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The first time that many people ever heard of Johnny Paycheck was in 1977, when his "Take This Job and Shove It" inspired one-man wildcat strikes all over America. The next time was in 1985, when he was arrested for shooting a man at a bar in Hillsboro, OH. That Paycheck is remembered for a fairly amusical novelty song and a violent crime (for which he spent two years in prison) is a shame, for it just so happens that he is one of the mightiest honky tonkers of his time. Born and raised in Greenfield, OH, Paycheck was performing in talent contests by the age of nine and riding the rails as a drifter by the time he turned 15. After a Navy stint landed him in the brig for two years, he arrived in Nashville, where he performed in the bands of Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Ray Price, and George Jones. He recorded several singles under the name Donny Young, then, in 1965, cut his first sides as Johnny Paycheck for the Hilltop label. A year later, he and gadfly producer Aubrey Mayhew started the Little Darlin' label, for which Paycheck recorded his greatest work. Marked by Lloyd Green's knockout steel guitar and Paycheck's broad, resonant vocals (not to mention his rounder's sense of humor) his Little Darlin' records of the 1960s have since become cult favorites. After splitting with Mayhew (and after running his life into the gutter) Paycheck made a celebrated comeback on Epic in the 1970s. "Take This Job and Shove It" was the most famous result, though ballads like "She's All I Got" and "Someone to Give My Love To" are far more indicative of his stylistic range.
Born Donald Lytle, Paycheck began playing guitar when he was six, and within three years, he was performing talent contests across the state. When he was 15, he ran away from home, hitchhiking, and hoboing his away across the country, singing in honky tonks and clubs along the way. By his late teens, he had joined the Navy, but while he was serving, he assaulted a superior officer and was convicted of court martial. As a result, he spent two years in the brig. Upon his release, he moved to Nashville, where made the acquaintance of Buddy Killen at Decca Records, who offered him a contract. At Decca, Paycheck released two rockabilly singles on the label under the name Donny Young; neither were hits. Shortly afterward, he moved to Mercury, where he released two country singles, which were also failures. By that time, he had begun supporting other musicians, playing bass and occasionally steel guitar with Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, and Ray Price. He frequently moved between employers because of his short-fused temper. Paycheck finally found his match in George Jones. He stayed with Jones for four years, fronting the Jones Boys between 1962 and 1966, and singing backup on George's hits "I'm a People," "The Race Is On," and "Love Bug."
Toward the end of his stint with Jones, Donald Lytle refashioned himself as Johnny Paycheck, taking his name from a Chicago heavyweight boxer. Late in 1965, he relaunched his solo career with the assistance of producer Aubrey Mayhew, who produced a pair of singles -- "A-11" and "Heartbreak Tennessee" -- for Hilltop Records. Though it only charted at number 26, "A-11" caused a sensation within the country community, earning several Grammy nominations as well as reviews that compared Paycheck to his mentor, Jones. In 1966, he and Mayhew formed Little Darlin' Records, primarily designing the label to promote Paycheck, but also recording Jeannie C. Riley, Bobby Helms, and Lloyd Green. That summer, "The Lovin' Machine" became Paycheck's first Top Ten hit. Also that year, he wrote Tammy Wynette's first hit, "Apartment #9," with Bobby Austin and Fuzzy Owen; Paycheck also wrote Ray Price's number three hit "Touch My Heart."
All of Paycheck's recordings for Little Darlin' Records rank among his grittiest, hardest country, but they weren't necessarily big hits. Between 1967 and 1969, Paycheck had eight more hit singles, with each record progressively charting at a lower position than its predecessor -- "Motel Time Again" reached number 13 in early 1967, while "If I'm Gonna Sink" climbed to number 73 in late 1968. Though "Wherever You Are" showed signs of a comeback in the summer of 1969, peaking at number 31, the label went bankrupt shortly after its release, partially due to Paycheck's declining commercial performance, partially due to his heavy drinking and erratic behavior. Over the course of the next year, he moved to California and sunk deeply into substance abuse. Meanwhile, Billy Sherrill at Epic Records had been searching for Paycheck with the hopes of producing his records. The label finally tracked him down in 1971 and offered him a contract, provided that he cleaned himself up. Paycheck accepted the offer and, with Sherrill's assistance, kicked his addictions.
Like many of Sherrill's records of the early '70s, his Paycheck recordings were heavily produced and often layered with stings. Though this was a shift from the hardcore country that Paycheck made on Little Darlin', the new approach was a hit -- his debut single for the label, "She's All I Got," became a number two hit upon its fall 1971 release. It was quickly followed by another Top Ten hit, "Someone to Give My Love To," and Paycheck was finally becoming a star. During the next four years, he had 12 additional hit singles -- including 1973's Top Ten singles "Something About You I Love" and "Mr. Lovemaker," and 1974's "For a Minute There" -- with the more accessible, pop-oriented songs Sherrill crafted for him, but Paycheck's wild ways hadn't changed all that much. In 1972, he was convicted of check forgery and, in 1976, was saddled with a paternity suit, tax problems, and bankruptcy. Accordingly, he shifted his musical style in the mid-'70s to put him in step with the renegade outlaw country movement.
Paycheck's first outlaw album, 1976's 11 Months and 29 Days (which happened to be the length of his suspended sentence for passing a bad check), featured a photo of him in a jail cell on the cover, signalling his change of direction. Initially, his outlaw records weren't hits, but early in 1977 he returned to the Top Ten with a pair of Top Ten singles, "Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets" and "I'm the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)." Later that year, he released his cover of David Allan Coe's "Take This Job and Shove It," which became his biggest hit, spending two weeks at number one; its B-side, "Colorado Kool-Aid," also charted at number 50. Soon, Paycheck's records were becoming near-parodies of his lifestyle, as the title "Me and the I.R.S." and "D.O.A. (Drunk on Arrival)" indicated. Nevertheless, he stayed at the top of the charts, with "Friend, Lover, Wife" and "Mabellene" both reaching number seven in late 1978 and early 1979.
Shortly after the twin success of those singles, his career began to crumble due to his excessive, violent behavior. In 1979, his former manager Glenn Ferguson began a prolonged and difficult legal battle. In 1981, a flight attendant for Frontier Airlines sued him for slander after he began a fight on a plane. The following year, he was arrested for alleged rape. The charges were later reduced and he was fined, but by that point, Epic had had enough and dropped him from the label. Paycheck moved over to AMI, where he had a number of small hit singles between 1984 and 1985. Later in 1985, he had a barroom brawl with a stranger in Hillsboro, OH, that ended with Paycheck shooting and injuring his opponent. The singer was arrested for aggravated assault and spent the next four years appealing the sentence while he recorded for Mercury Records. None of his singles for the label reached the Top 40, and he was dropped from the label in 1987. He spent 1988 at Desperado Records before signing with Damascus the following year, after his conversion to Christianity.
In 1989, Paycheck's appeals had expired and he was sentenced to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute. He spent two years at the prison, even performing a concert with Merle Haggard at the jail during his stint, before being released on parole in January 1991. Following his release, Paycheck kept a low profile, playing shows in Branson, MO, and recording for the small label Playback Records. After battling diabetes and emphysema for a number of years, Paycheck passed away in February 2003. He was 64.
Donald Eugene Lytle (May 31, 1938 – February 19, 2003), better known by his stage name Johnny Paycheck, was an American country music singer, multi-instrumentalist and Grand Ole Opry member 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 David Allan Coe, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, and Merle Haggard. In the 1980s, his music career suffered from his problems with drugs, alcohol, and legal difficulties. He served a prison sentence in the early 1990s but his declining health effectively ended his career in early 2000.Cooper, Daniel. (1998). "Johnny PayCheck". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 408.
Born in Greenfield, Ohio, Donald Lytle was playing in talent contests by the age of 9. He took a job with country music legend 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 with numerous hard country performers in 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. In 1960, he reached Top 35 status in Cashbox magazine's country charts as Donny Young with the tune "Miracle Of Love". From the early to mid-1960s, he also enjoyed some success as a songwriter for others, with his biggest songwriting hit being "Apartment No. 9", which served as Tammy Wynette's first chart hit in December 1966.
In 1964, he changed his name legally to Johnny Paycheck, taking the name from Johnny Paychek, a top ranked boxer from Chicago who once fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title. He first charted under his new name with "A-11" in 1965. His best-selling single from this period was "She's All I Got" which reached No. 2 on the U.S. country singles charts in 1971 and made it onto the Billboard Hot 100. His "Mr. Lovemaker" also reached No. 2 on the U.S. country singles chart in 1973. But with the popularity of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in the mid-1970s, Paycheck changed his image to that of outlaw, where he was to have his largest financial success.
It was his producer Billy Sherrill who helped revive his career by significantly changing his sound and image. 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. "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 an Academy of Country Music Career Achievement award in 1977."Obituary: 'Johnny Paycheck: Hell-raising country singer'", independent.co.uk, February 21, 2003; accessed November 14, 2014.
Later life and death
In 1981 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 December 1985, Paycheck was convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail for shooting a man at the North High Lounge in Hillsboro, Ohio, after he fired a .22 pistol, the bullet grazing a man's head. Paycheck claimed the act was self-defense. After several years spent fighting the sentence, he began serving his sentence in 1989 spending 22 months in prison before being pardoned by Ohio Governor Richard Celeste.
The most successful of his later singles, released during his appeal, was "Old Violin" which reached # 21 on the country chart in 1986. His last album to chart was "Modern Times" in 1987. He continued to release albums, the last of which, Remembering appeared in 2002. In 1990, he 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. He continued to perform and tour until the late 1990s. After the year 2000 his health would only allow for short appearances. Suffering from emphysema and asthma after a lengthy illness, Paycheck died at Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2003. His burial plot was donated by music legend George Jones and his funeral and burial expenses were paid by former manager Glenn Ferguson. He was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville and survived by his wife Sharon and son Jonathan.Paul W. Dennis, "Forgotten Artists: Donald Lytle, aka Donny Young", the9513.com, March 4, 2010 CNN
Little Darlin' Records
With his producer, Aubrey Mayhew, Paycheck co-owned his record company, Little Darlin' Records. Paycheck's Little Darlin' recordings featured the pedal steel guitar work of Lloyd Green. By the end of the 1960s, 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.
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. In his song "Grand Ole Opry (Ain't So Grand Anymore)", Hank Williams III praises Paycheck (along with Waylon Jennings) as a "real rebel" the Grand Ole Opry only reluctantly inducted.
His song "It Won't Be Long (And I'll Be Hating You)" appeared in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.