David Allan Coe – he of the beaded beard and the Confederate-themed guitar – has been accused of writing and recording some of the most racist, misogynistic, sexually explicit material ever, self-distributed on albums that no major label would touch. But he also had a long country music career on Columbia, and was one of the songwriting greats of 1970s Nashville. He’s a complicated man to be sure. He can be unabashedly vulgar and insulting one minute, but can then reveal a tenderness that rivals the female side of any male country artist, as he did with his song “Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone?)”
Coe recorded two different versions of this ballad, first on his 1975 album Once Upon a Rhyme, and again on his 1978 album Human Emotions. The two arrangements differed a little, but both renditions were definitive in their own rights. The song’s meaning has been a matter of conjecture; while it’s generally viewed as being about a relationship between a man and a woman, many believe it is also about the crucifixion of Christ.
Possible biblical references can be found in the last two lines of the first verse:
Would you lay with me in a field of stone
If my needs were strong would you lay with me
Should my lips grow dry would you wet them dear /
In the midnight hour if my lips were dry
And in the chorus of:
Would you go away to another land
Walk a thousand miles through the burning sand
Wipe the blood away from my dying hand
If I give myself to you
No matter what they’re about, it’s hard to believe these lines were written by the same guy who has written songs with titles like “Dear Penis” and “Itty Bitty Titties,” or even “Take This Job and Shove It” for another Nashville outlaw, Johnny Paycheck. “Field of Stone” was the b-side to Coe’s single “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” the humorous “perfect country song” that was penned by the late Steve Goodman with some inspiration from his good friend John Prine. Coe has never made it a practice to record strictly only his own material, often drawing from the catalogs of others.
Even though he wrote it, Coe wasn’t the first person to cut “Field of Stone.” It was recorded in 1973 by a then-15-year-old Tanya Tucker, who was already known for songs that were beyond her maturity level but perfect for her voice. She took the song to number one on the country charts, helping establish Coe as more than just a politically incorrect ex-con with a guitar. Tucker’s version was produced by Nashville studio legend Billy Sherrill, as both of Coe’s versions would later be. Other artists have cut the song as well, including Johnny Cash, on his American III: Solitary Man album, a couple years after Coe cut an entire album of Cash songs.
Love him or hate him, Coe is as talented and prolific as any of the Nashville artists of his era as both a writer and a vocalist. Now nearly 78, he’s still on the road, seemingly no less cantankerous than he was in his youth.
Editor’s note: Shortly after this article was published, David Allan Coe tweeted that he wrote the song as wedding vows for his brother.