“My position is that country music is cool, and has always been cool,” says Tyler Mahan Coe, host of the cult-favorite podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones, which chronicles the history of country music. Tyler, the son of country-music star slash outlaw David Allan Coe, grew up hearing stories about the genre’s greatest legends. Now he brings those stories to a wider audience—but this time they’re meticulously researched and fact-checked.
“A greater percentage of my life has been lived inside of this world than most people would ever have the opportunity for,” says Coe, who, while in his teens, went on tour with his father, performing all around the country with him for almost 13 years. Life on the road was tough: “It was not like the movie Almost Famous,” he says.
In his downtime between shows, Coe ingested everything he could about modern music, citing the now antiquated Web site AllMusic, which allowed users to trace a band’s influences alongside overviews of all the different genres that existed at the time. “I went through all of it,” he says. “Just wanting to get a sense of everything that had happened, with no real motive or purpose or agenda behind it other than curiosity.”
Years later, with life on the road far behind him, Coe wanted to do something with all of the knowledge he had accumulated, especially from the culture he grew up around and the stories he had listened to. Though he had never recorded a podcast before, it seemed the natural medium to share these tales. Country music is famous for its narrative prowess; why not tell the history of it by audio as well?
Cocaine & Rhinestones quickly became a hit. Despite the seemingly esoteric subject matter—country music, after all, is largely absent from mainstream culture—Coe’s storytelling abilities attracted a devoted audience as he deftly weaved between political, cultural, and historical contexts in each episode. For the next three years after the release of the podcast’s first season, Coe was met daily with the same question: “When is Season Two coming out?”
Now, finally. Coe wasn’t on a hiatus—he was researching and carefully crafting his next season, this time centered on country icon George Jones, spending day after day in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s archives and diving as deep as he could.
In addition to Cocaine & Rhinestones, Coe co-hosts the irreverent podcast Your Favorite Band Sucks, with Mark Mosley, taking on mostly contemporary bands and charting their influences—which, as they point out, sometimes transcend mere inspiration to become musical thievery. But the two podcasts are not as disparate as they may seem. “The shows work from opposite ends of the spectrum and meet in the middle somewhere,” says Coe.
In addition to introducing a new generation to country music, Cocaine & Rhinestones has helped Coe forge meaning from his own life experiences. From a grueling decade-plus touring with his father to his unending curiosity about music and history, “the value is becoming clear,” he says. “That’s one of those things that will totally spin your entire concept of causality, or fate, or God—just totally take it all for a loop.”
Christina Cacouris is a Paris- and New York–based writer