Heartland: UPI Arts & Entertainment

By CRYSTAL CAVINESS, United Press International  |  Feb. 20, 2003 at 8:15 PM
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NASHVILLE, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The man who gave frustrated workers an anthem has died.

Johnny Paycheck, 64, perhaps best-known for his 1977 hit "Take This Job And Shove It," died Wednesday at Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center following several years of declining health due to emphysema.

Paycheck, who was one of the original outlaws of country music, was known as much for his reputation as for his contributions to country music.

Music success for the Greenfield, Ohio, native began in the mid-'60s after a time playing guitar for Porter Wagoner, Ray Price and George Jones. In 1965, the man born Donald Eugene Lytle took the name Johnny Paycheck after a Chicago prizefighter named John Austin Paycheck.

A year later, Paycheck was on the charts with the Grammy-nominated "A-11" and "The Lovin' Machine," his first Top 10 hit.

In addition to his own hits, he penned popular singles for the likes of Tammy Wynette ("Apartment #9") and Ray Price ("Touch My Heart") during this era.

With his significant taste of success, Paycheck headed for California in the late 1960s, where he found himself heavily in debt and addicted to alcohol and drugs, according to "Definitive Country" by Barry McCloud.

In 1970, producer Billy Sherrill helped Paycheck get a new recording contract with Epic Records, resulting in the crossover hit "She's All I' Got." Seemingly, Paycheck was back on the success track.

In 1972, however, he was convicted of check forgery and received a suspended sentence.

Paycheck continued recording throughout the 1970s with a number of hits, though none matched the success of "Take This Job and Shove It," written by David Allan Coe. A movie of the same name was made in 1981 starring Robert Hays.

The 1980s were a tumultuous time for Paycheck. In addition to his continuing trouble with alcohol and drug abuse, the singer began getting into serious legal trouble.

In 1981, he was sued by a female flight attendant for slander after his unruly behavior on a flight. In December 1985, he shot a man during a fight at a lounge in Ohio. He was found guilty of aggravated assault and, after exhausting the appeals process, began serving a prison term in 1989.

In the interim period before entering prison, Mercury Records signed Paycheck. He released "Old Violin," which was a Top 30 hit for him. It also was during this time he began recording religious songs for Damascus Records.

Paycheck served nearly two years before being freed by the Ohio governor in 1991.

He largely has been out of the spotlight since his release from prison, except for occasional health updates. He has been critically ill for several years, with memos from his management company circulating throughout Music Row for at least the past two years asking for prayers for Paycheck's health.

The last music project Paycheck worked on was a recording of "Old Violin" by Daryle Singletary. Singletary recorded the Paycheck-penned tune for his newest project, "That's Why I Sing This Way." During the recording, Paycheck was recorded from his hospital bed doing a recitation on the song.

Singletary was in Nashville for the annual Country Radio Seminar, country radio's largest convention, promoting the song and the new CD the day that Paycheck died.

"We knew when we made the record -- we knew then, how special it was," Singletary said about "Old Violin" upon learning of Paycheck's death. "We recognized the gift he was giving us then, and I truly value that today, and will always. I see 'Old Violin' as a tribute now, to a departed friend and inspiration who will never be forgotten. It's a very sad day, for me, for the country music family, for the world."

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