Podcaster meets podcaster in the latest episode of Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor, which features a wide-ranging interview with Cocaine and Rhinestones host Tyler Mahan Coe.
Along with Shiflett’s announcement that he’s been working on a new solo album in Nashville with producer Dave Cobb, he heaps praise on Coe’s thoroughly researched and compellingly presented podcast.
“This is my favorite podcast in the world. I think it’s the best podcast that exists right now,” he says.
Coe, the son of country singer David Allan Coe, gamely discusses the painstaking process of assembling the first season of the series, the extensive archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Charlie Louvin’s autobiography and, of course, the art of telling stories.
Here are a few of the highlights from their conversation, followed by a premiere of the new episode.
Country music’s Outlaw era, the subject of a new Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit, is frequently misunderstood and mischaracterized.
“It’s the inverse of people wanting to build these outlaws up into these crazy, wild, larger-than-life personalities,” says Coe. “Don’t get me wrong, I love that era of the genre – it’s some of the best music ever made, but at a certain point the word ‘outlaw’ brings some connotations with it that people really aren’t meeting that criteria.”
Coe wants to bring greater understanding to country music history while also treating his subjects humanely and fairly.
“It’s very easy for me to put myself in the shoes of the people I’m talking about because I’ve done most of these things. I’ve been most of these places. I’ve stood on most of these stages,” says Coe, who joined his father’s band as a teenager. “It’s a parallel experience. It’s very easy for me to identify with feeling misunderstood and I feel like country music entirely has been misunderstood in the mainstream culture of America. As far as not being gossipy or leaning into the dark stuff, again, it’s the history of country music – it’s not the history of questionable behavior. If a story is in some way relevant to what I need to talk about in order to change the understanding about something then I’ll get into it. I will talk about Merle Haggard smoking pot because it brings context to the line, ‘We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.'”
Coe worked on the first season of the podcast in secret, so as not to build up expectations.
“I think it took me around seven to nine months to make this first season and no one knew I was working on a podcast at all, let alone one on country music,” he says. When you spend that much time with something – if you spend nine months making an album, first of all that’s way too long to be spending on an album, but second of all you will not have any clue at the end of that nine months whether what you’ve just made is good or not. You will have no idea because you’ve been around it too much. Uploading the first episode of the podcast [was] the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was absolutely terrifying. I didn’t want to take extra steps to get more eyes on it, so I really just posted it on Facebook.”
There’s a second season of Cocaine and Rhinestones on the way and one of country’s greatest voices figures into it.
“I’m getting deep into George Jones. I’m sort of planning on bouncing back and forth between different approaches of shedding light in dark corners, and then reframing the picture that we all think we already know when it comes to the big names, skipping back and forth between those two things.”
The Country Music Hall of Fame contains thousands of stories yet to be told.
“One thing the Hall of Fame has been doing I think since at least the Eighties is having industry vets come in and basically doing a brain dump of their entire career into what they’re calling an oral transcript,” says Coe, who was invited to use the museum’s archives for research purposes. “They’ll have an artist or a songwriter or a producer, a member of the Nashville A-team session musicians, radio DJs. It’s not a magazine thing where it’s, let’s do this in an interesting way where people will want to read it to promote the next album you have coming out. It’s just – sit down, who did it, when did they do it, who else was there, whose idea was this. It’s just what I need. I would say almost all of this stuff is not in books.”
Charlie Louvin’s autobiography Satan Is Real, written with Benjamin Whitmer, is a great place to learn about what being a country singer was like at the mid-point of the 1900s.
“That might be my favorite my favorite country music autobiography,” says Coe. “I’ve been contacted by the author that worked with him on it. He had all these tapes of recorded conversations with Charlie, and Charlie passed before it was even finished. What is so incredible about that Charlie Louvin book is that it was sort of scrambled together under not optimal conditions. This is the worst case scenario if you’ve been attached to help an artist write their autobiography is that they die before you get done. I would recommend anyone to read that book. It’s such a perfect picture of all of it – just what country music meant, what the Grand Ole Opry meant to some poor kids in Alabama and how it impacted their lives and became the focal point of all their hopes and dreams and an American success story. They get there.”