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Part 2 of An Exclusive Interview with
DAVID ALLAN COE on
Songwriting, Racism, and Touring at Age 65

By Kristofer Engelhardt

I hate most Country music, but I love David Allan Coe's Country music. My musical tastes have always been firmly rooted in Rock 'n' Roll. So, why DAC (his affectionate acronym)? Well in Rock music, lyrics are generally a necessary evil to a rhythmic beat and catchy pop hooks. Country music has largely been about storytelling. David's a lyrical prodigy whose words immediately burn of truth, passion, tenderness, anger and sorrow.

 

Never mind that his lyrics are occasionally as raunchy and colorful as his storied past. I've remained intrigued by his 30-plus year career. So, when I heard DAC was coming to Bay City, I made every effort to make personal contact with him.

Full credit for that connection goes to Danny Sheridan. Danny was a member of Eli Radish a band out of Ohio that David joined at the inception of his musical career. David went on to fame and fortune. Danny went on to a series of musical projects that put him on the West Coast and in the arms of Bonnie Bramlett (the ex-wife of the 1970s' musical duo, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Those Friends included Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Billy Preston and a host of famous session players).

Danny and Bonnie married and with the last name Sheridan, Bonnie ended up playing a waitress on the popular TV show Rosanne. Additionally, Danny and Bonnie formed a band called Bandaloo Doctors who toured with Ringo's All-Starr Band in 1992 - thus several connections to a book I was writing called Beatles Undercover. So, I tracked down Danny. He and I hit it off immediately, because Bandaloo Doctors included Jimmy Crespo, who'd also been a member of Aerosmith, who I'm currently writing a book on titled Sweet Emotion.

I recently reconnected with Danny. I asked Danny if he could help connect me with DAC.  This is the second part of our interview.


REVIEW: You've been hanging out with Pantera and you've struck up quite a friendship with Kid Rock. Why do you think that you appeal to those people?

DAC: I think it's just because of honesty and being real. We were on tour together and we've written some songs together. It's nice to have Kid Rock as a friend. Like I've told him, he isn't my friend because he's Kid Rock. He'd be my friend if he wasn't Kid Rock. He's just a good ol' boy. That's the truth of the matter. He rides four-wheel bikes and he likes old cars. He likes to go hunting and fishing and be in the woods.

REVIEW: He's a Detroit, Michigan boy!

DAC: Yeah -- he's a country boy! One of my favorite songs is the Bobby Bear song,
Detroit City.

REVIEW: What other artists today do you admire and enjoy?

DAC: I like Edwin McCain-- I like him a lot, Uncle Kracker and of course Kid Rock. I still like Grand Funk Railroad. I've always liked that band. 

REVIEW: I don't think it would be an overstatement to say you are one of American's greatest and most prolific songwriters. You've written songs for dozens of the famous including: George Jones, Tammy Wynette, The Oakridge Boys and Johnny Paycheck. How many songs have you written to date?

DAC: I don't really have an idea of how many songs I've written - in the thousands I guess. I've also written songs for the Dead Kennedy's, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker - just a lot of people. I write all of the time.  I've got notebooks and notebooks full of stuff that I've never gotten around to recording.

REVIEW: What compositions of yours are you most proud of?

DAC: Songs to me are like children. You love all of your children. Each one has their own place in your life. My songs are the same way.

REVIEW: What inspires you to write songs? Do they just come out of nowhere like with some writers or do you sit down in a very deliberate way and grind them out?


DAC: It's something that just happens. I write the words first but I usually have a melody in my head. I write on guitar and sometimes on piano. I can write at the drop of a hat. If someone tells me they will give me $10,000 to write six songs about peanut butter, they would have them in 15 minutes!

REVIEW: A lot of your songs are about drinking like, Jack Daniels If You Please. However, you claim you've never been much of a drinker, or a druggie for that matter. You hang with bikers and Rock 'n' Rollers. There are a lot of temptations in those crowds. How'd you avoid that given the circles you've run in all of these years?

DAC: I was in prison with guys that said, "Well if I hadn't been drunk I wouldn't have done this, or if I hadn't been on dope I wouldn't have killed my children and my wife. So, I always wanted to have my senses about me.

REVIEW: Any songwriters you really admire that you'd like to work with?

DAC: I love Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton. Mickey Newbury and Shel Silverstein were great songwriters but they're dead now.. ,,great songwriters. 

REVIEW: A lot of the songs you've written were hits for other people such as the controversial song Would You Lay With Me In A Field Of Stone) for Tanya Tucker. How did she end up recording that song?

DAC: Kris Kristofferson told me to take the song to Billy Sherrill, so I did. He liked it, and he played it for Tanya and she liked it. But her parents hated it! She was a thirteen-year-old girl at the time.

REVIEW: Do you own the publishing to your songs?

DAC: All of my songs up to 1984 were sold in a bankruptcy proceeding for like $25,000 from the bankruptcy court because nobody told me they'd been put up for sale! Basically the IRS claimed I owed them $100,000. I was living at a place and we had a flood and everything was destroyed.

 

They knew I didn't have any records - any proof of what I did have and what I didn't have. So I just filed bankruptcy.

Willie Nelson chose to deal with them. I chose not to. I'm totally straight with them now. The only income I have is the money I make on the road performing and from my new songs that I own. Now that Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker are cutting my songs there's some activity there. Though I'm not on a major label anymore I still sell a lot of records.

REVIEW: What sort of advice would you give to your fellow aspiring musicians and songwriters just getting started in the business?

DAC: Be careful of what you sign and try to hold on to as many rights as you can for songs, and publishing and that sort of thing. Try to have some control over what you do.

REVIEW: One of your best-known songs is Longhaired Redneck. Do you consider yourself a longhaired redneck?

DAC: It was terminology that I'd made up at the time. I was trying to tell people that not everybody with long hair was a hippie. Not everyone was the kind of person that thought you could punch them out, take their money and that they'd say, "I won't do nothin' about it."

REVIEW: Prior to your performance recently in Grand Rapids, Michigan, you were confronted by about 100 protestors, including a local DJ who organized the protest, accusing you of being a racist. They claim you've recorded songs with racist lyrics under the pseudonym of Johnny Rebel. You've denied this on your official web site. You had the courage to confront these protestors face to face and vehemently denied these rumors. Yet the accusations persist. Why do you think that is?

DAC: I think those people were using me for whatever their cause was at the time. As far as the Johnny Rebel thing goes? It's not me! I've never sung or wrote songs under any other name but my own. 

REVIEW: Do you know who Johnny Rebel is?

DAC: My girlfriend Kimberly has that information. What I'm gonna do is write the guy a letter and say, "Hey, if you really feel this way, why don't you contact these people and tell them you don't like black people, and that you are Johnny Rebel, and that David Allan Coe is not Johnny Rebel and take the credit for the things that you do instead of letting me take the heat for it."  


REVIEW: What about some of the lyrical contents and titles on your "X-Rated" Cds? How do you defend those lyrics to your accusers? 

DAC: All of those albums were meant to be funny. To me, as a biker, they were songs that we sat around the campfire listening to, and laughed. If people want to single out a certain song, which you know -- women's rights groups could do the same thing. They could say this is a real sexist song, or this song is against women, or anybody. But, these were meant to be funny. I watch movies everyday where actors use those same words and nobody accuses them of being a racist!

In prison pretty much all of my friends were black. I was pretty much around black people all of my life. I lived that lifestyle. I sang with four or five black guys. I was privileged to be accepted by them people to where those words didn't mean anything - no different than when they were talkin' to each other. When you hear Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy or any of these guys talkin', that's the way they talk! That was their language. Rap music's the same thing.

As a songwriter it's my job to paint a picture. I use words. When I wrote the song Nigger F##ers I had just seen Alabama Governor, George Wallace on TV. He was screaming about black people and hatred, and I got to thinkin' about it, and I thought how funny it would be if this guy's wife went to him and said she was leaving him for the gardener who was black, and all of the things that would be going through his mind. To me it would just be hilarious! Everybody I played that song for thought it was funny.    

REVIEW: I've seen you perform a number of times and never heard or seen anything in your performances that would lead me to believe you are a racist. Your current guitar resembles a confederate flag. Some people feel that flag's a symbol of racism. What are you trying to express with that?

DAC: Dimebag Darrell of Pantera had the guitar built for me as a gift. We'd done an album together called, Rebel Meets Rebel that hasn't come out yet. It has no other significance than that!

REVIEW: One of your hits You Never Even Called Me By My Name is one of the greatest satires on country music ever written. It was written by the late Steve Goodman, in part upon your advice. How does a man who's been accused of being a bigot and a racist collaborate with a small, frail, Jewish kid from Chicago?

DAC: Stevie was probably one of the greatest people I've ever known. To know that he was dying of Leukemia and to have the disposition that he had and to write the great songs that he wrote - I've never met a finer gentleman in my life!

REVIEW: Weren't three of your managers Jewish?

DAC: My management and lawyers were Jewish. My drummer was black. My sax player in the old days was black - and gay! I used to room with Hank Ballard. He was one of my best friends. I accept people on an individual basis for who they are, not on their ethnic background or color or whatever. I either like you or I don't like you! I don't judge a whole class of people. That would be very short sited!

REVIEW: To go from the stir to stardom in a few short years must have been a real shock on your system and taken some getting used to. How did you deal with that transition to stardom?

DAC: I never got involved in that whole "celebrity" thing. It's always been an alienation thing to me - the autograph thing - the meet and greet thing. I've never done that. I never did interviews when I was younger either. 

REVIEW: You wrote for and recorded a song with your good friend Johnny Cash. Why was Johnny such a good friend?

DAC: I think John was attracted to me because I'd been in prison so long. Over the years he, and Kris Kristofferson and Willie (also Connie Nelson, his wife at the time), always seemed to turn up and come back into my life when I needed someone the most. We made movies together and ended up writing songs together.  
 
REVIEW: Do you enjoy acting?

DAC: I enjoyed acting but it wasn't financially -- I'd only make $15-20,000 and had to cancel 30 dates of guitar playin' and singin' when I was makin' $10,000 a night doing that. I've been in a lot of movies -
Buckstone County Prison, Lady Grey, Moonshine Runner -- then we turned Take This Job And Shove It into a movie. I was also in several movies with Johnny Cash and Willie and Waylon. I was in The Last Days Of Frank And Jessie James.


REVIEW: You've also had hits on the Country charts with a number of other writers' songs such as: Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile, Please Come To Boston. The Ride and Now I Lay Me Down To Cheat. Speaking of cheating -- you had a few failed relationships. What advice do you have for being successful in relationships?

DAC: I don't know how to have a successful relationship. When you make a choice to become a musician like I did you put everything below that - your family - everything! I've got to be David Allan Coe in the morning. I signed a contract and said I would play that show and be that guy. I can't change my mind and decide I don't want to play that show because I would rather be at a ballgame. They don't have to do that! David Allan Coe has to come first! But women want to be first in relationships. So it's just very hard to sustain a relationship and find somebody who can accept you for who you are.     

REVIEW: There are a lot of your fellow musical stars like The Dixie Chicks, Willie Nelson and Toby Keith using their celebrity and stage to expound their political positions. Given your outspokenness and difficulties in life, you're lyrics and performances have been surprisingly non-political. Why is that?
 
DAC: I live in my own world, not the world. I just write songs about what affects me in everyday life. At one point I wrote a song that was sort of a protest about when they were talking about drafting women into the military. It was about my son making it past the draft, but my daughter didn't. And I've done Farm Aid.

REVIEW: You're known for your clever quips and quotes. There's one I love in particular, "Everyone has a skeleton in their closet. My family didn't have enough closets for all of their skeletons." Are there any other words of wisdom you find have stood the test of time?

DAC: Well, I was also the guy that wrote the line, "Today's the first day of the rest of your life," but I never got credit for that. I also wrote the line, "You're children are your future," and I never got credit for that either.

REVIEW: You came from a very dysfunctional family. How much of that do you feel played a part in your troubled youth?

DAC: I don't think it had a lot to do with anything. All of my brothers and sisters came from the same environment but we all took different paths in our life. Whatever your personality is or whatever you're gonna do is gonna find its own way.

REVIEW: Your son plays in your band and your daughters have also performed with you. How many children do you have? How big a role did you play in their musical development?

DAC: I never pushed any of my children to become musicians. I think a lot of them are naturally musically gifted. My advice to them was whatever you're going to do try to be the best there is at it. If you're gonna be a bank robber, be a good one! I have seven children. One daughter's a singer and songwriter. All of my daughters are married and have children. My youngest son is thirteen years old. 

As far as being a father I probably could have spent more time with my family. But I have a good relationship with most all of my children. As far as being a parent is concerned I think your only responsibility is to supply food and shelter. I've always treated my children as if they were adults not children. I always listened to and respected what they had to say. I've always answered them as honestly as I could and if I didn't know, I told them I didn't know.  

REVIEW: You've been quite non-judgmental and private about your religious beliefs. Your father's family was Mormon, right? Weren't you also a practicing Mormon?

DAC: My father's family was Mormon. My mother was Pennsylvania Dutch Amish. It took me years and years to overcome a lot of those beliefs. Actually I'm not of any religion. Organized religion to me is basically a farce. When I was in prison you only had a choice between protestant or catholic. I chose catholic. I've read just about everything there is to read about different religions.  

REVIEW:  How important do you consider religion and spirituality to be in your life?


DAC: Not very important at all. What I believe in is principle. A man is only as good as his word. Whenever your name is spoken, whatever is said about you - that's what's important. So you should always strive to have a good name and do what you say you're gonna do. I live totally by the Jesus Christ theory of principle. There's God's law and there's man's law. They're totally two different things. I've never cared much for man's law. God's law is basically pretty simple. It's unchanging. You can't move the sun one inch. You can depend on it. You know it's gonna rise here and set there. It's the laws of cause and effect of nature.

REVIEW: You were a practicing Mormon though. You've been married a few times -- even at the same time - up to seven wives at one time. Wasn't one more than enough?

DAC: My Great Grandfather was a polygamist. I wanted to explore that lifestyle. It's a great lifestyle. Being a polygamist means that you have the freedom to have as many wives as you want. It doesn't mean you have to have more than one wife. It also means you don't have to have any wives at all. You can have one wife and be a polygamist.  People that are not involved in that lifestyle don't understand it. They just look at it like you're just having sex with all of these women. That's not what it's about. I was married to women I never had sex with!

REVIEW: But how did you handle living with seven wives? Wasn't there jealousy?

DAC: That's what polygamy does when you have more than one wife. It teaches you how to get rid of all of those negative feelings. They all had their own quarters. Among the wives they would figure out who was going to stay with you that night. It wasn't ever your choice to make. Whatever woman is there is there because she wants to be with you. You know one thing about it. You know that the woman with you isn't going to tell you she's on her period or has a headache.

REVIEW: What are you most proud of in your life?

DAC: That my children like me.

REVIEW: What is your biggest fear in life?

DAC: Death!

REVIEW: You're also known for your many colorful tattoos. Is it true that your "little David" is tattooed too?

DAC: They just had a show on CMT yesterday about the great myths of Country music and my daughter, Tanya Montana called me. I was number ten. There were two questions about me. One: Had I killed a man in prison? They said they could not prove or disprove it. The other was: Did I have a spider tattooed on my private parts? They had Carrot Top and all of these people talking about my private parts as a spider crawled across the screen.

REVIEW: So, is it true? Do you have a tattoo there?

DAC: Oh yeah - yeah!

REVIEW: You're also a tireless road warrior traveling around the country in your personal museum of a bus doing on average around 250 shows a year. Now at age 65, don't you get a little road weary? What keeps you going? It is love of what you do, the money or both?

DAC: I'm still doin' fine. It's the freedom. I enjoy it. It's the only thing I know how to do. I don't care anything about money.
 
REVIEW: With that many shows a year how do you keep things fresh and exciting for your audience and you?

DAC: I never do the same show twice.

REVIEW: What do you like to do in your down time?

DAC:  I do what I'm gonna do right now. I'm going to the casino and gamble.

REVIEW: You've got a new CD and DVD out, Live At Billy Bob's Texas as well as a double CD audio book called Whoopsy Daisy.

DAC: Anybody that grew up in the 1950s should be able to listen to Whoopsy Daisy and get a lot from it. There's a lot about my personality in it. Live At Billy Bob's Texas - same thing - the music and the interviews are a pretty good representation of David Allan Coe.

REVIEW: Thank you so very, very much David. It has been enlightening and a pleasure.

                                                                          

The photos of David Allan Coe and this interview are by the permission of, and the product and property of Kristofer Engelhardt. Engelhardt is a resident of Bay City, MI and author of the books: Beatles Undercover and From Grand Funk To Grace (The Authorized Biography of Mark Farner). Copies of the Grand Funk book signed by Mark Farner and the author, and the Beatles book are available by calling 989 686-1807 or e-mail: 6270@charter.net




 

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