On His Way

Paycheck, Johnny

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Singles That Should Have Been Huge

Before Johnny Paycheck (1938–2003) hit paydirt with his 1977 version of the rebel anthem "Take This Job and Shove It," he was a Nashville singer and songwriter with a honky-tonk heart and a penchant for recalling relationships that dissolved in dimly lit bars.

You can hear this on the (mostly unsuccessful) singles for the Little Darlin' label, which Paycheck founded with producer Aubrey Mayhew in the mid-'60s. One early session yielded a zippy celebration called "The Lovin' Machine." Another paired Paycheck with George Jones's rhythm section, the Jones Boys, and featured a Hank Cochran jukebox song, "A-11" ("if you push A-11, there'll be tears") that had recently been a hit for Buck Owens. The Paycheck version, which is a touch grittier, reached the Top 20 on the country singles charts, and launched his career. Over the next several years the Ohio-born singer issued an "A-11" follow-up, "The Meanest Jukebox in Town" and a tongue-in-cheek plea to Cochran for more great songs ("Help Me Hank, I'm Falling").

Those songs form the backbone of this anthology, which collects all the singles that sent Paycheck "on his way," many of which never appeared on any album. One, a dismaying account of addiction entitled "The Wheels Fell off the Wagon," was (until recently) totally unreleased—a major loss, considering the way Paycheck's nuanced, deeply affecting vocal redeems a too-common country narrative. As "Take This Job" and his other later successes make clear, that was Paycheck's enduring gift—the ability to render some low-rent, heard-it-all-before, cheating-heart ode as the saddest song in the world.

Genre: Country
Released: 2005, Koch/Little Darlin'
Key Tracks: "The Wheels Fell off the Wagon," "A-11," "The Lovin' Machine," "I'd Rather Be Your Fool."
F.Y.I.: Born Donal Eugene Lytle, Paycheck first recorded as Donny Young.
Catalog Choice: The Gospel Truth: The Complete Gospel Sessions
Next Stop: Merle Haggard: Mama Tried
After That: Bobby Bare: The Best of Bobby Bare
Book Pages: 587–588

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#1 from Matt Brundage, Silver Spring MD - 03/23/2010 5:49

Most everything Paycheck recorded for the Little Darlin’ label is pure gold.

While On His Way is certainly a satisfying compilation, a better representation of Johnny Paycheck’s early career can be found on The Real Mr. Heartache: The Little Darlin’ Years, a release that is sadly out of print.

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