It’s nearly impossible to have a conversation about the history of country music and not mention David Allan Coe.
A controversial figure no doubt, but even if you’re talking about a modern day star like Chris Stapleton, you’re talking about “Tennessee Whiskey,” and then what do you know… you’re indirectly (or maybe even directly) talking about David Allan Coe.
He was, and continues to be, a prominent figure in the outlaw country movement, but believe it or not, he actually got his start in blues music.
An ex-con who, ever since he was just nine years old, was in an out of prison, reform schools, foster care, and correctional facilities, Coe developed the talent to write songs and play music in prison, and when he finally got out in 1967, he made his way to Nashville for a shot at turning that talent into a career.
“By singing and composing songs, I kind of get the pressure off of me. Anybody can sing a song, but I try to live each song, and in my mind, I guess I really try to remember what it was like.”
And live them he did…
After a while, DAC got discovered busking outside the Ryman Auditorium while standing on a hearse (that he lived in), and was signed to Shelby Singleton’s Plantation Records.
And in 1970, he released his debut album, Penitentiary Blues, and today, I stumbled upon an old promotional video for the album, like a movie trailer of sorts.
Introducing David Allan Coe the musician, as well as David Allan Coe the person, this rare video gives fans insight into David Allan Coe well before anybody ever heard of him.
The introduction sums it all up:
“This is David Allan Coe… a man who knows lonely, a man who can appreciate sad, happy, bad times, good times. He’s an ex-con, 29 years old and the possessor of a 20 year record of existing behind stone walls and steel bars.
At the age of nine, David became the product of a broken home, being pushed from one relative to another, and finally becoming a ward of the state.
The remainder of his prison record reads basically the same as any other man who’s lived a life behind bars But the lonely hours of time brought Coe to write and sing songs of prison life, prison death, songs that earned him the name, The Singer.”
A major recording company has recorded an album and given him an incentive to be something that he once only dreamed of being. However, Coe’s outlook is still basically unchanged…”
If you’re a fan of David Allan Coe, or even if you’re not but love music history, this video is pretty damn cool.
The title track, “Penitentiary Blues.”