Sporting long hair, a braided and beaded beard, earrings, 300-plus tattoos and his trademark rebel-flag-emblazoned Flying V guitar, David Allan Coe is the walking definition of infamy. With a résumé including hard prison time (for 20 years, he was in and out jails so regularly—with convictions on everything from auto theft to possession of obscene materials—that his longest stretch on the outside was only six months), his claim that he murdered a fellow inmate, a subsequent conversion to Mormonism that allowed him to take nine wives, two outrageously vulgar albums of XXX-rated material, a habitual onstage barrage of profanity, and a heavy drug and booze diet, Coe’s violent, volatile life is unparalleled in both country and rock history. But this crazy motherfucker is also an incredibly gifted—and sensitive—artist. Able to write chart-topping standards (“Take This Job and Shove It” for Johnny Paycheck, plus 15-year-old Tanya Tucker’s eyebrow-lifting hit “Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone”), Coe sits atop a stash of original songs that cover a staggering range. He’s a first-rate balladeer (get a load of “Now I Lay Me Down to Cheat”), a master of wild-eyed rabble-rousing (with his apocalyptic trailer trash anthem “If That Ain’t Country”), and everything that falls between those two extremes, all delivered with unerring, pitch-perfect mastery, hammered out at top volume, with an instinctual craftiness and a distinct knack for emotional manipulation.
Born September 6, 1939 in Akron, Ohio, Coe, before embarking on a life of crime, was raised in dire poverty and bizarre circumstance—his mother has said that he wore dresses until age seven, and even today there are ever-present hints and references to gender-blurring in his stage show, with his “Takes All Kinds,” a mind-blower that speaks for closeted drag queens and hormone-taking body modification (he also often includes a passionate cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain”). After he finally got hip to himself and kept his ass out of prison (he was first incarcerated at age nine), Coe got attention by parking a krazy-kustom hearse outside the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night and accosting anyone who gave him a second glance (usually something along the lines of “What the fuck are you looking at? I’m David Allan Coe, motherfucker!”), and, against all odds, actually achieving success, first as a hard blues singer, then as an even harder country firebrand. Coe never mellowed, surviving in prim and proper Nashville only because of his undeniable talent.
“I’ve been a member of the Country Music Association for over 30 years, and they never once asked me to be a presenter,” Coe has said. “When I won a Grammy for “Take This Job and Shove It,” they just sent it to me, wouldn’t even invite me to the show.” Small wonder—Coe is the ruling figurehead for an underworld confederacy of scum, a redneck deity of the highest order, and as such, remains an unparalleled and fascinating performer.
David Allan Coe performs at the Key Club at Casino Morongo, 49500 Seminole Rd., Cabazon, (800) 252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com. Thurs., Dec. 14, 8 p.m. $25-$35. 18+.