About a year before "The Ride" hit, however, the cumulative effect of three failed marriages with a fourth foundering badly, bankruptcy, a reputation as a bar brawler and the constant pitched battle with Nashville finally felled the big outlaw.
"I had a nervous breakdown," Coe admits simply, slowly. "I was living for months in a field in Big Water, Utah, totally lost, not talking to anyone. I had nothing." The always-inventive Coe, who is--no fooling--an accomplished magician, just couldn't conjure up a way out on his own, and he credits friends with rescuing him.
"June Carter Cash got a message to me," Coe relates. "It said that if I didn't call her or someone within three hours, she was sending the FBI in after me." But, truly, what put him back on track was his gradual realization that it was all right for the Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy to share his life with wife Jody Lynn.
"I'd always loved her, but I had run from that love," Coe says frankly. "I was afraid to admit I couldn't make it without her."
It would take all of Jody Lynn's personal strength and business savvy--she runs all of the Coes' various ventures, including a publishing company and record label--to carry her husband through the next few, fragile years. After a couple of post-Ride" albums, Columbia dumped David Allan Coe, and he's been without a major-label contract since.
Perhaps the most devastating blow came just about a month ago, when the televised Country Music Association Celebration of Country Music--the latest in a pathetic series of Nashville's chicken-choking self-love fests--tapped John Anderson to perform "The Ride" in its tribute to Hank Williams. The slight shook Coe, who, since having been plucked from the wilds of Utah, has vowed to be a kinder, gentler Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy.
He's become the model father he'd always thought he could be--the Family Coe numbers six, with two of the four kids coming from one of his previous marriages. He's moved his clan to healthy-as-heck Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and has performed magic and music in Branson. The Harleys are garaged. He's made a musicless videotape about his magic, which he continues to sell on the road--along with a couple of self-produced albums and his self-published novel, Psychopath.
Coe claims that despite its title, his novel is not autobiographical. Coe says that while in prison, his gym teacher was the celebrated Dr. Sam Sheppard, who in the Sixties was imprisoned for murdering his wife. According to Coe, Sheppard claimed to have seen a bushy-haired man wearing a ski mask running from his home. About a decade later, Sheppard was released for having had his rights violated, and died a couple of years later from cancer. The main character in Psychopath is based upon the man Sheppard says killed his wife.
In short, David Allan Coe is working harder than ever.
But Nashville is as long of memory as it is stunted of heart. Coe knows this, and wants to cool his Outlaw image as much as possible.
"I'm 53 years old, have a family to support, and I've made all the stands a man can make," Coe declares. "I've made up my mind to become a commercial success as a writer, singer, producer and everything else. I plan to achieve against all the odds. A year from now, I'll be at the awards shows."
Such a feat--for Coe or anyone else at such an age--would certainly be an odds-buster. Coe's favorite hobby is gambling--mostly horses and slots--and he's never been a fool. He knows the tenor in Nashville. Accordingly, he's tempered his vitriolic condemnation of that place a great deal--at least by Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy standards.
"There's not a lot of originality there," he says calmly, coolly. "It's been sold to Japan and New York. Lately, they've taken to creating stars out of nobodies. They've made a bunch of Fabians. It's all marketing. There are some great young artists, of course--Joe Diffie, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, my old band, Confederate Railroad, are the real thing. But all the older artists have been frozen out. Hell, most of those youngsters think Lefty Frizzell was a baseball player."
Despite his assertions that he is a changed man, there's evidence that some of the smoldering genius of the old Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy is back. The self-produced work of the past few years has largely been a failed exploration of sweetness and light. Those who remember Coe with his all-female band, the houses packed with bikers and the remarkable, unpredictable shows may have been put off by some of his recent work.