Johnny PayCheck, the hard-living Nashville guitar slinger who urged the working class to "Take This Job and Shove It," has died.
Although he had been sober for years, decades of boozing and drugging had taken its toll on the honky-tonker. He had been in declining health for the past several years, spending recent months bedridden in a Nashville nursing home battling emphysema and asthma.
He died February 18 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center at the age of 64.
His old partying buddy George Jones remembered PayCheck as "a great country singer." Jones, who gave PayCheck an early break by hiring him as a bass player and later recorded the album Double Trouble with PayCheck, donated a grave site for the singer, who died broke. The site is adjacent to Jones' own.
"The world will miss a great country singer," said Jones, "and I will miss my friend."
Born Donald Eugene Lytle on May 31, 1938, in Greenfield, Ohio, he picked up the guitar at the age of 6 and began singing professionally by 15. After joining Jones' band, he had stints backing Faron Young, Ray Price and Poter Wagoner and, under the name "Donny Young," wrote hit tunes for Tammy Wynette ("Apartment #9) and Price ("Touch My Heart"). He adopted the moniker Johnny Paycheck in the 1960s (he began capitalizing the "c" in the 1990s) to help boost his profile in Nashville when he decided to go from sideman to solo artist.
The diminutive singer (he topped the tape at just 5-foot-5) made up for his short stature with plenty of attitude, both in his songs and his off-stage carousing.
He joined the Navy as a teenager in the 1950s. He married his first wife, Dinorah, in 1956 and they had a daughter, Jacqueline. But he went AWOL and then wound up court-martialed and sentenced to two years in the brig for whacking an officer in the head, fraturing his skull. His growing alcoholism and constant touring took its toll and the couple split in 1965. His career almost ended in 1989, when he began a seven-to-nine-year sentence for shooting a man in the head in an Ohio bar in 1985 (the victim survived). The Ohio governor, however, commuted the sentence to two years and PayCheck returned to recording.
His greatest legal hits also include a long battle with the IRS over upaid taxes (which evenutally led him to declare bankruptcy and debts in excess of $1.5 million), a slander suit from a flight attendant (he paid a fine) and a no-contest plea to the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl (he denied the assault ever took place).
Remarkably, in between all his court time, PayCheck found time to record some 70 albums and land 33 singles on the country charts, including the Grammy-nominated "(Don't Take Her) She's All I Got," as well as "I'm the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised)," "Slide Off Your Satin Sheets," "Old Violin" and "You Can Have Her."
Still, he'll be remembered for the "Take This Job and Shove It" phenomenon, which, to the bane of bosses nationwide, became a T-shirt-adorning slogan. The tune perfectly showcased his sense of humor and his hair-trigger temper; it earned him a Grammy nomination in 1977 and was the basis of a 1981 movie.
He also tried his hand at acting, appearing in such films as Heroes of the Heart, Sweet Country Road and JD and The Salt Flat Kid.
PayCheck joined the Grand Ole Opry cast in 1997. At the time, he said he whiskey-swilling, cocaine-snorting days were long behind him, although he still played the part on stage. "They still remember me as that crazy, good-time-Charlie honky-tonker," he told the Nashville Tennessean, "and I don't tell 'em any different."
Last year, Sony released the compilation album The Soul & the Edge: The Best of Johnny PayCheck.
PayCheck is survived by his second wife, Sharon Ray, and their son, Jonathan, as well as a granddaughter from his first marriage.