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David Allan Coe rebuts racism charge

By Tom Netherland, November 2000

David Allan Coe may be the most controversial musician in country music history. Not even Western Swing pioneer Spade Cooley, who was convicted of murdering his wife as their daughter watched, has received as much notorious press as Coe.

Prison time. Tattoos and scars. Motorcycle gangs. Cheatin' songs, drinkin' songs and a famously nasty attitude long ago marked Coe as country's outlaw.

Oh, and then there's the matter of a pair of X-rated albums that he released in the mid '70's, "Underground" and "Nothing Sacred."

They were sold exclusively via the back pages of Easyriders magazine, a bikers publication. For years, few uttered a peep about such songs as "Masturbation Blues," "I Made Linda Lovelace Gag" and "N****r F****r," which disparaged African-Americans who date white women.

Until now. A recent New York Times article by Neil Strauss blasted Coe, the father of seven, saying the albums were "among the most racist, misogynist, homophobic and obscene songs recorded by a popular songwriter."

Coe says they never interviewed him for the story, that they wrote a story devoid of his side. He's dying to give his side.

According to the Times story, Coe's manager was contacted, but spoke only off the record.

"I wrote the guy (Strauss), and he didn't even acknowledge that I'd sent him an answer," Coe, 61, says by phone from his Daytona Beach, Fla. home. "I just told them that they could say whatever they wanted to about me, but they couldn't call me a racist or white supremacist because that wasn't true."

"I've got a black drummer who's married to a white chick," Coe says. "I've got (black, former heavyweight boxing champion) Leon Spinks' pictures all over my bus, pictures he took with my family. My hair's in dreadlocks. I'm the farthest thing from a white supremacist that anybody could ever be. I'm really (ticked) off, ya know."

Yet Coe, who says he served 22 years in various reform schools and prisons for crimes ranging from armed robbery to car theft (he also claimed to have been on death row for killing another inmate), now sells the albums via his Web site and concerts. For a pretty penny, too.

Still, he says that that's beyond his doing, that he doesn't make a dime on them.

"I don't make one cent off my songs that I wrote," Coe says.

Not even his biggest songwriting success, "Take This Job and Shove It," a 1977 hit for Johnny Paycheck. "That was all taken away in bankruptcy proceedings. All the songs on the X-rated albums were sold. I don't own that stuff anymore. I have nothing to do with that stuff. They have to give me credit as the songwriter, but I don't make one cent."

And as for sales of the album itself?

"Even with my shows, my own concessions at my shows, I gave my rights to my road manager Bruce Smith," Coe claims. "He sells all the concessions, and they pay me $1,000 a week from which I pay the fuel and motel bills. So really, the only income I make is from the road."

Coe, who first achieved recognition for writing Tanya Tucker's number one hit in 1973, "Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone)," says the controversial songs came about years ago, pretty much by chance.

He says he wrote them on a lark with the songs meant to be bawdy-but-fun.

"I was living in Key West, Fla.," Coe says. "Shel Silverstein (writer of Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," among many others) was a friend of mine, and Shel had just (written) an album (for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show) called 'Freakin' at the Freakers Ball.' He was playing that album for me, and I said, 'Shel, if you think that that shit's cool, listen to this shit.'"

The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy (that was the persona he adopted in the 1970's, which included wearing a mask) played one song after another for Silverstein, who at one time also wrote jokes for Playboy magazine and later authored a number of best-selling children's books.

"He just fell over laughing," Coe says. "'David, you've got to record that shit.' He talked me into going into the studio and recording the first (X-rated) album that I did. We decided to only sell it through Easyriders magazine, and we gave them so much for every album that was sold. That's the only place we promoted those records."

They quickly became underground smashes.

"We probably sold 200-300,000 of it," Coe says. "When I was living in Key West, I was working six months a year and taking off six months off and just living off the money I was making from those albums."

As vinyl fell from prominence with the advent of CDs, the albums gradually faded. Yet, they soon became collectors items.

Then, along came the Internet. With such auction sites as ebay.com, the albums were again available. For as much as $100 per album, folks started to snap them up again.

Shortly thereafter, Coe started selling the albums via his Web site and shows, but this time on CD. Until the Internet came along, except for Coe's staunchest fans, few knew of the albums' existence.

Hence, the Times' 20-years late critical piece on the albums.

Coe says that the Times' piece has wrongly spurred debate about whether he's a racist. He says that that's the biggest misconception about him.

"My drummer, Kerry Brown, is black. His father is (blues musician) Gatemouth Brown," Coe says. "Kerry is married to a white woman. His dad is married to a white woman. The things they say just doesn't make sense. My hair is in dreadlocks down to my waist. 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.'"

Coe sighs. Despite having commercially released a song in which he sings "workin' like a nigger," (1977's "If That Ain't Country"), he's beside himself regarding the criticism levied against him.

"I see where they're talking about (rap artist) Eminem and his album ("The Marshall Mathers LP"). His lyrics are pretty strong in every direction, they he has the number one album," Coe says. "It's cool about his killing his wife in a song, it's cool for all that stuff to go down."

Coe has spent time with another famous artist, Kid Rock. Coe also recently recorded songs with him and opened shows for him.

Rap musicians say the "N" word all the time, Coe says, yet face little to no retribution. Their lyrics, he says, go much, much further than his for a pair of albums that were never meant for widespread consumer availability in the first place. Yet, for him, Coe says he gets the shaft. While others such as Eminem make millions and grace such magazine covers as Rolling Stone, they call Coe a racist.

"It's against everything that I am," he says.