It’s rare you can pull out the term “Hard Country” and have it make sense and fit like a glove on an artist, but that is exactly what describes Johnny Paycheck. And he’s was an Outlaw too, in the truest sense of the word. Sure maybe he wasn’t as integral to the Outlaw scene as Willie, Waylon, Coe, or Kristofferson, but Paycheck fought Nashville when necessary, never settled, did things his way, and told it like it was.
In true Outlaw fashion, Paycheck started his solo career under his own label “Little Darlin’ Records.” When that folded he moved to epic, but while the “Nashville Sound” had moved to strings and choruses, Paycheck stuck with the true honky tonk style of heavy pedal steel guitar, fiddles, harmonies, and themes involving low living and real world issues.
If you ask me, the more an artist is reviled by Nashville, the bigger skin they have on the wall. Well when Hank Williams III went to release his last album Damn Right, Rebel Proud, it wasn’t a profanity-laced tribute to the infamous GG Allin that his label Curb Records decided to veto. No, it was a cover of Paycheck’s “Only Hell Momma Ever Raised.”
But Paycheck also comes with serious country music accolades, including 11 top 10 hits (including “Only Hell Momma Ever Raised”), a #1 hit in 1977 with “Take This Job and Shove It,” an Academy of Country Music Career Achievement Award from that same year, and he also was an inducted member of the Grand Ole Opry. Early in his career, Paycheck also worked as a tenor singer for George Jones, and is given credit for helping develop Jones’ unique lyrical phrasing.
It is for all of these reasons that Johnny Paycheck fans want him considered for the Country Music Hall of Fame, and have started an online petition.
Paycheck does come with some baggage. Numerous run ins with the law landed him in jail for long stints, and drug and alcohol abuse created financial issues for him and ended his career too early. Still, his impact on country music, especially Outlaw country and Hard Country (man, I just love the sound of those two words together) cannot be denied.