Back in March, country music Outlaw David Allan Coe was in a horrific accident where his black Suburban was broadsided by a semi truck in Ocala, Fl. Coe suffered cracked ribs and bruised kidneys in the accident, but was able to recover to perform again.
In the aftermath of the accident, there was a shakeup in David Allan Coe’s band and inner circle. As Saving Country Music reported after attending David Allan Coe’s first show back as part of Willie Nelson’s 40th Annual 4th of July picnic, David was quoted as saying, “…everybody quit me, except my wife. She’s the only one that didn’t quit. My road manager of 35 years, he quit me. My band quit me. This is a brand new band, this is a brand new me.”
On November 8th, David Allan Coe’s son, Tyler Mahan Coe, who played guitar for his father, posted an in-depth letter describing his side of the story, saying in part, “The implication is that every person in his life, except his wife, abandoned him after his recent auto accident. Certainly, it doesn’t make sense to me that every person in someone’s life would take a hike because that person had a little accident. Must be something else going on there.” In short, Tyler blames David Allan Coe’s wife Kimberly for manipulating his father, leading to him and others being forced out of his father’s music business. Tyler also spelled out and addressed numerous concerns and grievances he and many David Allan Coe fans have had about his father’s live performances in recent years.
David Allan Coe’s accident, the subsequent fallout, and Tyler Coe’s letter have stimulated a discussion about David Allan Coe, his ethics and character, his contributions to the music world, and have many fans finally speaking out about a lackluster live show that they we’re unwilling to speak about previously out of respect for the performer.
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Look, this is the deal with David Allan Coe. David Allan Coe is a piece of garbage human being. As Al Goldstein once said straight to David’s face enlisting a cackle from David, “You’re a fucking degenerate.” He’s a sexist, racist, 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.
As Waylon Jennings once pointed out, David Allan Coe will stab you in the back and then ride off your name like he’s your best friend. He wears a stupid, waist-length golden-haired wig on stage as if he’s fooling anyone. He bashes anybody and everybody for getting in his way, abandoning him, or otherwise keeping him down, when he is clearly an arrogant, disrespectful, down-talking asshole who has little regard for anybody but himself, has bashed his Outlaw contemporaries while praising people like Kid Rock and Toby Keith, and once bragged about standing on top of the desk of a record executive, dropping his pants, and ordering him to perform oral sex on him.
At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, David Allan Coe is an American treasure, and a country music legend. Hank Williams Jr. may have sung about being a “Dinosaur,” but David Allan Coe truly is one. In a world where we’re all so whipped and so trained to not speak our minds, or to say what we think, and respect authority that is many times much more immoral, unfair, and corrupt than we could ever be, an individual like David Allan Coe is a breath of fresh air, and in a strange way, an inspiration in the way he is blatantly obvious about who he is, what he wants, and what he believes.
Anyone who wants to diminish David Allan Coe’s importance to country music, whether it’s because he’s put out some bad songs, bad albums, has a bad live show, or because he’s is a bad person, isn’t paying attention to the full breadth of his contributions, including some of the most indelible, important, and influential works of the country music canon. Forget “Longhaired Redneck,” go listen to “Jody Like A Melody” or “River” and then tell me David Allan Coe has nothing to offer.
And to simply call him “sexist” or “racist” really doesn’t do justice to the complex and tragic history of David Allan Coe’s life and upbringing, or the true nature of his opinions. David Allan Coe is one of the truest products and examples of the American experience because there is no bullshit from him, however ugly it is to behold. His attitudes and actions are a reflection our own sins and flaws as an American society, personified in a man who has zero respect for phony custom, or plastic courtesy. At the same time, it’s embarrassing that some choose to use him as their phony idol or icon for racist or sexist platitudes or principles, only reveling in the bad parts about David Allan Coe, and missing the complete panorama of his message and musical contributions.
I do not know Tyler Mahan Coe personally, though I have seen him perform with his father before. Having read many things he’s written over the years, including his latest letter clearing the air about what happen with his father, Tyler comes across as an intelligent and thoughtful individual, and I tend to take what he says as being the truth, and find his honesty and candor refreshing. Tyler Coe is right. Seeing David Allan Coe on any given night can be an exercise in disappointment, from his poor stage presence to his stupid vocal effects. But there is nothing that I read in Tyler’s letter, or anything else that gives me reason to respect David Allan Coe any less. The grim reality with any performer is that as time goes on, they will lose grip with their talent and abilities, especially when they live the type of self-destructive life fans expect, if not demand from certain artists.
When I saw David Allan Coe perform this summer at Willie Nelson’s 40th Annual 4th of July picnic, it was the most God awful performance of “country” music I had ever seen in my life. His band setup included two keyboards flanking him on the left and right, some weird percussionist guy, and struck the vibe of an underfunded and unrehearsed amateur church band that had set up in the food court of a mini mall in some forgotten region of scary, small-town USA preaching to inbreeds and introverts circa 1987. At the same time, I was super glad to be there to catch it, and to be able to see David Allan Coe still alive and performing after his accident.
Why? Because when David Allan Coe is gone forever, what he symbolizes and embodies will be gone forever too. And country music, and the rest of the world, will be a lot less of a colorful place. 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.