Country legend David Allan Coe unspools a decorated history in Salinas.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Country music is full of characters– but there are none greater than outlaw country artist David Allan Coe. This legend has lived in a hearse outside Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and, it is said, in a Tennessee cave after the IRS repo’d his Key West home. He has penned a jab at Rolling Stone Magazine titled “I’d Like to Kick the Sh*t Out of You” after the publication questioned some of his statements about serving time; he’s released some of the best drinking songs in country music history, including “This Bottle (In My Hand)” and “Jack Daniels, If You Please.” During live performances, the cantankerous musician has frequently arrived onstage via his Harley-Davidson or appeared before audiences wearing a Lone Ranger mask and a rhinestone suit. The songwriter also maintains that he taught Charles Manson to play guitar during one of his many prison sentences.
While Coe is no stranger to controversy, the recent discovery of a rare pair of albums he put out in the ’70s has exposed the songwriter to what he feels is unwarranted scrutiny. The releases, Underground and Nothing Sacred, were sold exclusively through the biker publication Easyriders Magazine and included a song titled “Masturbation Blues” and a song with an unprintable title about African-Americans who date white women. In The New York Times, Neil Strauss wrote that the numbers were “among the most racist, misogynist, homophobic and obscene songs recorded by a popular songwriter.”
The Weekly planned to interview Coe about his work until we were told by his management that he was too deaf to do phone interviews and too technologically challenged to pull off an interview by e-mail. Instead, we found an article by Tom Netherland in the November 2000 issue of Country Standard Time Magazine, where the performer challenges the charges of racism. “My drummer, Kerry Brown, is black,” Coe says in the piece. “His father is [blues musician] Gatemouth Brown. Kerry is married to a white woman. His dad is married to a white woman. The things they say just don’t make sense. My hair is in dreadlocks… I dress like a New York pimp. Waylon Jennings looked at me and said: ‘Goddamn, boy, you look like one of them New York pimps.’”
In the article, Coe says that he intended the releases to be bawdy but fun.
While those controversial releases by Coe have been heard by a relatively few number of listeners, the songwriter has a handful of songs that will forever be a part of country music’s canon. His “Take This Job and Shove It,” popularized by Johnny Paycheck’s 1977 version, is the best employer kiss-off song this side of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm.” Meanwhile, Coe’s “Longhaired Redneck” is a superb outlaw country track with great lines including: “The country DJs all think I’m an outlaw/ They’d never come and see me in this dive/ Where bikers stare at cowboys who are laughing at hippies/ Who are praying that they’ll get out of here alive.”
In addition to having his songs covered by country greats including Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette, Coe has also had his numbers done by punk greats the Dead Kennedys, rap rocker Kid Rock and rapper Canibus.
Despite having compiled an impressive catalog over the years, though, Coe told the Country Standard Time that he is not living high off the hog from his songwriting, adding yet another wrinkle to his unique intrigue. “I don’t make one cent off my songs that I wrote,” he told the publication.
David Allan Coe performs 8pm Thursday, Sept. 11, at the Fox Theater, 241 S. Main St., Salinas. $25. For more information, call (707) 529-8955 or visit www.foxtheatersalinas.com.