Johnny Paycheck | Photo credit: azquotes.com

After reading the summary of Johnny Paycheck’s life story, you’ll certainly be convinced that he’s a true embodiment of the word “outlaw.” More than twenty years before his breakthrough success on the screen, he’s been into drinking, womanizing, pill-popping and having near-misses. While there are several country music artists who considered going the outlaw way, Paycheck tops them all. In fact, prior to committing all the daring acts that he has done, his way of life has been publicized on a handbook. It said,

‘With a life story that fits impeccably into the rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches stereotype, the only truly amazing thing about Johnny Paycheck is that no one has yet seen fit to put his biography on the silver screen. Change a couple of names to protect the guilty and avoid lawsuits and you’d have an instant smash.’

Younger Years

Today, Paycheck would have turned 81. Born Donald Lytle, the singer hails from Greenfield, Ohio. At the age of nine, Paycheck began performing in talent contests. During his teenage years, he was dubbed as the ‘Ohio Kid’ performing in bars and clubs.

Probably, the first fight Paycheck had that was recorded was during his time in the Navy. After fighting with an officer, he needed to spend two years in the brig. Fortunately for him, upon discharge, he arrived in Nashville and obtained a recording contract with Decca and Mercury. He used the name Donny Young and during this period, he had the chance to work with some of the top artists in country music. Among them were Porter Wagoner, Ray Price, and Faron Young. In the ‘60s, he began playing with George Jonesbands. Together, they recorded at least 15 albums. “The Race is On” and “Love Bug” are some of their notable recordings.

How Music Thrived in Him

It was in 1965 when the outlaw singer renamed himself as Johnny Paycheck based on a Chicago prizefighter’s name, John Austin Paycheck. He then worked with producer Aubrey Mayhew and produced a few minor hits on the chart. The following year, he and Mayhew recorded and released “The Lovin’ Machine” which became his first Top 10 hit. His succeeding releases tend to be more classic and inspired by soap opera storylines as well as strange characters. Even the titles carried odd characteristics: “(Pardon Me) I’ve Got Someone To Kill,” “He’s In A Hurry (To Get Home To My Wife),” “Don’t Monkey With Another Monkey’s Monkey and If I’m Gonna Sink (I Might As Well Go To The Bottom).”

Paycheck’s keen hillbilly vocals drove his recordings with The Little Darlin’ all stone country, honky-tonk. This was amplified by his superb steel guitar which Lloyd Green made. All of those turned successful becoming big-sellers and stood out during the rule of string-laden pop-country on the airwaves. It is also during this time that he soared as a songwriter. His penned tune Apartment No. 9” gave fellow country music artist Tammy Wynette her first hit. On the other hand, Ray Price scored a No. 3  hit with another of Paycheck’s composition, “Touch My Heart.”

In 1976, Paycheck released his first true outlaw album, 11 Months and 29 Days. The album’s title represents the total length of his prison stay. Two of the singles the album produced reached Top 10. These were “Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets” and “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised).” A year later, he took the American jukeboxes by storm with his major hit Take This Job And Shove It.” The song was Paycheck’s only No. 1 single on the country chart.

On Being A Real Outlaw

Shortly after that breakthrough success, the singer’s career experienced a sudden fall. His excessive alcohol drinking, drugs consumption, and involvement in various legal battles contributed to his downfall. His legal troubles were oftentimes overshadowed by the ‘outlaw’ label he earned. It’s very rare to find an artist like him who would sing only if he feels like it. He wholeheartedly acknowledged that much of his work was reflective of the way he lived his life.

“To me, an outlaw is a man that did things his own way, whether you liked him or not. This world is full of people that want you to do things their way, not necessarily the way you want to do it. I did things my way,” he once said.

At 64, Paycheck passed away in February 2003 after his long battle with diabetes and emphysema.

Listen to one of Paycheck’s Top 10 singles below.

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