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5 of the Wildest Country Music Stories from the Road

Johnny Paycheck striking with teamsters in 1977. Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that Mike Judge chose country music for the backdrop to his animated docu-series Tales From the Tour BusAny true country fan knows that when it comes to wild livin’ and debauchery no one can hold a candle to country music legends. Even the rowdiest, least law abiding rock star looks downright demure next to Johnny Paycheck. From blazing pianos to Shotgun Willie, here are five of the wildest country music stories.

5. Jerry Lee Lewis Sets His Piano on Fire

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The man called the Killer had some truly wild moments onstage and off. For example, he once shot up a dental office with a machine gun and ruined $50,000 worth of dentures. But perhaps the most notorious Jerry Lee Lewis moment happened onstage. Upset with the lineup on a package tour, the hot-headed Lewis set fire to his piano during “Great Balls of Fire” and played the instrument as it went up in blazes. Although the story followed Lewis throughout his career, no one can recall the exact date or venue where the act took place.

4. Billy Joe Shaver Asks ‘Where Do You Want It?’

Billy Joe Shaver
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When it comes to founders of outlaw country, much of the credit for shaping the subgenre has to go to legendary performer and songwriter Billy Joe Shaver. Although outlaw country was more about bucking Nashville trends than breaking the law, a few outlaw singers were known to find themselves in legal trouble from time to time. In 2007,  Shaver shot Billy Bryant Coker in the face outside Papa Joe’s Saloon outside Waco. Witnesses say Shaver asked Coker “Where do you want it?” before shooting him and fleeing in his truck. Shaver said Coker had threatened him with a knife and he was simply defending himself. When prosecutors asked Shaver why he didn’t just leave the bar before the altercation, he responded by saying “I’m from Texas…If I was a chicken shit I would have left.”

3. Johnny Paycheck Raises Hell

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When it comes to country music rap sheets, Johnny Paycheck can’t be beat. There was the time he stole Patsy Cline‘s car. Then there was the time he got on the CB radio on his bus and put out a call to truckers for copious amounts of drugs. Paycheck’s most egregious crime was shooting a man over a heated argument in a dive bar. But a lesser known story that shows Paycheck’s wildcat nature is the time he showed up to a Canadian court shirtless and flipped off the court during the Canadian national anthem. The unbelievable life and times of Johnny Paycheck are chronicled in the first episode of Tales from the Tour Bus. 

2. George Jones ‘Ventilates’ His Tour Bus

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Country legend George Jones earned the nickname No Show Jones because of his often erratic behavior. And a good bit of that behavior took place on the road. The Possum once shot holes in the floorboard of his tour bus with a .38 revolver in an attempt to “air condition” the no-frills bus known as “The Gas Chamber.” Unfortunately, the bullet holes only let in toxic fumes.

1. Shotgun Willie’s Almost Shootout

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Willie Nelson knows how to keep the peace. Never was that more clear than one night in the Birmingham Coliseum in Birmingham, Ala. After playing a show, Nelson and his band were caught in the middle of gunfire in a parking garage. The garage is dark and no one can see who his shooting. The cops arrived and just when the situation is about to go from bad to worse, Willie strolls off his tour bus in cut-off jeans and tennis shoes and packing two Colt .45 revolvers in his jean shorts. The zen of the Red Headed Stranger must have eased the tension because Nelson ended the night signing autographs. Chalk another one up to the power of Willie.

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5 of the Wildest Country Music Stories from the Road