It was 1974, and Abe, a recent high school graduate, was riding in a Chevy van en route to California to live among "other longhairs and freaky people." He and his friends were approaching Nashville when he turned on the radio and heard David Allan Coe's "Longhaired Redneck." Abe has been a Coe fan ever since.
"I recall us laughing at the words and getting a big kick out of the line 'My long hair just don't cover up my red neck,' " recalls Abe, who runs one of Coe's unofficial Web sites. "Being a couple southern Ohio boys, my partner and I were definitely rednecks, but the era was that of hippies, Vietnam, Kent State and Nixon. It was a time to rebel, and long hair was the symbol of the times. Here was this guy on the radio, singing a song that caused both laughter and goose bumps."
Coe's rebel tunes are still doing that for teenagers and old-timers alike. His fan base continues to grow, perhaps because of his tours with Kid Rock and the music he's making with Pantera. Regardless, at 62, Coe is pleased by the interest. He thinks younger audiences appreciate the realism of his music. "It's not watered down. I believe in freedom of speech," he says. "As for the flags, my guitar is painted like a rebel flag. It's just a rebel thing. They don't wave the flags to make any statements about the Civil War or about racism."
David Allan Coe
Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan
Thursday, May 30. For more information, call 713-880-1586.
Radio has never been tolerant of Coe's subject matter and language. But even with little or no airplay, he performs sold-out shows up to 250 nights a year. "I entertain people," he explains. "Elvis Presley told me to play to the crowd in front of me, and that's what I do. If I'm in a bar with bikers, I'll play some of my X-rated songs. If I'm doing a family show, I sing songs suitable to a family."
He gets riled when labeled a racist for lyrics such as "working like a nigger for room and board."
"This has bothered me my whole life. There are thousands of movies where the actors kill people, but they don't kill in real life. So nobody calls them killers. But I say the N-word in a song and all of a sudden I'm a racist in real life. But a singer is no different than an actor. A singer is just an actor playing the part of a singer."
Coe's weathered voice speaks volumes about trains, bars, loneliness, drinking, tattoos, women, desperadoes -- and everything else that makes a great country song. He is also held in high regard for his songwriting abilities. Country artist Tanya Tucker took his "Would You Lay with Me (in a Field of Stone)" to No. 1 in 1973. "Take This Job and Shove It" was a 1977 hit for singer Johnny Paycheck. And bargoers still chant Coe's anthem, "You Never Even Called Me by My Name," and his ever-popular "Jack Daniel's If You Please."
"I don't have a favorite song," says Coe, who has released more than 50 albums. "Songs are kinda like children. You give birth to them, and they live their own lives."
Coe was raised in Akron. His Mormon father and Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish mother didn't stay together. "They had a lot of different viewpoints," says Coe. "And then I had my own. My stepmother didn't want me, and she talked my father into taking me down to the court and saying I was incorrigible."
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Coe was sent to reform school, from which he escaped and stole a car, for which he was caught and sent back to another reform school, where he broke out and swiped another set of wheels. After that, Coe was in and out of prison for nearly 20 years. He wears his past like a badge of honor, bringing it up in discussion and mentioning it on album covers. Even today, his rebellious image continues to be fueled by stories of bad-boy behavior.
One Internet message board visitor shared this tale: "I went to see DAC for the first time in November of 2000 at Coyotes in Louisville, KY. I remember sitting there having a good time and all of a sudden right in the middle of the set David stops playing and starts pointing to someone in the crowd and saying, 'Yeah you, you punk motherfucker, come up here, you little bitch.' Apparently someone threw their cigarette and drink at David. Instantly security surrounded him and began to escort him out. But to get out they had to pass in front of the stage. So as he passed, David walked up to the front of the stage and kicked the man right in the head. And then he said, 'And take your fat bitch with you.' It was the coolest thing I ever saw."
Coe's 16-year-old son, Tyler, who often tours with his dad and helps sell merchandise, has his own stories to tell.
"This is my favorite DAC story at this time. It happened sometime last week," he says in an e-mail. "After a show we walked to a Waffle House from the hotel. I was the first person in the door, and I was getting a table and I heard a girl in the next booth doing the 'Oh my God, do you know who that is?' thing. So my dad is behind me and he sees that these three people in the booth are in total awe. So what does he do? He sits down in their booth and has dinner with them. That's my favorite story now, but it will probably be something else in a week."