Music

10 True Crime Stories in Country Music

Bo and Luke aren’t the only good ol’ boys to ever land on the wrong side of the law. Here are 10 country music stars who have found themselves facing the man with the badge.  

10. Willie Nelson

Flickr/John P
Flickr/John P

Willie likes weed. On the scale of breaking news, that statement ranks somewhere between “Politician Fails to Deliver On Campaign Promises” and “Summers Are Hot Down In Texas.” So it probably comes as no surprise that Willie has been arrested a few times, and all but one of his scrapes for possession of a controlled substance have occurred in his home state of Texas. In a string of incidents spanning five decades, The Red Headed Stranger has been anything but a stranger to the Texas Judicial system. Stopping Willie’s bus to search is the law enforcement equivalent to hunting at the zoo. Sure you can do it and bag your game but it isn’t very sporting?

9. Randy Travis Gets Randy

Flickr/ Larry Darling
Flickr/ Larry Darling

Randy Travis is nearly as famous for his gospel hits like “Three Wooden Crosses” as he his country classics like “Pickin’Up Bones” and “Forever And Ever, Amen. ” So his headlines in 2012 came as a surprise to many. First arrested in February after police found an inebriated Travis sitting in his car with an open bottle of wine in an empty church parking lot, the country star pled no contest to the resulting charges. However, six months later, Travis was again arrested after Texas troopers found him taking a drunken nap in the nude in the middle of a blacktop road.

After tracing the singer’s escapades for the night police concluded Travis first wrecked his Trans-Am in a construction zone, then left his car and clothes behind before proceeding to a convenience store to attempt the purchase of cigarettes — in the buff. A short time later, a 911 caller reported a naked man in the middle of the road. He received probation and a suspended sentence for his rough night.

8. Billy Currington

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Flickr/John Irving

Billy Currington had a hit with “People Are Crazy,” but it was the country star that lost control in April of 2013. Fed up with boats circling his lakeside home too fast and too often, Currington chased down a 70-year-old charter boat captain. The resulting confrontation landed Currington with charges of “making terroristic threat” and “elderly abuse.” He was released shortly after turning himself in on a $27,700 bond. Shortly after the incident, Currington tweeted “harassing artists often at their home by boat should be illegal. thas all I know.”

7. David Allan Coe

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Flickr/Mathew Woitunski

David Allan Coe has made a fair number of claims about his general outlawness over the years. Most never could be collaborated, like the tale that he killed a man while incarcerated in the Ohio Prison System. But in 2008, Coe’s confrontation with deputies inside an Iowa casino was caught on camera, giving the world a look at this longtime outlaw in action. Following a dispute with casino employees over a slot machine payout, Coe was eventually wrestled to the ground by a pair of sheriff deputies. Authorities charged the then 72-year-old Coe with disorderly conduct and interference with official acts. Charges were eventually dropped, as was Coe’s counter-suit. In Sept. 2015, Coe pleaded guilty to tax evasion, and could face up to three years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.

6. Johnny Paycheck

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Flickr/Melissa Wilkins

The lines of hard living were etched in Johnny Paycheck’s face even before he did hard time. Paycheck turned fellow outlaw, David Allen Coe’s song “Take This Job And Shove it” into a huge hit back in 1977, but eight years later Paycheck wasn’t content to just shove his way passed a barroom brawl. Pulling a .22 pistol, he shot a man in the head. The bullet merely grazed the other man’s skull, but the damage was sufficient to land the country singer a sentence of up to nine and a half years in an Ohio prison. He wound up serving only 22 months after being pardoned by the governor.

5. Glen Campbell

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Flickr/Larry Darling

Glen Campbell joined a long list of celebrities when he was arrested in 2003 for drunk driving, but he made matters worse by kneeing a police sergeant on the thigh and adding a resisting arrest charge. The Rhinestone Cowboy ultimately served ten days for the incident, but Campbell shrugged off blame. “I wasn’t really that drunk,” he said in an interview with syndicated entertainment TV show Access Hollywood. “I was just over-served.”

4. Billy Joe Shaver 

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Flickr/Dallas Photographer

Billy Joe Shaver is a legendary Outlaw Country figure. The singer/songwriter penned all but one of the tracks on Waylon Jenning’s classic 1973 album, Honky Tonk Heroes album. But don’t think Shaver’s edge is duller for all the hard years he’s lived. Shaver, who turned 75 in 2014, has a new album aptly titled Long In The Tooth, but it was his 69th year that proved this “Old Five and Dimer” still carries some bite.

When a barroom disagreement just outside of Waco, Texas turned violent, Shaver and another man faced off in the joint’s parking lot. Witnesses heard Shaver ask, “Where do you want it?” just before a gun went off. Shaver was eventually acquitted of the 2007 charges on the grounds he acted in self-defense. The incident is referred to in Shaver’s song “Wacko From Waco” but fellow artist Dale Watson best immortalized it with his lyrics in “Where Do You Want It?”

3. Spade Cooley

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Flickr/by and by

Easily the most heinous and gruesome crime ever committed by a country star was the 1961 murder of Ella Mae Cooley. Spade Cooley was a huge star at the time, and the trial received lots of media attention especially after allegations of an affair between Ella Mae and Roy Rogers was revealed during testimonies. The affair was never substantiated, and Cooly was convicted of first-degree murder for ruthlessly beating his wife in front of their fourteen-year-old daughter. With his career and legacy forever tarnished, Spade Cooley forever lost the reputation as the King Of Western Swing. A title that now belongs to the memory of Bob Wills. Cooley died in 1969, shortly before he was scheduled for parole.

2. Kenny Chesney

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Wikimedia Commons

Kenny Chesney asked for and was granted permission to sit on a policeman’s horse after a Buffalo, NY performance as part of George Strait’s Country Music Festival. But when he tried to ride away on the trusty steed deputies told him to stop. A scuffle ensued which led fellow artist, Tim McGraw to intervene on Chesney’s behalf. Two deputies were injured in the melee resulting in charges against the pair of country superstars. McGraw, was charged with second-degree assault, obstructing governmental administration, menacing, and resisting arrest. Chesney was arrested for disorderly conduct. Both men posted bail and the charges were eventually dropped.

1. Johnny Cash Picks ‘Em Up and Lays ‘Em Down

For a man who’s known for his outlaw ways and prison recordings, Johnny Cash’s actual rap sheet was fairly tame, but in 1965 he found himself locked in jail twice. In October, he was stopped and searched in El Paso, Texas by US Customs on suspicion of heroin smuggling. The narcotic agents instead discovered nearly 700 uppers and nearly 500 downers stashed in his guitar case. He walked away from that with a fine and suspended sentence, but it was his May arrest of that year that he immortalized in song. I could tell the story of Cash’s arrest and time in the Starksville, Miss. jail for picking flowers, but his lyrics do a much better job.

Next: Is There Really a Song About Every Texas Town?

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10 True Crime Stories in Country Music