100 Greatest Men: #71. Johnny Paycheck

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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.

Born Donald Lytle in Ohio, he performed from age nine, and after a stint in the Navy, he pursued music full-time.  He quickly became known as a songwriter of high caliber and an in-demand tenor singer.   He toured with Ray Price and Willie Nelson, and was a major influence on George Jones as he was developing his signature style.

After scoring a minor hit under the name Danny Young, he adopted the stage name Johnny Paycheck.   Recording for Little Darlin’ in the late sixties, he made a series of crucial, hardcore country albums that stood in sharp contrast to the slicker Nashville sound recordings of the day.  While this wasn’t his most commercially successful work, the Little Darlin’ sessions are arguably the most significant traditional country recordings of the sixties, and laid the groundwork for the Outlaw movement that would follow the next decade.

Switching over to Epic, Paycheck found success at both radio and retail throughout the seventies.  While not a chart-topper, he regularly sent records to the top forty.  In the latter half of the decade, he broke through in a huge way, thanks to his signature song and only #1 hit: “Take This Job and Shove it.”   It became a working man’s anthem, and much like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”, its anthemic chorus led people to miss the actual content of the verses, as Paycheck never actually says the title to his boss.  It’s the inner rage of a man trapped at a job he’d like to quit.

Paycheck recorded a few more great albums and a handful of hit singles until 1985, when he was convicted of shooting and killing a man in a bar.  The subsequent appeals process distracted from his music, and he ended up serving a 22-month jail term.  He was later pardoned by the governor of Ohio.

Though he performed throughout the nineties, chronic illness limited his appearances by the turn of the century.  Paycheck died in 2003, and his friend and colleague George Jones absorbed the costs of his funeral and burial.

Essential Singles:

  • Motel Time Again, 1966
  • She’s All I Got, 1971
  • Someone to Give My Love To, 1972
  • Slide Off Your Satin Sheets, 1977
  • Take This Job and Shove It, 1977
  • Friend, Lover, Wife, 1978

Essential Albums:

  • The Lovin’ Machine, 1966
  • She’s All I Got, 1971
  • 11 Months and 29 Days, 1976
  • Slide Off Your Satin Sheets, 1977
  • Mr. Hag Told My Story, 1981
  • Modern Times, 1987

Next: #70. Ferlin Husky

Previous: #72. Vern Gosdin

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. …for those of us, who have been born a little too late to experience johnny paycheck’s career in full swing, paul w. dennis’ write-up on him in his “forgotten artists” series, published at the legendary “the 9513” blog, is also an excellent start to fill a gap that might exist.

    but don’t bother reading the thread there. it’s probably just another of those “epic” debates about how forgotten the artist portrayed really had been and that most obvious question: could someone really be called forgotten, if someone else wrote an article about him? then again, if you enjoy nonsense…

  2. The Paycheck article, will be revised and appear on My Kind of Country website under their ‘Country Heritage’ series – that will occur sometime this summer

    I personally think that the “outlaw” years represent the worst Johnny Paycheck recordings, although they are still mostly good recordings.

    My favorite Paycheck recordings come from the years 1965-1974

  3. As an aside to Mr. Paycheck:

    If memory serves me right, he and George Jones did have a hit with a remake of Chuck Berry’s 1955 rock and roll standard “Maybelline.”

    And with respect to “She’s All I’ve Got”–J.P.’s country version from ’71 paralleled a pure R&B-influenced version of that same song by Freddie North, which was on the pop charts at the same time.

  4. Looking at those essential hits before “Take This Job” you realize how good he was and how good artists can be BEFORE they get stuck in an image. I LOVE those songs and one called “Old Violin”. I think I need to go and buy a compilation of his.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.