Tyler Mahan Coe spent thirteen years with the David Allan Coe Band, riding around the country with nothing to do but read books on the history of country music artists and institutions. As a result, Coe says he has "all these stories sitting around in my head" and decided to share them with fellow music lovers on his new podcast, Cocaine & Rhinestones. The first season will cover the musical partnership of Buck Owens and Don Rich, the three major players of “Harper Valley PTA," Wynonna Judd’s path from childhood through The Judds to her solo career, Doug and Rusty Kershaw, Spade Cooley (who tortured and murdered his wife), The Louvin Brothers and an episode dedicated to everything Ralph Mooney did for the entire genre of country music. With the first few podcasts already receiving a tremendous response, Coe kindly took the time to answer a few questions via email about the podcast, the stories he plans to share, and more.
First up, what is the significance of the name Cocaine & Rhinestones?
Well, I’m certainly not advocating the use of either one… Um, there’s a lot I could say here. The name means several different things to me. People think of cocaine as a seventies drug or an eighties drug but, as you can hear in the song I use at the very end of most episodes, it’s been around for much longer than that, particularly with musicians. Really, when you hang around the old-timers, cocaine use and rhinestone suits are always going to come up. They’re either talking about how they did blow or someone else did blow, they had rhinestones suits or they didn’t go in for that look. The name needed to be something where anyone who is already a fan of old country music would immediately know what to expect when they saw the name. Like I said, there are many different ways to interpret the name and, at least for all the ones I’ve thought about, that is very much intentional.
Cocaine & Rhinestones covers incredibly interesting stories in music history, what spurred this new venture?
Well, I never really listened to podcasts or audiobooks or talk radio - anything with people talking - because I’m always multi-tasking and can’t pay attention. But a lifetime of playing guitar with poor posture has left me with a lot of lower back/hip problems and, about a year ago, I came upon an effective form of physical therapy I could do at home each night. It took an hour or two where I couldn’t really “multi-task,” so I started listening to podcasts during that time. I mostly prefer scripted, narrative things to the “one or several people having a conversation with microphones” format of podcasts. After a couple months of this, I realized I was breaking down the episodes as I was hearing them. Their outline, format, structure - whatever you want to call it - I could see it as I was listening just as plainly as if the script were in my hands. I thought, “I can do that,” and decided to give it a try.
How did you decide what/who you want to cover? Why do events in music history appeal to you?
It all kind of happened in the same moment. As soon as I realized how stories are told in podcast form, the next thought was, “Oh, and I know 10,000 stories that no other podcast is telling.” It wasn’t a matter of deciding to make a podcast and then going out to find out about all this stuff. My entire life has quite sincerely been lived in and around country music. Some of the stuff I’ll be talking about, I was there and saw it happen. But I’ve also been reading musician autobiographies and critical volumes on the genre since I was 12. I knew there weren’t any other podcasts about the history of country music because that was one of the first things I’d looked for when trying to find things to listen to myself. So, once you choose any topic as huge as The History of Country Music, the only decision you have to make is do you start at the beginning and work your way to the end in chronological order? Or do you go non-linear, choose places to jump in-and-out until the bigger picture becomes clear to the audience? I chose the latter.
Do you have a favorite story that you plan on covering?
Just in thinking about what episodes are in the first season, I would say every single one of them was The Best Story in the World to me when I was in the research/writing phase. I don’t know if the show would even work at all if that wasn’t the case. Which is to say, if the podcast is interesting then I feel that would be because I am so entirely interested in it. But if you asked me that for people who might want to check out the show and aren’t sure where to start, I would say start at the beginning with Ernest Tubb deciding to shoot the ex-Grand Ole Opry manager, Jim Denny. There’s a lot of “world building” that happens in that episode. I don’t think it’s possible to understand country music at all without an understanding of backstage politics at the Grand Ole Opry, what Music Row is, why a sharecropper’s son would throw his entire life into music, etc.
How do you prepare for each episode? Is there a lot of research involved?
I spend at least 100 hours on each episode. There’s sort-of an implied theme of the show, which you can hear in the intro where I say, “I’ve heard these stories my whole life. As far as I can tell, here’s the truth about this one.” That’s in there because stories always get messed up in the retelling. Once you get 3-4 iterations away from the actual source, there’s no telling what’s been added or what context is missing. So, even if I feel like I have some story absolutely down pat, I will still fact check every detail that can be fact checked, ask “Why did this happen? Is that interesting?” at every turn, etc. There’s always more. I gather up every little piece and then start throwing things out one at a time.
You're a few episodes in, how has the response been?
The podcast hit the Top 10 in Music over the first weekend that it was in iTunes. I don’t really care about things like my ranking versus that of other shows but that one blew me away. You know, there really has not ever been a podcast on the history of country music, so part of me thought that might be because the world of podcasts and the world of traditional country music are entirely separate worlds. I knew there would be some audience for the show but I did not know if it would be a very big audience at all. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s unexpected because I’m a very self-critical person. When I listen to an episode, all I hear is the mistakes that I know are in there. The night before the first episode went public, when I was uploading it - I can not describe how nerve wracking of an experience that was for me because I was not confident in any way that the show was even good.
Who are some of your favorite 20th C country musicians?
Thank you for asking for “some” instead of one because I could never pick one. I’m the type of music fan that goes through obsessive phases where I only listen to a select few artists for months at a time and then do a different group for the next few months. So these are not my “all time favorites” but right now I’m really hardcore into Wynn Stewart, Tom T. Hall, Jeannie C. Riley, Webb Pierce, The Louvin Brothers and Rusty & Doug. All of those people are featured in the first season of Cocaine & Rhinestones, so you’ll be able to hear more about why I love them so much and even clips of some of their best stuff. Naturally, I have to listen to hours of the music for every artist I cover and these are the ones I couldn’t put back down when I moved on to other episodes. Oh, and there’s this George Jones album that I listen to every day. It’s called George Jones Sings the Songs of Dallas Frazier. In my opinion that is the greatest George Jones album, from beginning to end. No filler.
For more information and to listen to the podcast, visit HERE
CR 001 is about the time Ernest Tubb decided to shoot ex-Grand Ole Opry manager Jim Denny. Listen: CR website - iTunes - Stitcher
CR 002 is about Loretta Lynn’s banned song which became a hit anyway, “The Pill.”
Listen: CR website - iTunes - Stitcher