Coward Of The County

Album: Kenny (1979)
Charted: 1 3
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  • This popular Country & Western standard tells the story of Tommy, whose father ends up in prison and dies when Tommy is 10 years old. In his last words, he asks Tommy to stay out of trouble, and to turn the other cheek instead of fighting.

    Tommy heeds the advice, which earns him the nickname "Coward Of The County." After three brothers sexually assault his girlfriend Tommy confronts them in a bar and gets his revenge. His conclusion: Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man.
  • Like Rogers' hit "The Gambler," this song tells a compelling story, and also like "The Gambler," it was made into a TV movie.

    Coward of the County aired October 7, 1981. It tells a familiar tale, that of the cowboy or similar Western character who although a confirmed pacifist is pushed a bit too far, in this case by the gang rape of his girl. The film has a typical cartoon fight scene in a saloon, which results in the building being virtually demolished. In the film, the villains are tried and convicted of rape, although this is only a passing reference; the song is somewhat ambiguous, and might have ended in a triple revenge killing, so could be classed as a murder ballad.

    Kenny Rogers acted in the film and sang. Although the film was not a massive hit, the song was, although it was actually written sometime before. The single was released in November 1979 backed by "I Want To Make You Smile." It was published by Roger Bowling Music and Sleepy Hollow Music.
  • "Coward Of The County" runs to 4 minutes 22 seconds and was co-written by Roger Bowling (who also wrote the massive hit "Blanket On The Ground") and Billy Ed Wheeler. With this sort of success behind him, one would have imagined Bowling would have continued churning out songs for the foreseeable future, but he committed suicide on Christmas Day, 1982; he was 38 years old. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2
  • This was a huge hit for Rogers, but not his first to crossover to the pop charts. That would be "Lucille," which reached #5 in the US and like "Coward Of The County," went to #1 in the UK.

    In America, Rogers had his first #1 on the Hot 100 with "Lady" later in 1980. Artists like Dolly Parton ("9 to 5") and the Charlie Daniels Band ("In America") were getting lots of airplay outside of the country format, as the genre surged in popularity.

    Some felt the music was compromised. Joe Ely said in 1980, "The top 40 that's going on on country stations over there [Texas] really depresses me. 'Coward Of The County'... I was sick of that the first time I heard it!"
  • Billy Edd Wheeler had success as a songwriter with The Kingston Trio's "Reverend Mr. Black" (#8, 1963) and the Johnny Cash song "Blistered" (#50, 1969). In 1979 he got a call from Roger Bowling, who co-wrote Kenny Rogers' hit "Lucile." They set out to write a story song, and Wheeler had an idea for an underdog tale. "For some strange reason, I was thinking of My Fair Lady, he said in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music. They took this little cockney girl from the poor part of England and were going to make her over and teach her how to speak and be like a princess."

    The plan shifted when Bowling came up with the title "Coward Of The County," which had great alliteration. They started thinking about why this guy would be labeled as such, and came up with the story of his dad dying in prison and telling him, "You don't have to fight to be a man."

    "We were trying to figure out how Tommy, the son, would have a change of heart," said Wheeler. I had him in church praying to his father or getting a vision."

    That got too complicated, so Bowling suggested that Tommy take down his father's picture from the mantle to communicate with him. They finished the song in a weekend and made a demo that they pitched to Rogers, who recorded the song.
  • The evil brothers in this song are the "Gatlin Boys." In real life, Larry, Steve and Rudy Gatlin were a popular trio who performed as "Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers." Not only that, Larry Gatlin had dated a girl named Becky, which was the name of Tommy's girlfriend in the song.

    "After it came out, we started getting accused of being rapists," Larry Gatlin said. "I think they could have showed a little good taste and used somebody else's name."

    The songwriters made the dubious claim that the name was chosen because they "liked the sound of it," and that it had nothing to do with the actual Gatlin brothers. "We tried some other names like the Barlow boys, but they just didn't have the grit of the Gatlin boys," Wheeler said.
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Comments: 2

  • Dios Moagi from Tzaneen, South AfricaBack in 2003 a friend of mine SK wrote a fiction based on this song. I loved the story and how well he put it for one to fully understand the emotions of the songwriter. When you are too kind, people often mistaken your kindness for weakness, and you end up saying enough is enough.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaPoor Gatlin Brothers. I kind of understand Tommy. Sometimes it is harder, as the bible says, to turn the other cheek.
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