- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Johnny PayCheck, one of country music's true outlaws, is short of breath and struggling to concentrate on the conversation.

His emphysema and asthma have worsened, and he's bedridden in a nursing home.

An infection in his lower intestine a few years ago made it all the way to his lungs, and the 63-year-old singer has never fully recovered, explains his manager, Marty Martel.

"We're hopeful that therapy can help. He's tired of lying in that bed," Mr. Martel says.

During his up-and-down career, Mr. PayCheck has recorded dozens of hits, including "She's All I Got" and "Old Violin," but he's best known for "Take This Job and Shove It," which became a national catch phrase in 1977 and was the basis of a 1981 movie.

"Well, I'd like to be remembered by all my work, instead of one song," Mr. PayCheck says. "But a lot of times you get tagged that way. Maybe with this compilation album, people will hear the body of the work."

His new 23-song CD, "The Soul & the Edge: The Best of Johnny PayCheck," is country music at its best, dealing with adult issues such as drinking, cheating and love gone wrong. It includes "Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets," "I've Seen Better Days" and "Colorado Cool-Aid."

One single from 1977, "I Did the Right Thing" by Bobby Braddock, deals with the pain of not cheating. Mr. PayCheck interprets lyrics such as "I went home to my wife, straightened up my life" into an anguished cry of pain. The song points out that doing the right thing doesn't always make one happy.

"Oh yeah," Mr. PayCheck says, straining his weakened voice. "That came across good. That was one of my favorites."

Mr. PayCheck was born Donald Lytle in Greenfield, Ohio. He began playing guitar as a child, left home as a teen-ager to wander and then joined the Navy. He was court-martialed for hitting an officer and spent two years in a military prison.

After he arrived in Nashville where he took the name Donnie Young he began writing songs and working in the bands of stars such as George Jones, Porter Wagoner and Ray Price. Two record deals came and went.

Then Aubrey Mayhew agreed to manage him, and his name was changed to Johnny PayCheck. On Miss Mayhew's Little Darlin' label, he pushed the boundaries of country music with a series of singles, including "The Cave," about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, and "(Pardon Me) I've Got Someone to Kill." (Regrettably, those early classics aren't included on the new CD.)

His career all but disappeared in the late '60s as he sank into alcohol and drug addiction. Tracked down by a record-company executive in Los Angeles, he went into rehabilitation and launched a comeback on Epic Records, aided by producer Billy Sherrill.

In 1971, "She's All I Got" made it to No. 2 on the Billboard country singles chart, and Mr. PayCheck was a regular hit maker for the next decade.

"I think my best times were in the '70s, when I made the comeback," Mr. PayCheck says. "Then there was '76, when 'Shove It' came along."

His addictions and related health problems caused his career to fade again in the 1980s, except for the superlative 1986 single "Old Violin." He toured when his health allowed into the 1990s.

Through it all, Mr. PayCheck's singing has been cited consistently as an influence by older stars such as Mr. Jones and Merle Haggard and by younger singers as well.

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