Country star Johnny Paycheck dies at 64

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 20, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- County singer Johnny Paycheck, best remembered for his hit song "Take This Job and Shove It," died Tuesday at the age of 64.

Born Donald Eugene Lytle on May 31, 1938, in Greenfield, Ohio, he was playing the guitar by age 6 and singing professionally by age 15. Ironton resident Frank Haas, who was a Greenfield Police Officer in the 1950s remembered Lytle as a teenager.

"He had a hard life," Haas said. "I thought he was a pretty good kid then, I never saw anything out of him.

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When I wasn't busy I used to pick him up and haul him around. Paul Angel, who owned the 28 Club took him in, gave him a place to live and pushed him to get into music."

After a stint in the Navy in the mid-1950s, he moved to Nashville and found work as a bass player for George Jones, Porter Wagoner, Ray Price and Faron Young. Lytle took the name Johnny Paycheck in the mid-1960s about a decade after moving to Nashville to build a country music career.

He recorded for Decca and Mercury records as Donny Young until he renamed himself and built success first as a songwriter and then as a singer. One of his early compositions was "Apartment #9," recorded in 1966 by Tammy Wynette. He began capitalizing the "c" in PayCheck in the mid-1990s.

PayCheck's career was interrupted from 1989 to 1991 when he served two years in prison for shooting a man in the head in an Ohio bar in 1985. Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste commuted PayCheck's seven-to-nine-year sentence for aggravated assault, and the singer returned to his career, and seemed to put his life in order. He gave anti-drug talks to young people and became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry cast in 1997.

It was during those first years after his prison release that he moved to the Chesapeake area and met South Point resident Ronnie Meadows.

"When he was in prison, his wife, Sharon, and his son lived in West Virginia, but after he got out he moved over here and he lived in a house overlooking the vo-ed school out back of Chesapeake," Meadows said. "I thought he was a pretty good guy after he got sobered up and everything. He was pretty funny when you got to know him."

Meadows owned the bus that Paycheck leased and toured in after his prison release. It was called "The Old Violin", after one of Paycheck's songs. A West Virginia friend gave Paycheck an old violin that had been put in a glass case as a memento of the song. Paycheck later gave the glass-encased violin to Meadows.

"And I've still got it," Meadows said. "There were a few times that I traveled with him when his driver couldn't go. It's a different life altogether to be on the road. It's not a glamorous as it looks."

Meadows said Paycheck and his family lived in the Chesapeake area for about five years and then moved to Nashville after his management team broke up.

After years of living the clean life, Paycheck once mused that his previous years as a hard-living, hard-drinking outlaw are what people most remember.

PayCheck said when people came to hear him play, they still expected to see the whiskey-drinking, cocaine-using, wild-eyed performer with unkempt hair and a surly frown -- a reputation he built early in his career.

"They still remember me as that crazy, good-time-Charlie,

and I don't tell 'em any different," he said after his Opry induction.

In 2002, a PayCheck compilation album, "The Soul & the Edge: The Best of Johnny PayCheck," was released.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.