Top Ten Thursdays: Top 10 Musicians Who Have Served Time in Prison
Many famous musicians have spent a day or three in jail for driving
drunk, holding drugs, or something really stupid. But only the select
few have spent a serious stretch of time in prison, which brings us to
David Allan Coe. The original country outlaw performs Friday at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale.
confirmed Coe did time at Ohio State Penitentiary and he has famously
claimed to have been on death row for killing a man who attempted to
procure a blow job from him -- this has not been confirmed or proven
false. Although Coe is a redneck renegade who penned "Take This Job and
Shove It," recorded the 1970s smash "You Never Even called Me By My
Name" and recorded an album with the members of Pantera, he's by no
means the greatest recording artist to do hard time. Here's a highly
subjective list of the greatest musicians who worried about being some
bulky dude's bitch.
1. Chuck Berry
One of the great pioneers of rock 'n' roll -- if not the greatest --
spent 1959-63 in prison for violating the Mann Act, which prohibits
pimping and "white slavery." Basically, it appears Berry got busted
because he was a black man with a ton of white teenage fans. No saint,
though, Berry had already done about three years behind bars from age
18 to 21 for carjacking, a crime he admits to committing in his
autobiography. In 1979, Berrry returned to the Big House -- via tax
evasion -- for four months.
Chuck Berry performing a sizzling "Johnny B. Goode" in 1958. Clip
includes great quotes from Keith Richards, Gregg Allman and Dickey
2. Fela Kuti
Afrobeat inventor and political radical Fela Kuti served 20 months in a
Nigerian prison for pretty much being a wildly popular figure who
opposed the military government.
Kuti on keyboards/vocals leading his killer band through "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense."
3. Merle Haggard
When Johnny Cash came to play San Quentin Merle Haggard was there -- as
an inmate. Cash eventually convinced Hag to go public about his prison
past and the two remained close until Cash's death. In the late 1950s,
a pre-fame Hag did three years in San Quentin -- including a stint in
solitary confinement for brewing beer. Crime? Robbing a tavern.
Hag on the The Johnny Cash Show. The two country heroes duet on Hag's
"Sing Me Back Home," a most poignant song based on an exchange the
songwriter had in prison with a man about to be executed.
This writer's favorite rapper of the 1990s did 11 months in 1995 for
allegedly sexually assaulting/sodomizing a woman. While behind bars, he
became the only artist to have a No. 1 record -- the masterful Me
Against the World -- while in lockdown. No word on how he celebrated.
The official video for "Dear Mama," the Me Against the World's stirring hit single.
5. Phil Spector
The architect of the Wall of Sound produced more rad records than
pretty much anyone other than Jerry Wexler and Rick Rubin. You've
probably heard: He's currently serving hard time for shooting
hostess/actress Lana Clarkson.
The Crystals performing "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)," the most
controversial thing Spector did before, well, y'know. Incidentally,
Carole King cowrote the song.
6. Ike Turner
Another rock 'n' roll originator -- and bad ass guitarist -- Ike Turner
will forever be known as a coked-out wife beater. He did hard time from
1989 to 1993 on drugs and weapons charges.
"Rocket 88," recorded in 1951 at Sun Records, is largely considered to
be the first rock 'n' roll song. It's credited to Jackie Benson but Ike
Turner composed it, led the band, etc.
7. David Crosby
The former Byrd, CSN and sometimes Y member did 11 months in 1982 on, yes, you guessed it, drugs and weapons charges.
"Play ya a little song we played down there in Texas prison band,"
Crosby says in 1991. "Played it because we knew the warden hated it."
He then proceeds to do a powerful, solo version of "Almost Cut My Hair."
8. Steve Earle
Before Earle concentrated on lefty politics -- and in between collecting
wives -- he enjoyed a steady diet of cocaine by day and heroin by night.
He spent about a year in the pokey for possession in '94.
"Goodbye" live from 1998. "Was I off somewhere or just too high?" he
intones. "I can't remember if we said goodbye." Brings a manly tear to
9. David Allan Coe
I interviewed Coe once. About seven or eight years ago, straight out of
college. At a now defunct Tampa venue I showed his son a glowing
profile piece I had done on Coe's pal Hank Williams III -- yeah, I
brought the clip thinking it might lead to an interview; I was quite
bold back then -- and next thing I know I'm on the Outlaw's messy-ass
tour van, scared shitless, shouting cause he's half deaf (son warned me
ahead of time) and probably stammering. I don't remember much about our
exchange except this, my last question:
Me: Mr. Coe, if music hadn't worked out what do you think you'd be doing?
Coe: Robbing banks, son.
His anthem, "If That Ain't Country" done live in recent years, sans the
n-word. Incidentally, the same night I interviewed Coe I asked his
black drummer if he thought Coe was racist. The drummer smiled, said
"No," and walked to the stage.
10. Johnny Paycheck
Coe penned Paycheck's huge hit "Take This Job and Shove It." In '85,
Paycheck fired a bullet that skimmed a man's head while in Ohio, Coe's
home state. Paycheck served 22 months. Some say it was over a card
game. Some say it was over an insult. Paycheck pleaded self-defense.
Paycheck's 1966, hardcore honky tonk gem "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill."
10. Jim Gordon
There's nothing remotely humorous about this story. Acclaimed drummer
Jim Gordon -- most famous for being a member of Derek and the Dominos
and co-writing "Layla" -- went undiagnosed for schizophrenia and
murdered his mother with a hammer in '83. He's been incarcerated ever
Derek and the Dominos covering "Little Wing" in 1970.
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