From left to right Johnny Lee, Johnny Paycheck and Mickey Gilley at Gilley's Nightclub.
|Birth name||Donald Eugene Lytle|
May 31, 1938|
Greenfield, Ohio, USA
|Died||February 19, 2003
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Honky tonk music
Donald Eugene Lytle (May 31, 1938 – February 19, 2003), better known by the stage name Johnny Paycheck, was a country music singer 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.
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. All of these recordings are recognizable by their honky tonk purism. The recordings shun vocal choruses and strings that became known as the "Countrypolitan" sound 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". 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.
|“||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."
—Johnny Paycheck
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 7 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.
|“||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.
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.
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.
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.
|“||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."||”|
—Johnny Paycheck
His song "It Won't Be Long (And I'll Be Hating You)" appeared in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.
- Cooper, Daniel. (1998). "Johnny PayCheck". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 408.
- Obituary: Johnny Paycheck: Hell-raising country singer., The Independent (UK), February 21, 2003
- Paul W. Dennis, "Forgotten Artists: Donald Lytle, aka Donny Young", the9513.com, March 4, 2010
- Official website
- Johnny PayCheck Tribute Site
- Johnny PayCheck at The Internet Movie Database
- Johnny Paycheck at Find a Grave
- CBS News - Country singer Johnny PayCheck dead at 64
- Johnny PayCheck, Kurt Hernon, 2002