When it comes to crazed antics, the musicians who usually grab all the headlines are rock stars, what with Keith Moon driving a car into a swimming pool and Jim Morrison flashing his manhood before a packed house. But if any musicians deserve credit for wanton destruction, gratuitous boozing and repeated incarceration, it’s the ones filed under “country.”
Country musicians have engaged in antics just as depraved as those of their rock-star brethren, and did so decades earlier. They drank, snorted and destroyed everything in sight, and still had the presence of mind to shave the next morning and get to church.
Here is a list of stars, living and dead, past and present, country and western, who made Alice Cooper and Jimi Hendrix look like a couple of pie-faced amateurs who couldn’t hold their liquor.
(Pictured: David Allan Coe)
The music of the Louvin Brothers consisted of nothing but a guitar, a mandolin and the voices of Charlie and Ira Louvin, but it was as exquisite a sound as country music ever produced. Unfortunately, Ira was a nasty drunk who was known to smash his mandolin onstage, beating Pete Townshend by a full decade. ''When Ira wasn't drinking, he was as good as the best,'' his brother Charlie told the New York Times in 1995. ''But if he came here tonight, chances are nine to one that he'd drink so much he couldn't perform.''
His violent behavior followed him offstage. In February 1963, his third wife, Faye, shot him six times, including four to the chest, after he tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. Perhaps through sheer orneriness, he survived and went on to marry another woman, Anne. The two of them were killed in a car accident in 1965 when a drunk driver hit them, ironically while Ira had an arrest warrant out for a DUI.
Every country musician in the world owes his or her entire craft to Hank Williams. Songs like “Lovesick Blues,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” remain cornerstones of the genre to this day, but despite his vast talent, he was famously crippled by a substance-abuse problem that killed him before he had even turned 30. Also, by numerous accounts, he was a major prick.
One such account appears in the 1994 book “Hank Williams: The Biography,” by Colin Escott. In the book, singer Faron Young recalled when Williams decided that he wanted Young’s girlfriend, Billie Jean Jones, for himself. If Young had any problems with that, they were immediately silenced when Williams pulled a gun on him in order to emphasize his intentions. Young backed down, and Williams and Jones were married soon after.
George Jones is widely considered the finest country singer of all time. He’s also famous for his battle with alcoholism, which his wives had to deal with on an ongoing basis. His second wife, Shirley Corley, once tried to stop him from driving to the liquor store by taking away his car keys, but according to his autobiography, “I Lived to Tell It All,” he was so determined to get sloshed that he drove there on his John Deere lawnmower.
Corley divorced him, and he married singer Tammy Wynette, who had to contend with the same shenanigans as her predecessor. In her 1979 autobiography, “Stand by Your Man,” she recalled waking up in the middle of the night to find him gone. After driving 10 miles to the nearest bar, she found his John Deere lawnmower sitting in the parking lot.
More than 10 years after his death, Waylon Jennings is still one of country music’s biggest badasses. He earned his outlaw image through his rugged appearance, his unique approach to music and his fearsome appetite for cocaine. By his own account, during the 1970s he was spending over $1,000 a day on it (Rolling Stone).
Federal agents arrested Jennings in 1977 for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, but the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. Jennings saw to that personally by flushing 27 grams of cocaine down the toilet while authorities waited for a search warrant. The incident was ultimately recounted in his classic song, "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Outta Hand?”
Johnny Paycheck had hits in the 1960s with demented countrypolitan murder ballads like “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill” and “It Won’t Be Long and I’ll Be Hating You.” But in the 1970s he gave himself an outlaw country makeover and recorded “Take This Job and Shove It,” and became a bona-fide mainstream star in the process.
In December 1985, Paycheck shot a man named Larry Wise in a bar. Wise testified to authorities that he had asked the singer if he had ever eaten deer meat or turtle soup, to which the singer replied, ''Do you see me as some sort of country hick?'' (Associated Press). Moments later, the singer had produced a pistol and shot at Wise’s head, blowing his hat off. Paycheck served almost two years in prison.
Spade Cooley was known as “The King of Western Swing.” Steel guitarist Speedy West observed that whenever the fiddler and bandleader was “under drinkin’ conditions,” (Crime Library) things could get ugly, and in 1961, Cooley’s wife of 15 years told him she was leaving him while he was under the influence. He responded by beating her mercilessly in front of their 14-year-old daughter, whom he forced to watch under threat of death.
Cooley’s wife wasn’t brought to a hospital for five hours, and she was pronounced dead on arrival. He told authorities that her injuries, which included a ruptured aorta, head-to-toe bruises and numerous cigarette burns, were the result of her falling in the shower. Cooley was convicted of murder and died of a heart attack in 1969.
Glen Campbell is one of the finest country singers of the 1960s and 1970s, but sadly, people born after 1985 or so only know him as the guy from that creepy mug shot. The photo dates back to November 2003, when he was charged with “extreme drunken driving” (USA Today) after hitting another motorist and fleeing the scene of the accident. He was arrested at his Phoenix home shortly thereafter.
He posted bail and the whole sorry affair could have ended there and then, but right before being released to waiting family members, he kneed a police officer in the groin. This caused the former host of “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” to be arrested all over again, minutes before his ordeal would have ended.
Mindy McCready’s music may be found under “country” on iTunes, but it’s more Garth Brooks or Shania Twain than Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. However, she’s experienced enough problems with the legal system to deserve a spot on this list. Her troubles began in 2004 when she pleaded guilty to prescription drug fraud, followed by an arrest for drunk driving and driving with a suspended license in 2005.
Then in 2008, she went to jail for probation violation, and in 2010, Vivid Video released a sex tape featuring McCready that she claimed was stolen from her home. None of these indignities, however, could have been worse than being filmed having a seizure while disgraced child star Mackenzie Philips looked on laughing on “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew.” You can watch that horrifying moment here.
Next: Epically Hilarious Internet Photos
Billy Joe Shaver
Although he never achieved stardom on the level of Waylon or Willie, Billy Joe Shaver still has an accomplished career under his belt as a performer and a songwriter. His 1973 album “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” is one of the greatest albums of the outlaw country movement, and of the 10 songs on Waylon Jennings’ classic “Honky Tonk Heroes” album, nine are Billy Joe Shaver songs.
In 2007, a warrant was issued for Shaver after he shot a man named Billy Coker in the face outside of a bar in Lorena, Texas. Shaver’s attorney, Joseph Turner, said that Coker, who was drunk and brandishing a knife, followed Shaver into the parking lot (Billboard). Witnesses reported hearing Shaver bark, “Where do you want it?” right before firing. Then he demanded an apology from the man he had just shot. Shaver testified that he had acted in self-defense and was acquitted. And fortunately, Coker recovered. Singer Dale Watson immortalized the incident in the song “Where Do You Want It?”