Johnny Paycheck
Johnny Paycheck
NOTE: This is Part 3 of a series leading up to the Highland County Historical Society inducting five more into its Hall of Fame. This week, we profile the late Johnny Paycheck.

Ladies and gentlemen, Johnny Paycheck was born Donald Eugene Lytle on May 31, 1938 in Greenfield, Ohio. By the age of 9, Lytle was already playing in talent contests. He was singing professionally by age 15, billing himself as “The Ohio Kid.”

In the 1950s, after lying about his age, he joined the Navy. A scuffle with an officer got him court-martialed and after his stint in the Navy, he relocated to Nashville, where performed and wrote songs.

He was a tenor harmony singer with numerous hard country performers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Ray Price. He worked along with Willie Nelson in Price’s band the Cherokee Cowboys. He was featured as a tenor singer on recordings by Faron Young, Roger Miller, and Skeets McDonald. In 1960, he reached Top 35 status in Cashbox magazine’s country charts as Donny Young with the tune “Miracle of Love.”

From the early to mid-1960s, he also enjoyed some success as a songwriter for others, with his biggest songwriting hit being “Apartment No. 9,” which served as Tammy Wynette’s first chart hit in December 1966. In the early 1960s, he convinced country music legend George Jones to hire him. Paycheck provided harmony vocals as well as bass and steel guitar for Jones. He later co-wrote Jones’ hit song, “Once You’ve Had the Best.”

In 1964, he changed his name legally to Johnny Paycheck, taking the name from Johnny Paychek, a top-ranked boxer from Chicago who once fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title (and not directly as a humorous alternative to Johnny Cash, as is commonly believed). He first charted under his new name with “A-11” in 1965. His best-selling single from this period was “She’s All I Got, which reached No. 2 on the U.S. country singles charts in 1971 and made it onto the Billboard Hot 100.” His “Mr. Lovemaker” also reached No. 2 on the U.S. country singles chart in 1973.

“Touch My Heart” hit No. 3, crossed over into the pop charts and was nominated for a Grammy (1966). But with the popularity of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in the mid-1970s, Paycheck changed his image to that of outlaw, with which he was to have his largest financial success.

His producer, Billy Sherrill, helped revive his career by significantly changing his sound and image. Sherrill was best known for carefully choreographing his records and infusing them with considerable pop feel. The Paycheck records were clearly based on Sherrill’s take on the bands backing Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on records.

A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Paycheck is best remembered for his 1977 No. 1 hit single, “Take This Job and Shove It,” written by David Allan Coe, which sold over two million copies and inspired a motion picture of the same name. “Colorado Kool-Aid,” “Me and the IRS,” “Friend, Lover, Wife,” “Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets,” and “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)” were other hits for Paycheck during this period. He received an Academy of Country Music Career Achievement award in 1977.

Paycheck’s life had many highs and lows. He battled alcohol and drug addiction most of his life. However, following legal trouble and a prison sentence in the 1980s, he became a born-again Christian and a spokesman against alcohol and drugs.

“If it weren’t for the fans, I would have been gone a long time ago,” he was quoted as saying. “They’ve always stuck with me. I sing about the little guy who has been kicked around by the big guy. I sing from my heart, and they know that.”

Paycheck died at Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2003, aged 64.

He was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville, in a plot donated by George Jones.

In addition to Johnny Paycheck, the 2022 Highland County Historical Society Hall of Fame inductees are Betty Bishop, Leadership; John Glaze, Arts and Entertainment; Beverly D. Rhoads, Leadership; and the late McKinley Hobart “Mack” Sauer, Arts and Entertainment.

The five recipients will be honored at an induction ceremony Sunday, Aug. 21 at 2 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro, followed by a reception at Highland House directly across the street from the church. The public is cordially invited.

For more information on the Highland County Historical Society, please call (937) 393-3392 or email the society at [email protected]

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at [email protected]