Johnny Paycheck Biography

Donald Eugene Lytle, 31 May 1938, Greenfield, Ohio, USA, d. 18 February 2003, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. His date of birth is often disputed, and varies between 1938 and 1941. The title of Paycheck’s 1977 country hit, ‘I’m The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)’, is apt as he was in trouble throughout his life; the wild eyes on his album sleeves give the picture. Although only 5 feet 5 inches, Paycheck was tougher than most and served two years for assaulting an officer while in the US Navy. He moved to Nashville and played bass and sometimes steel guitar for Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Ray Price and chiefly, George Jones. He made several records with Jones, singing tenor on I’m A People and the hit singles ‘Love Bug’ and ‘The Race Is On’. At first, Lytle recorded rockabilly as Donny Young in 1959 (‘Shakin’ The Blues’, written by Jones) and then sang country on Mercury Records (‘On Second Thoughts’). The name Johnny Paycheck was originally thought to be a parody of Johnny Cash, but it actually came from a heavyweight boxer who was KO’d by Joe Louis in two rounds in 1940 and was close to Lytle’s own Polish family name. By now, he had developed Jones’ mannerisms and he had country hits with ‘A-11’ and ‘Heartbreak, Tennessee’. He wrote Tammy Wynette’s first hit, ‘Apartment No. 9’, and Ray Price’s ‘Touch My Heart’. He formed Little Darlin’ Records with producer Aubrey Mayhew in 1966 and had country hits with ‘The Lovin’ Machine’, Bobby Bare’s composition ‘Motel Time Again’ and ‘Don’t Monkey With Another Monkey’s Monkey’. His supposedly live album from Carnegie Hall was actually recorded in a studio on April Fool’s Day 1966.

Paycheck became an alcoholic, the label went bankrupt and he was arrested for burglary. He moved to Los Angeles, living hand to mouth, spending what little money he had on drink and drugs. Record producer Billy Sherrill rehabilitated him and he had a massive country hit with ‘Don’t Take Her, She’s All I Got’ in 1971. This was followed by ‘Someone To Give My Love To’, ‘Mr. Lovemaker’ and ‘Song And Dance Man’. Paycheck also had success on the US country charts with a gospel-flavoured duet with Jody Miller, ‘Let’s All Go Down To The River’. Further troubles led to bankruptcy and a paternity suit in 1976. In 1977, at the height of outlaw country, he had his biggest country hit with David Allan Coe’s anthem to working people, ‘Take This Job And Shove It’, and its b-side, ‘Colorado Cool-Aid’, was successful in its own right.

Paycheck’s lifestyle was ably reflected in such tracks as ‘Me And The I.R.S.’, ‘D.O.A. (Drunk On Arrival)’, and ‘11 Months And 29 Days’, which was his sentence for passing a dud cheque at a Holiday Inn - a case of Johnny Badcheck. A lawsuit with his manager followed and his friends, George Jones and Merle Haggard, made albums with him. In 1981, after he went back to a woman’s house after a concert, he was arrested for allegedly raping her 12-year-old daughter. The charges were reduced - he was fined and given probation - but he was dropped by Epic Records, although he maintained, ‘I dropped them. I couldn’t stand the back-stabbing stench there anymore’. Then, in 1985, he got into a bar-room argument with a stranger - and shot him in the head. While awaiting trial, he recorded with the ‘de-frocked’ evangelist John Wesley Fletcher. Paycheck claimed he had the gun because he had emphysema and so could not fight physically! He was found guilty of aggravated assault and entered prison in 1989, recording a live album with a visiting Merle Haggard while incarcerated. In 1991, his sentence was commuted, subject to community services. PayCheck (note the new spelling) also recorded a duet with George Jones, ‘The Last Outlaw’s Alive And Doing Well’. Various performers gave him their support at a tribute concert, and in 1997 Paycheck joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. The following year he fell seriously ill due to complications with diabetes and emphysema, and despite a period of convalescence no new recordings were forthcoming. One of music’s great survivors, Paycheck finally succumbed to illness in February 2003.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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