David Allan Coe
Saturday, January 26
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Better Than: An awkward car trip with the ghost of a country legend.
Saturday was the first time I’d seen David Allan Coe since a show he did in Fort Worth, at Billy Bob’s Texas. It was his first gig there after a 20-year ban, his sentence for once performing a song called “Nigger Fucker.” The night of his return, he was so belligerently drunk that I honestly wondered if he would die right in front of us, right there on stage. His handlers propped him up on a chair, strapped a guitar to him, and pointed a microphone in his direction. Moving only to sip his bourbon, he slurred through lyrics, stopping several times when he forgot the words to songs he’s sung for more than 30 years. He refused to play any of his popular songs (by popular, I mean full-on sing-along anthems to country music fans). At one point, he appeared to cry as he mumbled about the death of his good friend, Waylon Jennings. I thought I was witnessing the final days of an American icon.
But at 68-years-old, DAC showed up at the Culture Room Saturday to prove he is still alive and ready for a bar brawl. With white hair down to his hips and chin hair braided red, white and blue – so long he has to push it aside to strum – he walked on stage and flicked off the audience. Then he leaned over his belt buckle, picked up his electric guitar (painted like a rebel flag) and began rocking.
A few things about “the original rhinestone cowboy”. He has the jaded past clichéd country songs are made of. His history includes considerable time in prison in Ohio, horribly racist behavior (see the aforementioned song title), and a life-long struggle with all sorts of intoxicants (see the subject of most of his songs). He even says he taught Charles Manson how to play guitar when they both were doing time for boosting cars. But this same outlaw train wreck is also a legendary songwriter. He’s written tunes for Johnny Paycheck, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, George Jones, Tanya Tucker, Hank Williams Jr., and Elvis. His blue-collar ditties like “Jack Daniels If You Please” and “Take This Job and Shove It” are staples on dive bar jukeboxes across the country – the latter even being made into a movie where DAC played a small role. He is often called THE white-trash poet.
So it was good to see him walking around cognizant, sober and ready to play the goose-bump-giving, tear-jerking outlaw country only a handful of cowboys can still crank out (the others being maybe Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver and Jerry Jeff Walker). He went from song to song like a chain smoker lighting each cigarette from the previous butt. His entire set was essentially one long medley. He threw in heavy-metal-ish covers of all the country gods: Johnny, Willie, Waylon and Merle. He also covered his friends Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker, along with (no shit) Eminem.
It was an eclectic crowd – lots of Harley riders, lots of rebel flags, lots of camouflage baseball hats, plenty of yuppies in polos, plenty of frat boys in flip-flops. And DAC gave them what they wanted to hear. He played most of the hits that comprise his more than a dozen “greatest hits” albums.
He barked out the words to “The Ride” – about a trip in a Cadillac receiving advice from the spooky ghost of Hank Williams: Can you make folks cry when you play and sing? Have you paid your dues? Can you moan the blues? Can you bend theme guitar strings? Can you make folks feel what you feel inside? If you’re big-star bound, let me warn you it’s a long hard ride.
Well DAC doesn’t quite make people feel like he used to. His live show doesn’t sound nearly as good as any recording he’s done. He doesn’t play quite as well and he can’t quite belt out those sad songs the same way he could. But he is definitely sweet, sloppy proof it is, indeed, a long hard ride.
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Personal Bias: As stated, he has a horribly racist history and he isn’t any kind of apologetic about it. He is also a fellow Texan.
Random Detail: DAC didn’t play any of the songs off “Rebel Meets Rebel,” an album he recorded with fellow Texans Pantera before guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered.
By the Way: DAC’s country-style cover of Kid Rock’s quasi-trite ballad, “Only God Knows Why” is exponentially better than anything Kid Rock ever did or anything he will ever do. And not just because Dallas is better than Detroit.