Johnny Paycheck

Hell-raising country singer

Donald Eugene Lytle (Johnny Paycheck), singer, songwriter and guitarist: born Greenfield, Ohio 31 May 1938; three times married (one son, two daughters); died Nashville, Tennessee 18 February 2003.

A charismatic hell-raiser, Johnny Paycheck enjoyed one of the biggest country hits of the 1970s with "Take This Job and Shove It", a song that in 1977 became an anthem for blue-collar workers across America. Its defiant spirit was typical of Paycheck, whose confrontations with authority figures and battles with the bottle would culminate in a nine-year prison sentence for aggravated assault.

He was born Donald Eugene Lytle in southern Ohio in 1938 and learned to play the guitar as a child. As a teenager, he thumbed his way across the United States, and frequently performed in bars and honky-tonks under the sobriquet "The Ohio Kid". In 1956, he joined the US Navy, but an assault on his commanding officer led to two years in a military prison.

On his release, Lytle headed for Nashville, where he began to work with young songwriters including Bill Anderson and Roger Miller. He performed as a sideman in the bands of George Jones, Faron Young and Ray Price and even, as Donny Young, recorded a clutch of unsuccessful discs for Decca and Mercury. In 1964, having borrowed the name of a former heavyweight boxer, he enjoyed his first chart hit as Johnny Paycheck with "A-11" (1965).

In 1966 he and the producer Aubrey Mayhew formed Little Darlin' Records and in the same year Paycheck scored a Top Ten hit for the label with "The Lovin' Machine". The sides he cut for Little Darlin' are now widely admired, but they failed to prevent it from going into liquidation and, by the end of the decade, he was living in California and mired in drug and alcohol abuse.

In 1971, however, Billy Sherrill of Epic Records offered him a new recording contract. Sherrill had long wanted to work with Paycheck; Sherrill's protégée Tammy Wynette had made her chart début in 1966 with Paycheck's song "Apartment No 9". Sherrill and Paycheck's initial collaboration produced "She's All I Got" (1971), which became a No 3 hit, crossed over into the pop charts and was nominated for a Grammy. They followed it with, among others, "Someone to Give My Love to" (1972), "Let's All Go Down to the River" (1972), "Mr Lovemaker" (1973) and "For a Minute There" (1974).

Despite his renewed success, Paycheck's private life continued to be troubled. In 1972 he received a conviction for cheque fraud and in 1973 he was declared bankrupt. In 1977 he had major hits with "Slide off your Satin Sheets" and the appropriately titled "I'm the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)" and followed them with what would prove to be his career record, David Allan Coe's "Take This Job and Shove It". Other successes followed, including "Friend, Lover, Wife" (1979) and a clutch of entertaining duets with George Jones, but personal problems began to take a toll and he found himself placed increasingly lower in the charts.

In December 1985 he became involved in an argument with two men in a bar in Hillsboro, Ohio, allegedly over the merits of turtle soup and deer meat. Paycheck shot one of them, wounding him in the head, and eventually found himself with a prison sentence. During a three-year appeal process he re-signed with Mercury records and charted with "Old Violin" (1987), an autobiographical number that he would later cite as a personal favourite. In 1989, however, he began his sentence, serving two years before gaining a conditional release.

Over the past decade, despite Paycheck's often poor health, his career had undergone a resurgence. Younger acts acknowledged him as an important influence and successfully covered his old hits, and he finally gained membership of Nashville's famous Grand Ole Opry. Throughout, he continued to acknowledge the importance of his loyal fan base, and recently said:

If it weren't for the fans I would have been gone a long time ago. They've always stuck with me. I sing about the little guy who has been kicked around by the big guy. I sing from my heart and they know that.

Paul Wadey

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape