Beginning at age 9, he spent 20 years in and out of various correctional facilities before beginning his music career in 1968, as a Blues singer. Penitentiary Blues is about Coe's experiences in prison. He began recording Country Music in the early '70s. His music anticipated the "fuck you" attitude of Punk Rock, and proved influential on alt-country, especially the bands that attempted to fuse punk and country. Coe's music and attitude was not only formed from Country, but from blues and early rock and roll.
Controversially, Coe recorded a pair of X-rated country albums called Underground Album and Nothing Sacred. His legacy has been cemented by influencing the Groove Metal band Panteranote , rapper and singer Kid Rock and Neo Classical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly artist Hank Williams III.
Coe's son, Tyler Mahan Coe, has also made a name for himself, but not as a musician; He's the host of the critically acclaimed country music journalism podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones. Tyler has yet to cover his father in an episode, in part because they're somewhat estranged from one another, but he also feels too close to David's story to report on it objectively.
David Allan Coe provides examples of the following tropes:
- Afterlife Express and Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: Reversed and combined for his 1983 top-5 country hit "The Ride," as Coe fills the shoes of a young hitchhiker who, while hitchhiking from small-town Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee, has an encounter with the ghost of Hank Williams.
- Bleached Underpants: Shel Silverstein served as "the devil on Coe's shoulder" inspiring Coe to record some X-rated country songs. The albums were basically a joke and didn't make him much money. They were sold through ads in biker magazines, and now through his website.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The spoken interlude on "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" includes Coe's discussion of the song with its writers, and how it was "the perfect country and western song".
- Caught with Your Pants Down: "Masturbation Blues" is about this.
- Gay Aesop: "Fuck Anita Bryant" is one of the first pro-gay rights songs.
- Heavy Meta: "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" is a parody of the notion that Country songs are all trucks, trains and getting drunk.
- N-Word Privileges: Coe's defense of these lyrics was that they were not meant to be taken seriously, and that the drummer on these tracks was African American and married to a white woman:
- Coe's 1977 single "If That Ain't Country" contains the line "workin' like a nigger".
- If the above line doesn't sound too offensive, there's "Nigger Fucker", in which the narrator bemoans that his spouse left him for a black man because the black man was better in bed than the narrator.
- If you're still not offended, "Rails" contains the lyrics "niggers made me vote for segregation" and "the Ku Klux Klan is bigger, so take the sheets of of your bed and let's go hang a nigger". Even though this was supposed to be a satire, it still Crosses the Line Twice.
- Neo Classical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Recorded the album Rebel Meets Rebel, which is essentially Coe fronting Pantera. Read more on Coe's style in general here.
- Take That!:
- Jimmy Buffett accused Coe of ripping off his "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes" and turning it into Coe's "Divers Do It Deeper". Coe responded by writing the song "Jimmy Buffett", which appeared on the X-rated album Nothing Sacred. Coe essentially called Buffett a poser, mocked Buffett for moving from Key West, Florida to Malibu, California but continuing to represent himself as being a part of Key West culture (Coe still lived in Key West after Buffett moved to California), and suggested that they "get drunk and screw".
- Just as controversial was the song he wrote for Johnny Paycheck, "Take This Job and Shove It" ... essentially a big "fuck you" (although the F-word indeed appears nowhere in the lyrics) to corporate hierarchy and the poor working conditions, verbal abuse, etc. the average working man has to endure on a daily basis; and while those workers have to work hard for low pay, the big boss man gets to sit in his cushy office enjoying the high life and looking down upon whom he essentially views as peons and cretins, if not other names for low-life forms. Even in 1978, the year the song became a big hit for Paycheck, radio hosts such as Bob Kingsley (of American Country Countdown) were calling "... Shove It" a "political statement" that stood up for the blue-collar working man. (Incidentally, years later Coe accused Paycheck of ripping off his song and calling him a "has been" in his (Coe's) re-recording of "... Shove It," despite the fact Paycheck and his recording label Epic Records had always correctly credited Coe as the song's sole composer.)