Johnny Paycheck (May 31, 1938 ??? February 19, 2003) was a country music singer most famous for recording the David Allan Coe song "Take This Job and Shove It". He achieved his greatest success in the 1970s as a major force in country music's "Outlaw Movement" popularized by artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billie Joe Shaver and Merle Haggard. In the 1980s, his career suffered from his almost legendary use of drugs and alcohol. A prison sentence in the early 1990s and declining health effectively ended his career.
Early life and recordings
Born Donald Eugene Lytle in Greenfield, Ohio, United States, he began playing guitar by age six and made his first record at age 15. After a time served in the United States Navy (which included a court-martial for assault), he began performing under the name Donny Young. The singer took a job with country music star George Jones, for whom he played bass and steel guitar. He later co-wrote Jones' hit song "Once You've Had the Best." Paycheck was a tenor harmony singer for numerous hard country acts of the late 1950s and early 1960s including Ray Price. Paycheck along with Willie Nelson worked in Price's band the Cherokee Cowboys. He is featured as a tenor singer on recordings by Faron Young, Roger Miller, and Skeets McDonald. All of these recordings are recognizable by their honky tonk purism. The recordings shun vocal choruses and strings in favor of steel guitar, twin fiddles, shuffle beats, high harmony and self-consciously miserable lyrics. As George Jones' tenor singer, Paycheck has been credited with the development of Jones' unique vocal phrasing.
In 1960, he reached Top 35 status in Cashbox magazine's country charts as Donny Young with the tune "Miracle Of Love".
Later in the 1960s, he had changed his name to Johnny Paycheck. Lytle reportedly re-named himself after the boxer, Johnny Paychek, who fought Joe Louis in 1940. Paycheck had his first hit with a minor Buck Owens' hit, "A-11". This recording set a pattern for the rest of his 1960s work. Paycheck also co-owned his own record company, Little Darlin' Records, with his producer, Aubrey Mayhew. Paycheck's Little Darlin' recordings featured the shrieking pedal steel guitar work of Lloyd Green. By the end of the 1960s, Paycheck had descended into alcoholism and drug abuse, and Little Darlin' Records folded. In the late 1990s, after taking them for granted for years, country music historians began to recognize the distinctive and sharp-edged sound of the Little Darlin' recordings as unique in their time, Paycheck's in particular.
In the early 1970s, Paycheck's career was revived by producer Billy Sherrill, who significantly changed his sound and image. Some of his biggest hits from this era were "She's All I Got" (a cover of an R&B single by Freddie North), "Someone To Give My Love To", and "For a Minute There". With the popularity of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in the mid 70's, Paycheck changed his image to that of outlaw, where he was to have his largest financial success. It was ironic that Sherrill was best known for carefully choreographing his records and infusing them with considerable pop feel. The Paycheck records were clearly based on Sherrill's take on the bands backing Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on records.
A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Paycheck is best remembered for his 1977 hit single, "Take This Job and Shove It", written by David Allan Coe). The song sold over two million copies, and inspired a motion picture of the same name. "Colorado Kool-Aid", "Me and the IRS", "Friend, Lover, Wife", "Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets", and "I'm the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)" were hits for Paycheck during this period. He received a 1977 Academy of Country Music Career Achievement award.
Paycheck recorded eleven songs that made it into country music's top ten chart. Additionally, he co-wrote several successful songs for other country singers, including "Apartment #9" (with Bobby Austin), Tammy Wynette's first hit.
He appeared on the television show, The Dukes of Hazzard, as himself. The scene had him playing "Take This Job and Shove It" and arguing with Boss Hogg when the sheriff tried to give him a citation over the content of the song.
In 1981, Paycheck was sued for slander by a flight attendant for Frontier Airlines after he began a fight on a plane. In 1982, he was arrested for alleged statutory rape. At a concert in Missouri, Paycheck was approached by a young girl who told him that she was a student at University of Missouri. Paycheck allegedly engaged in sexual relations with the girl. The girl's family filed charges and sued Paycheck. The musician was unaware that she was only 14 years old instead of 19, which is what she allegedly told him. The charges were later reduced and he was fined.
In 1985, Paycheck was convicted of shooting a man in Hillsboro, Ohio (after the man asked Paycheck to visit his home and try his deer meat and turtle soup). Paycheck reportedly responded, "Do you see me as some kind of hick?...I don't like you," and later fired a .22 pistol, grazing the man's head with a bullet. Paycheck claimed the act was self-defense. He spent 22 months in prison and was pardoned by the Governor of Ohio, Richard Celeste.
In 1990, Paycheck filed for bankruptcy after tax problems with the IRS.
Although Paycheck suffered from drug and alcohol addiction during his career, he later was said to have "put his life in order" after his prison stay. Suffering from emphysema and asthma after a lengthy illness, Johnny Paycheck died at Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville and survived by his wife and son.
Johnny's brother was killed in a car crash near Wilmington, Ohio in 2009.
An original tribute song and video to Paycheck called "Greenfield To Nashville" can be seen at http:www.youtube.com/watch?v=skavLJ33Sts.
A tribute album, Touch My Heart: a Tribute to Johnny Paycheck, was released in 2004 on the Sugar Hill Label. Produced by Robbie Fulks, the album features George Jones, Marshall Crenshaw, Hank Williams III, Al Anderson, Dallas Wayne, Neko Case, Gail Davies and Fulks himself covering some of Paycheck's best-known songs.
"I heard from fans constantly throughout the entire two years. The letters never stopped, from throughout the world. I looked forward to mail call every day." (After his release from prison).
"I'm a man who believes that right is right and wrong is wrong. Treat me right, and I will give you my all. Treat me wrong, and I will give you nothing. They don't like me for that, but that's the way I am."
"To me, an outlaw is a man that did things his own way, whether you liked him or not. I did things my own way."