Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Donald Eugene Lytle, 31 May '38, Greenfield OH; d 18 Feb. 2003, Nashville) An abrasive country vocalist who did very well in the mid-'60s, faded and came back mid-'70s bigger than ever. He ran away from home at age 15; joined the U.S. Navy and was imprisoned for assaulting an officer. He began in music as a sideman, playing bass in Porter Wagoner's backing group the Wagonmasters '58, then Faron Young's Country Deputies '59-60, Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys '60-62; recorded as Donnie Young, rockabilly on Decca '59, country on Mercury '60-61; became front man for George Jones's Jones Boys '62-6, playing bass and singing tenor harmony; signed to Hilltop '64 using name of prizefighter Johnny Paycheck (beaten '40 by Joe Louis), had solo hits 'A-11' and 'Heartbreak Tennessee' '65-6; he was also songwriting seriously, and provided Tammy Wynette with her first hit, 'Apartment No. 9' and Price with his top five 'Touch My Heart' '66. Teamed with Aubrey Mayhew to form Little Darlin' Records '66 and scored a top ten with 'The Lovin' Machine'; he developed a fast-paced honky-tonk style with Lloyd Green's steel guitar and had more hits 'Motel Time Again', 'Jukebox Charlie', 'The Cave'. He split with Mayhew, went to the West Coast and hit bottom due to self-confessed alcoholism.

Nashville producer Billy Sherrill brought him back '71 and signed him to Epic; first release '(Please Don't Take Her) She's All I Got' went to no. 2, starting a string of his biggest hits: 'Someone To Give My Love To', 'Mr Lovemaker', 'Song And Dance Man' '72-3, 'For A Minute There' '75, 'Slide Off Your Satin Sheets' '77 and no. 1 hit 'Take This Job And Shove It', David Allan Coe's anthem for downtrodden working people (which also inspired a comedy film '81). He still drank heavily and was often close to bankruptcy; his reckless lifestyle mirrored in songs like 'Me And The I.R.S.', 'Drinkin' And Drivin' ', '(Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train'; duet LP with George Jones '78 included hits 'Maybellene', 'You Can Have Her'; solo hits continued included 'Friend, Lover, Wife', 'The Outlaw's Prayer', 'D.O.A. (Drunk On Arrival)' '78-80. Acclaimed live LP New York Town and tribute to Merle Haggard Mr Hag Told My Story '81 kept him in the limelight, but Epic dropped him. He came back on Mercury with Modern Times '87, including no. 21 single 'Old Violin'. After several scrapes with the law, the most serious came in '85, sentenced to nine years for aggravated assault following a barroom shooting; three years of appeals failed and he was locked up '88; while in jail he obtained a general education diploma and was released after three years for model behaviour. Like so many of Nashville's veterans he headed for Branson MO to play the theatres, but his glory days were over. Other LPs: At Carnegie Hall '67 on Little Darlin'; Somebody Love Me '73, 11 Months And 29 Days '76, Take This Job And Shove It '78, Armed And Crazy '78, Everybody's Got A Family -- Meet Mine '80, Lovers And Losers '82, all on Epic.

The Associated Press quoted Opry spokeswoman Jessie Schmidt as saying that Paycheck died on Tuesday 18 February; the New York Times online edition said he died on Wednesday 19 February. He had changed his name legally in '63, and in the mid-'90s began capitalizing the 'C': PayCheck. Later projects, such as a concept album of his life story, never appeared, but celebratory compilations included The Real Mr Heartache '96 on CMF Records, The Soul and the Edge 2002 on Sony Legacy. He died broke, in a nursing home suffering from emphysema and asthma; George Jones was taking care of the funeral arrangements.