DEATH OF AN OUTLAW

Honky-tonk titan and bona fide hell-raiser Johhny Paycheck lived a colorful and trouble life, on his own terms

Johnny Paycheck, who died Feb. 18 from emphysema and asthma at age 64, often made more headlines for stirring up trouble than for climbing the charts. But the singer who scored more than 40 hits was one of country's truly original stylists – as well as a bona fide hell-raising "outlaw" who served two prison terms and fought a running battle with alcohol and drug problems.

Born Donald Eugene Lytle May 31, 1938, in Greenfield, Ohio, Johnny began his career playing bass and singing harmony vocals for such acts as Porter Wagoner and George Jones. He also wrote Tammy Wynette's debut hit, "Apartment #9."

After adopting the stage name Johnny Paycheck in 1962, he recorded for tiny Hilltop Records, debuting on the charts in 1965 with "A-11."

Johnny finally broke through six years later with the Top 5 smash "She's All I Got." In 1972, "Someone to Give My Love To" also reached the Top 5, establishing him as a master of soulful, raw-edged country ballads. He could write touching personal songs as well, like his 1986 hit "Old Violin," in which he compared himself to a used-up musical instrument, soon to be put away and never played again.

But his 1977 blue-collar anthem "Take This Job And Shove It" – his only No.1 – put Johnny on the map as a national hero to the working classes. The song inspired a movie of the same name and an album that sold a million copies. "Take This Job And Shove It" continues to have a life of its own even today – many factories and construction sites blare the song at the end of the work week, and radio stations still play it during drive-time on Friday afternoons.

But Johnny was also a rough-and-tumble character who continually ended up paying for his wild ways. In 1956, while in the Navy, he was court-martialed for assaulting an officer and spent two years in military prison. In 1982 he was fined $175,000 in a slander suit by an airline flight attendant, and he pleaded no contest in 1983 to a sexual assault charge involving a 12-year-old girl in Wyoming. (Johnny later insisted that he was innocent and that he entered his plea on the advice of his attorney.)

Then in 1989, he served prison time again after shooting a man during a barroom argument in Ohio. The victim, Larry Wise, survived – with Johnny later claiming that Wise, little worse for the wear, returned to the bar later that evening with a simple Band-Aid over the wound.

"Johnny Paycheck was country music," noted Trace Adkins. "He didn't just sing it or perform it – he lived it."

Read more about Johnny Paycheck in the current 4/01/03 "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!

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