble early life would go on to lay the foundation for future songs that would help shape the sound of country music. When he finally got out of prison in 1967, he stayed out, and put together one of the most legendary, curious, and colorful country music careers the genre has ever seen.


2. Living In A Hearse / Parking It at the Grand Ole Opry

After getting out of prison in 1967, David Allan Coe moved to Nashville to pursue his country music career. He was homeless at the time, and lived in the back of a red Cadillac hearse that he parked regularly in front of the Ryman Auditorium—aka the “Mother Church of Country Music” where the Grand Ole Opry was conducted at the time. Crudely decaled to advertise the Opry, as the crowds came and went, there was David Allan Coe busking in front of the famed venue. It was his way of getting the attention of the industry. What was the result? It worked. Plantation Records recognized Coe and signed him to the label. Coe’s first two albums—Penitentiary Blues and Requiem for a Harlequin—were through Plantation, and that was the big break he needed. Later he singed with the major label Columbia Records.

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3. Being The First Country Artist to Have and All Girl Backup Band

That’s right. The man that would probably would be fingered as country music’s biggest misogynist had country music’s first female backing band called the Ladysmiths. Though they only lasted a short time too early in Coe’s career for many people to notice, he still deserves the distinction.

Not only was it an all-girl band, but they were from New Jersey,” David Allan Coe once said in an interview. “Seven years later Porter Wagner [Wagoner] had his TV show, and had an all girl band and that was a big deal. Porter was famous so he got the credit for being the first to use an all-girl Country band. Nobody paid attention when I did it. I wasn’t famous – and it didn’t matter to me.”

Of course, you have to balance out this info with the fact that Coe once also claimed to have as many as seven wives, and once claimed allegiance to the Mormon Church to justify his polygamy. As you can imagine, the Mormons were not happy.

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From Michael Bane’s “The Outlaws”


4. Recording “The Ride”

If you’re anything like me, when you first heard this song, and when you realized Coe was singling about Hank Williams, it was one of those singular musical moments that made your spine tingle and the hair on your arms stand on end. Written by Gary Gentry and J.B. Detterline Jr. and released in February of 1983, “The Ride” simply wasn’t just another great David Allan Coe song, it was the one that revitalized his struggling career at the time, and put him back on the mainstream map.

Columbia Records had fitted Coe with legendary Countrypolitan producer Billy Sherrill. The Coe / Sherril collaboration was a success, and along with another hit of the era “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile,” “The Ride” drove David Allan Coe to the top of the country charts. The song made it to #4 on the Billboard Country chart, and spent 19 weeks in the chart.


5. Writing “Take This Job & Shove It”

One of the biggest songs of David Allan Coe’s career, and Johnny Paycheck’s. The #1 hit (the only one of Paycheck’s career) released in October of 1977 created its own colloquial expression and snowclone that is still in practice today. It inspired a 1981 film of the same name and too many popular culture references to count. Coe released his own version of the song on his 1978 record Family Album and an alternative version called “Take This Job And Shove It Too” that included the line, “Paycheck you may be a thing of the past”—a veiled stab at Johnny who Coe felt betrayed him by alluding to the public that he wrote the song.


6. Living In A Cave After IRS Seizure

David Allan Coe once had a house in Key West with other songwriters such as Shel Silverstein and Jimmy Buffett. In fact it was when listening to Silverstein’s off-color comedy songs that Coe was inspired to record his two X-rated albums, Nothing’s Sacred in 1978, and the Underground Album in 1982. Coe had a falling out with Jimmy Buffett when Buffett accused Coe of stealing the melody of his song “Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” for his song “Divers Do It Deeper.” Buffet later said, “I would have sued him, but I didn’t want to give Coe the pleasure of having his name in the paper.”

Coe nonetheless had hard times coming. In 1990 his contract with Columbia Records came to and end, and after a bitter divorce and troubles with the IRS, Coe’s Key West home was seized and he was thrown out on the street. With no place to go, David Alan Coe lived in a cave for several months in Tennessee, or at least that is how the story goes. Some have questioned the validity of Coe’s cave-living claims.


7. Being Criminally Overlooked for Writing & Recording Powerful Love Songs

Whenever you say the name “David Allan Coe,” people immediately think of his hellrasing Outlaw songs, confederate flags and the use of the ‘N’ word, his X-rated albums, prison time, and many other seedy events that have sensationalized his life and country career. But what might be the most underrated part of David Allan Coe’s contributions is his ability to write and record some of the best, most touching love songs the country genre has ever heard. The breadth of David Allan Coe’s songwriting ability, and his ability to perform a heartfelt tune when called upon it is something that even the most hardened David Allan Coe detractors could find beauty in.

Coe’s first big success in country music came as the songwriter for Tanya Tucker’s #1 hit in March of 1974, “Would You Lay Me Down (In A Field Of Stone).” Coe’s own version of the song is also highly regarded by singers and songwriters. His recording of “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile” written by Johnny Cunningham was Coe’s highest-charting single in his career, hitting #2 on the Billboard Country charts, and Coe’s “Jody Like A Melody” rarely leaves a dry eye in the house.

David Allan Coe’s long relationship with producer Billy Sherrill, who was known as one of the founders of the refined Countrypolitan sound, resulted in some beautiful recordings that may not balance out all the bad he’s done in his life, but certainly speak to the wide expanse of Coe’s talent and contributions.


8. Standing Up to Casino Security Guards in Iowa

In June of 2008, David Allan Coe was at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, Iowa with his girlfriend (now wife) during a stopover between shows. The altercation happened after Coe hit the jackpot on a slot machine. His wife stayed with the machine to collect the jackpot, and Coe moved on to another slot to continue playing. When the casino workers came to deliver the jackpot, they told David’s girlfriend that he had to be present because he was the one who pushed the button. When the casino workers found Coe at the other slot machine is when the trouble started. As Coe was trying to give the casino proper ID, a young security guard became combative with Coe. To avoid an altercation Coe began to walk away, but security cornered him, wrestled him to the ground, detained him, and charged him with Disorderly Conduct and other charges.

Bad thing for the security is the entire thing was caught on tape, and completely corroborated David Allan Coe’s side of the story. It clearly shows security unnecessarily wrestling Coe to the ground, and all charges were dropped. Coe blames the incident for why he has to walk with a cane, and still down while performing. He counter sued the casino.

The video of the incident is pretty astounding.


9. Partnering with Pantera for Rebel Meets Rebel

Yes, there’s many partnerships and collaborations in music where two famous artists or bands get together and do something that is usually really exciting on paper, but the results musically are fairly negligible beyond the novelty of the collaboration. Rebel Meets Rebel took it a step further, and has withstood the test of time for many fans of both David Allan Coe and metal band Pantera.

Recorded between 1999 and 2003, and not released until May 2nd, 2006—two years after Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was brutally murdered on stage. This wasn’t David Allan Coe playing metal, or Pantera playing country. This was a true collaboration that mixed influences from both disciplines. Hard-edged and unapologetic, it is mostly a meal for the red meat crowd, but stands above most other country/metal collaborations as one that got it right.


10. Surviving a Horrific Car Crash

If you need any further evidence of just how badass David Allan Coe is, just appreciate that in March of 2013, David Allan Coe was broadsided by a Peterbilt 18-wheeler in Ocala, Florida and live to tell the tale. The impact sent Coe’s 2011 black Suburban all the way into a nearby parking lot, which the semi ended up on its side and wrapped around a cement pole. Coe suffered cracked ribs and bruised kidneys, and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, but was back performing months later. Just looking at the pictures from the accident, it’s a wonder Coe made it out alive. A badass indeed.

Read More About Coe’s Accident.

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BONUS #11 – Recording “You Never Even Call Me By My Name”


Bonus #12 – Being Part of the 1% Outlaw Motorcycle Gang

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Badass DAC Moments That Are Probably Not True

Taught Charles Manson How To Play Guitar – Though David Allan Coe claims he taught Charles Manson how to play while they were both in prison together, there’s no evidence to support that the two were in prison together ever, let alone that Coe would have the kind of access to Manson to teach him. Another man Alvin “Creepy” Karpis is given credit by most sources for teaching Manson guitar while in prison.

Killed A Man In Prison / Served Time on Death Row – This has been one of Coe’s most contentious claims; sworn to be true by him, but refuted by journalists, penitentiary workers, and legal experts. According to Coe, while in prison a man tried to rape him, so Coe killed him in self-defense. When a story in Rolling Stone in the 70’s refuted Coe’s claims, he wrote a song in response called, “I’d Like To Kick The Shit Out Of You.”


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