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Coe was born in Akron, Ohio on September 6, 1939. His favorite singer as a child was Johnny Ace. After being sent to a reform school at the age of 9, he spent much of the next 20 years in correctional facilities. Coe received encouragement to begin writing songs from Screamin' Jay Hawkins, with whom he had spent time in prison. Coe was treated poorly by racist inmates because he was friends with African American prisoners. After concluding another prison term in 1967, Coe embarked on a music career in Nashville, living in a hearse which he parked in front of the Ryman Auditorium, where the Grand Ole Opry was located, and caught the attention of the independent record label Plantation Records, and signed a contract with the label.
After the Internal Revenue Service seized his home in Key West, Florida, Coe lived in a cave in Tennessee, and later remarried and got back on his feet.
In 1968, Coe released his debut album, Penitentiary Blues, followed by a tour with Grand Funk Railroad. Although he developed a cult following with his performances, he was not able to develop any mainstream success, but other performers achieved charting success by recording songs Coe had written, including Billie Jo Spears' 1972 recording "Souvenirs & California Mem'rys" and Tanya Tucker's 1973 single "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)," which was a number one hit, and responsible for Coe becoming one of Nashville's hottest songwriters and Coe himself being signed by Columbia Records. Coe recorded his own version of the song for his second Columbia album, Once Upon a Rhyme, released in 1975. Allmusic writer Thom Jurek said of the song, "The amazing thing is that both versions are definitive." The album also contained a cover of Steve Goodman's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name," which was a Top Ten Billboard hit, and was followed by a string of moderately successful hits.
Coe was a featured performer in Heartworn Highways, a 1975 documentary film by James Szalapski. Other performers featured in this film included Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young, Steve Earle, and The Charlie Daniels Band. In 1977 Johnny Paycheck released a cover of Coe's "Take This Job And Shove It," which was a number one hit and Coe's most successful song.
The Rialto Theatre Presents
$25 general admission advance
$27 general admission day of show
* prices may be subject to service fees