For casual fans of country music, Johnny Paycheck was a one-hit wonder who spent a good chunk of his life in jail. For those who know better, he was the greatest of the Outlaw singers and the definitive honky-tonk voice of his time.
Coe was born in Akron, Ohio in 1939. He spent his youth in and out of reformatory schools, the beginning of a long history of run-ins with the law. After spending most of his twenties in prison, he moved to Nashville in the late sixties. His style was jarring, with tattoos, long hair, and piercings, and for a stretch, he lived in a hearse parked right outside the Ryman Auditorium.
One of the side effects of the nineties boom was that every Nashville label started looking for young male acts that looked good in a Stetson and could sing with an accent.
The end result was that some solid talent was discovered a bit too early, before they’d fully refined themselves into artists. Tracy Byrd’s a great example of this. Only 25 years old when his first single went to radio, Byrd had been plucked from the Beaumont, Texas music scene that had groomed Mark Chesnutt.
Byrd’s hit material from the nineties was reflective of what the B-list hat acts recorded during that era, though his vocal charm helped him elevate middling songs from time to time. He also turned in a few gems, with his music getting far more consistent as he entered his thirties.
His last studio album, 2006’s Different Things, was excellent, but radio had already moved on to the new twentysomethings at that point, artists who will probably be making better music a decade from now and being overlooked for the new, new twentysomethings.
Ten Essential Tracks:
from the 1993 album Tracy Byrd
When surprisingly strong sales greeted the release of Byrd’s debut album, radio jumped on board. This catchy tune briefly knocked Garth’s “Ain’t Goin Down” out of the top spot, though Brooks would return to #1 a week later.