The day renegade country icon David Allan Coe rolled into South Georgia
David Allan Coe nimbly rode through South Georgia on June 19, 2010, delivering a solid set packed with songs showcasing classic outlaw country music. One of the best country songwriters unleashed in the latter part of the 20th century, Coe continues to perform up to a hundred dates annually. In case you’ve considered seeing the “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile” song stylist live in person but have never made the leap, the detailed review below provides the ultimate pre-show guide.
With his strong, baritone voice, Coe remained seated throughout the 75-minute show, the only factor underscoring his septuagenarian status. And Coe was unafraid to casually reveal that he was 70-years-old.
The outlaw’s appearance is unquestionably attention-getting. He wears a long, possibly three-foot golden-haired wig juxtaposed with a salt and pepper beard, braided into two beaded strands that go just past his belt buckle. A roadie is tasked with pulling the wig away from Coe’s guitar and face several times because of the wind. It is unintentionally hilarious.
Rose-colored glasses never leave his eyes, likely due to stage light sensitivity. Tattoos are all over the singer’s chest, arms, and hands. Dressed in all-black, a “David Allan Coe” emblem is visible on his left breast pocket — part of a sleeveless vest — until Coe donned a short-sleeve black shirt later in the show. An eye-catching, massive double-buckle belt completes the ensemble, rounding out his outlaw biker image. Maybe the bad ass, foreboding wardrobe is a turn-off for folks, but Coe’s discography and lyrics are unparalleled in country music.
Curious as to what a Coe concert would be like, a University of Georgia compadre of mine named Andrea shared a story that left me wondering whether my decision to attend was sagacious. Ten years earlier Coe performed at the American Legion in Albany, Georgia. Apparently drunk and belligerent, he swore repeatedly, yelled at band members, and refused to finish any songs. Andrea thought it was priceless that most of the concert-goers were elderly. She actually heard, “Why did ZZ Top decide to take Coe’s place?” Their memories of the younger, reasonably cleaner-cut 1970s-era Coe delivering the reflective ballad “Jody Like a Melody” were tough to erase.
Serendipitously, I encountered Coe on a good night. He had only two band members with him, Steve “Beef” Wood on steel guitar-electric guitar and Scott Stufflebam on drums. Coe’s son Tyler, the bandleader and guitarist for the group between 2001 and 2013, missed the show for unspecified reasons. Conspicuously, there was no bass player, but in a brief Facebook exchange Tyler explained, “We haven’t had a bass player for years now. If you listen to really old country records, you can’t hear the bass anyway.”
Perhaps this was for the best, since it made Wood and Stufflebam play with an added intensity and fire on the compact, definitely cramped stage. Coe’s sixth wife, Kimberly Hastings — known as “Ms. Kim” to fans, she and the redneck hero tied the knot inside the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas on April 18, 2010 — appeared midway to sing harmonies and add percussive tambourine. If the band had decided to shake and shimmy around, there would have been trouble.
Preceded by dual opening acts, Coe was greeted by an appreciative, unruly, and largely intoxicated crowd — perhaps as many as 3,000 — when he commanded the stage shortly before 10 p.m. The sound mix was fairly admirable, considering the constant whooping and shouting and Coe’s hearing issues, with each instrument and voice echoing clearly.
In spite of an almost unbearably hot, smoke-filled South Georgia night at the Sasser Flea Market, the opening chords of “San Francisco Mabel Joy” signaled an incredible evening in store. “Mabel Joy” is a 1971 Mickey Newbury song with references to Waycross, Georgia, which Coe recorded six years later for the Tattoo album. Coe prudently name-checked other Georgia references during the setlist, incorporating Billy Joe Shaver’s iconic “Georgia on a Fast Train” at the midway point.
Coe took no breaks, handling lead vocals on every song, and he incredibly drank bottled water only three times. He must have the constitution of Roy Rogers’ palomino Trigger. The musician rarely uttered a word, enabling his songs to provide a running commentary on his fascinating, never boring career. The show felt like one gigantic medley, since there were minimal pauses between songs.
There’s no written setlist for a Coe show, and the man himself starts each song on his black Dean Razorback Dimebag Classic electric guitar, specially designed by Pantera’s since-deceased lead axeman Dimebag Darrell.
“Jack Daniel’s, If You Please,” “The Ride,” “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” “Please Come to Boston,” “Get a Little Dirt on Your Hands,” “Ride ’Em Cowboy,” “Tennessee Whiskey,” and “If That Ain’t Country,” all classic Coe A-sides, earned considerable applause, but the songwriter didn’t stick with the hits. A familiar Coe song didn’t appear until six songs into the show, with “Jack Daniel’s” only meriting the first verse and chorus. A shame really, as the song is an undisputed classic.
Too many current artists only perform the meat and potatoes numbers at their shows, but Coe should be given credit for doing things his way and not adhering to a rigid formula. Out of 27 songs performed, the majority were hits for artists admired by Coe — Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Uncle Kracker, and Kid Rock.
All of the covers, aside from Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock, came from the late 1960s and 1970s, the golden age of the country music songwriter. The only exception was the oddball cover of “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight,” an early aughts chart-topper for Coe aficionado Toby Keith.
Most of the songs didn’t stray beyond the two or three-minute mark, allowing only occasional soloing. There are no extended jams at a Coe show until the band plays the artist off the stage at the finale.
In keeping words to a bare minimum, Coe waited over 20 minutes before acknowledging the excited concert-goers with a simple “thank you” immediately after the Coe anthem “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.”
And then the second Coe utterance arrived — “Sasser, Georgia, this greatest hits song is for you,” signaling the familiar intro of “Please Come to Boston.” The momentum never really wavered as the show progressed, with fans in the concrete pit area remaining on their feet.
Coe has never received enough credit for his skills as an interpreter of sad ballads, and nowhere was this more evident than during his show-stopping versions of “Always on My Mind,” Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” and “Storms Never Last.”
Kristofferson’s jewel marked the first appearance of another vocalist. Coe introduced her by saying, “Say hello to my pretty wife, Mrs. Kimberly Coe.” Before their marriage, Hastings was his background singer for close to 10 years. Admittedly her vocals didn’t always measure up to her husband’s. Coe is an overpowering force, and sometimes it was difficult to hear Ms. Kim. Yet their love was palpable. Originally a massive hit for Waylon Jennings’ wife Jessi Colter, a tender, delicate rendering of “Storms Never Last” echoed obvious comparisons to Johnny Cash and June Carter.
Towards the end, millennial artists Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock were given exposure. Kracker’s “Follow Me” and “Drift Away” were performed with inventive arrangements that had the crowd singing along. Coe has written somewhere in the neighborhood of five to six songs for Rock, and relaxed versions of “Picture” and “Only God Knows Why” did not seem out of place.
Coe pulled down the mask for his first conversation of the night. It was somewhat dismaying that he felt the need to be relevant by emphasizing his camaraderie with Kracker and Rock.
Coe chewed over his role “as a man named Gypsy Gene who had a pet monkey” in the 2008 film Beer for My Horses, starring Willie Nelson and Toby Keith. Coe recalled, “In a bar scene, they played one of my songs. I wrote it many, many years ago about my father. When my father died, I rewrote the song again, and it’s one of my favorite David Allan Coe songs” [Coe speaks about himself in the third person]. “If That Ain’t Country, Part 2” sounded pretty fantastic, too.
The culmination of the evening was a rip-roarin’ Southern Rock medley. “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post,” both career-defining songs by the Allman Brothers, were unveiled along with Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.”
The audience was screaming for more as Coe introduced his band members. He added, “We’re the David Allan Coe Band, glad you got to come and see me. Thanks kindly.” Coe slowly exited the stage while Wood’s Fender Telecaster soloing and Stufflebam’s drum kit prolonged “Whipping Post.”
I stuck around after the show, listening to the crunch of people stepping on empty beer cans. Venturing into the backstage area, the band members graciously provided their autographs. Coe and Ms. Kim had already boarded their tour bus.
Still wishing for a mini miracle, a handful of fellow hopefuls milled around the bus. A young couple waved a Coe album in front of the bus doors — to my astonishment the partition swung open and there stood Ms. Kim. I hurriedly pressed forward and waved my setlist notebook in the air, asking Ms. Kim if she would be willing to autograph. Obliging, she carried my notebook into the bus as the doors swung shut.
Security requested that everybody leave, and the possibility of my journal taking an extended vacation out of Georgia only compounded my burgeoning anxiety. Within a couple of minutes the doors unfastened and there stood Ms. Kim, smiling with my prized possession.
As she bade so long, I opened the journal and astonishingly discovered a further signature — David Allan Coe was written in blood red ink. Collecting my thoughts, I shouted, “Thank you, Mr. Coe!” Firmly planted behind the wheel, Coe faintly muttered that he had to depart as he permanently pulled the doors back together.
Reaching the intersection of the long and winding dirt road, the lumbering behemoth temporarily ground to a halt before disappearing into the humidity-soaked midnight hour. Perhaps the looming highway roadblocks and flashing blue lights conducting breathalyzer tests provoked penitentiary blues. Be that as it may, you’ll be kicking yourself come morning if you pass up the opportunity to experience Coe onstage before he’s no longer around like so many of his contemporaries.
[Author’s Note: On March 19, 2013, nearly three years after the South Georgia show, Coe received broken ribs, bruised kidneys, and head trauma when a semi truck crashed into him at an Ocala, Florida, city intersection. Miraculously recovering, four months later the “Don’t Cry, Darlin’” singer unleashed a volley of criticisms directed at his band, family, and friends while onstage at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic at Billy Bob’s Texas. Believing everybody had deserted him in his time of distress besides his wife, Coe announced that he had an entirely new band supporting him. Son Tyler Coe countered the accusations with a detailed post on his Baby Black Widows blog. In June 2016 the avid gambler narrowly avoided yet another prison sentence — this time courtesy of the Internal Revenue Service. Pleading guilty to one count of income tax evasion — unscrupulous club owners had apparently screwed Coe in the past so he demanded that his road manager collect concert fees only in hard cash—Coe was ordered to pay nearly $1 million in restitution and sentenced to three years probation. One wonders if the Red Headed Stranger, a frequent IRS adversary in the late ’80s, ever warned his pal].
Setlist: David Allan Coe, Sasser Flea Market, Sasser, Georgia, June 19, 2010
- “San Francisco Mabel Joy” [written by Mickey Newbury; on Coe’s 1977 Tattoo album]
- “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” [written by Mel Tillis; recorded by Coe in the early ’70s with producer Shelby Singleton, who purchased Sun Records from Sam Phillips]
- “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right)” [Vern Gosdin]
- “I Can Get Off On You” [Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson]
- “Mama Tried” [Merle Haggard; on Coe’s 1994 Truckin’ Outlaw]
- “Jack Daniel’s, If You Please” [No. 72 C&W, on Coe’s 1978 Human Emotions]
- “Amanda” [recorded by Waylon Jennings; on Coe’s 2002 Live at the Iron Horse]
- “The Ride” [No. 4 C&W, on Coe’s 1983 Castles in the Sand]
- “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” [No. 8 C&W, on Coe’s 1975 Once Upon a Rhyme]
- “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight” [Toby Keith]
- “Please Come to Boston” [Dave Loggins; 1976 B-side of Coe’s “Willie, Waylon, and Me”]
- “Lucille” [recorded by Kenny Rogers]
- Medley: “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” / “Branded” [Merle Haggard; on Coe’s Lonesome Fugitive, 1994]
- “Get a Little Dirt on Your Hands” [No. 46 C&W, on Coe’s 1980 I’ve Got Something to Say]
- “Georgia on a Fast Train” [written by Billy Joe Shaver and recorded by Johnny Cash]
- “Always on My Mind” [recorded by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson]
- “Help Me Make It Through the Night” [Kris Kristofferson]
- “Ride ’Em Cowboy” [David Allan Coe, No. 48 C&W, 1983]
- “Storms Never Last” [written by Jessi Colter; on Coe’s 1986 Son of the South]
- “Tennessee Whiskey” [David Allan Coe, No. 77 C&W, on 1981’s Tennessee Whiskey]
- “Drift Away” [recorded by Dobie Gray and Uncle Kracker]
- “Follow Me” [Uncle Kracker; on Coe’s 2003 Live at Billy Bob’s]
- Medley: “Only God Knows Why” / “Picture” [Kid Rock]
- “If That Ain’t Country, Part 2” [on Coe’s 2003 Live at Billy Bob’s]
- “Only God Knows Why” [reprise]
- Southern Rock Medley
· “Midnight Rider” [Allman Brothers Band]
· “Can’t You See” [Marshall Tucker Band]
· “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” [Waylon Jennings]
· “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” [Waylon Jennings]
· “We’re an American Band” [Grand Funk Railroad]
· “Whipping Post” [Allman Brothers Band]
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