"I's sittin' in this beer joint down in Houston, Texas/ Drinkin' Colorado Kool-Aid and talkin' to some Mexicans..."
So begins one of the greatest bar fight songs of all time.
Along with "Pardon Me (I've Got Someone To Kill)," "Colorado Kool-Aid" is one of the high-water marks of Johnny Paycheck at his existential meanest, the consummate tough-guy anthem. The B-side of Paycheck's massive hit "Take This Job and Shove It," "Kool-Aid" stands alongside "Pardon Me" as some of the grittiest, most realistic output of the entire Outlaw era.
David Allan Coe always presented himself to be the bad boy of the Outlaw movement, but there isn't a song in Coe's catalog that approaches the blunt reality of "Colorado Kool-Aid."
The song is as much Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac as it is Hank Williams or the Stanley Bros., who did some of the best bluegrass versions of these meaner types of songs. With his matter-of-fact delivery, like a regular sitting at his usual spot at the bar, Paycheck sells this one as few artists could.
It is literally almost perfect as a dramatic monologue. Paycheck's droll delivery never waivers as he delivers lines like "Now, big man, if you get urge to spit a little beer/ Just open up your hand and spit it in your own ear."
What really sets the tune apart from the usual macho bar-fight song is that the little unnamed Mexican guy, when pushed far enough by the bar bully, turns out to be the badass. And you can't but love it when this fellow cuts the bully's ear off, then "bent over with a half-way grin, picked it up and handed it back to him."
The song stands apart from 99.9 percent of all bar-fight songs for the telling details that leave no doubt about the legitimacy of Paycheck's bar room credentials. Examples:
Paycheck notes about slicing off the bully's ear that the little Mexican fellow "cut that thing off even with the sideburn." That's the kind of detail LOM's English teachers used to tell us to add to our narratives to give them truth and life.
And Paycheck's rambling, confidential aside as the music fades is priceless barroom-brawl dialogue: "I said, barmaid, set us up a round of Colorado Kool-Aid/ And while you're up there, bring this big fellow a box of Band-Aids."
And then Paycheck looks directly at us from his bar stool and lays the lesson on the line:
Now lemme tell you, if you're ever ridin' down in South Texas And decide to stop and drink some Colorado Kool-Aid And maybe talk to some Mexican And you get the urge to get a little tough Better make sure you've got your knife-proof earmuffs.
Words to live by....
"How you doin', big man/ Still got your ear there in your hand..."
For those of us who lived through the oil boom of the '70s and all the crazy bar stuff that went on here during that era, this is so Houston.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.