Johnny PayCheck, R.I.P.
February 21, 2003 1:44 AM   Subscribe

Take this life and shove it: So goodbye then, Johnny PayCheck. Even the very British and conservative Daily Telegraph honoured you today with an affectionate obituary [Reg. required: full text inside.] I wonder how many unrepentant rebel-singin', cocaine-sniffin', bar-brawlin', hard-drinkin', good-lovin', corn-munchin' musicians there are left. And whether any of the young 'uns today will be able to keep up, livin' the life, as long as you did. Even though you too eventually succumbed to preaching against drink and drugs. I suspect most of the new generation will become health freaks by the time they hit forty and that you, Sir, were one of a dying breed.
posted by Carlos Quevedo (1 comment total)
Here is the full London Telegraph obituary:

"Johnny PayCheck, who died on Wednesday aged 64, was a honky-tonk country singer with a reputation for hard-drinking, violence and general wild behaviour; he recorded 70 albums and had more than two dozen hit singles, although he was best known for his cover of David Allan Coe's blue-collar anthem Take This Job and Shove It (1977).

The song, which inspired a film of the same name, was memorable for the chorus: Take this job and shove it/ I ain't working here no more./ I will not get all the pieces/ I've been working for/ Paper cups, minimum wage/ Just walk on out the door/ Take this job and shove it/ I ain't working here no more. It became so popular among American factory workers that it was said to have sparked a series of wildcat strikes.

Certainly the song reflected PayCheck's rebellious nature. A heavy drinker and cocaine user in his early days, with wild eyes, unkempt hair and a permanent scowl which broke into the occasional smirk, PayCheck was seldom out of trouble.

In 1956 he was court-martialled and sentenced to 18 years in the brig (of which he served only two) for assaulting a naval officer; from 1989 to 1991 he served two years in prison for shooting a man in the head in an Ohio bar in 1985; in 1990, he was declared bankrupt with debts of $1.6 million, most of it owed to the American Internal Revenue Service. Songs such as Me and the IRS, D O A ("Drunk on Arrival") and Armed and Crazy were plainly autobiographical.

The son of a barge worker, Johnny PayCheck was born Donald Eugene Lytle on May 31 1938 at Greenfield, Ohio. He was performing in talent contests by the age of nine and by the age of 15 had run away from home to roam the country on freight trains, performing in bars and clubs as the "Ohio Kid".

In the early 1950s, he joined the navy and served as a member of a gasoline crew on an aircraft carrier. After his discharge from the brig in 1959, he moved to Nashville, where he recorded for Decca and Mercury under the name Donny Young, and played bass for Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Ray Price and George Jones, whose band he fronted on steel guitar from 1962 to 1966.

In 1965 he renamed himself Johnny PayCheck (after a Chicago prizefighter of that name - he capitalized the "c" in the 1990s), and had chart hits with A-11 and Heartbreak Tennessee. The following year he and the producer Aubrey Mayhew started Little Darlin' Records, for which he recorded several hits, including The Lovin' Machine, which reached the Top 10 in 1966.

At the same time, PayCheck began writing his own songs. Apartment no 9 became a hit for Tammy Wynette, and Touch My Heart for Ray Price. But he put more of himself into such numbers as (Pardon Me) I've Got Someone to Kill; I Drop More than I Drink; and If I'm Gonna Sink (I Might As Well Go To The Bottom). By the end of the 1960s, Little Darlin' Records had folded and PayCheck had become a self-confessed alcoholic.

But he put himself on the wagon and made a comeback for Epic Records with She's All I Got and Someone To Give My Love To, both of which reached the Top 10 in 1971; over the next few years, he was seldom out of the charts.

Yet, although he appeared to have kicked the booze, PayCheck remained as wild as ever. He was convicted of forging cheques and, in 1976, was saddled with a paternity suit, tax problems and bankruptcy. The same year he had a hit with 11 Months and 29 Days (a reference to the length of his suspended sentence for forgery), which featured a cover photograph of the musician in a jail cell.

The rise of the Outlaw movement under Waylon Jennings seemed the perfect vehicle for PayCheck's reckless persona, though he was said to have been the inspiration for Jennings's Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got a Bit Out of Hand. After Take This Job and Shove it, PayCheck's career began to lose momentum and, by the early 1980s, his hellraising was beginning to test Epic's patience. The record label dropped him in 1982.

PayCheck moved over to AMI, for whom he recorded several hit singles between 1984 and 1985. But the label dropped him after the bar-room brawl in Ohio which earned PayCheck a nine-year sentence for aggravated assault. While appealing against the sentence, he recorded for Mercury Records, making the Top 10 with Old Violin in 1986.

Paycheck was released on parole a reformed character in 1991, after serving two years. He subsequently recorded for the Playback and Lucky Dog labels, became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry cast in 1997, and travelled the country spreading the word about the evils of drugs and alcohol. But the years of hard living had taken their toll and he was eventually forced to retire.

Johnny PayCheck is survived by his wife Sharon and by a son and two daughters.
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 1:47 AM on February 21, 2003

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