Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, October 07, 2003
JOHNNY PAYCHECK : “THE REAL MR. HEARTACHE – THE LITTLE DARLIN’ YEARS”…..Slowly but surely & one by one, I have been getting myself comfortable with the American country music heavyweights of yesteryear. I started the journey in as “lite” and innocuous a manner as it comes about 12-13 years ago, discovering the holy trinity of LORETTA, TAMMY and DOLLY all in the same year. Go on, laugh if you want at the syrupy lyrics, the soaring, operatic strings and sappy honky-tonkin’. I heart them all, particularly the mid/late-60s stuff. For brilliant, ageless, classically representative tracks, I highly recommend Loretta Lynn's “Hello Darlin’”; Tammy Wynette’s “Singing My Song” and Dolly Parton’s “I Don’t Want To Throw Rice”. These women’s vocals combined with the songwriting craft of Harlan Howard, Shel Silverstein et al is as joyous a sound as anything from the soul & pop genres from the same era. OK, so then I moved into a major, wallet-draining CARTER FAMILY obsession, and then on to the male pantheon: HANK WILLIAMS, MERLE HAGGARD, GEORGE JONES, LOUVIN BROTHERS, and then even more backward to the 1920s and 30s hillbilly & bluegrass eras. Now I’m trying to fill in the blanks, because I know there’s a lot more ore to mine out there.

With regard to Mr. Paycheck, I think we all remember his working class Monday Night Football beer-swillin’ 1970s megahit “Take This Job and Shove It”, but did you know that he had a pretty storied, slightly less novelty-esque mid-60s career? He did! This collection covers the highlights of his earliest recorded years of 1964-68, when he barnstormed across the far west (Southern California and Las Vegas), taking cues and pointers from George Jones while writing some terrific down-and-out country music. His voice was exceptionally rough-hewn and weathered, even at a young age, and the liner notes make it clear that Paycheck was a bit of a rapscallion and hell-raiser during the period in question. He lived it, in other words. I’m not sure if you can conjure up a more pathetic (and funny) drunk & alone tale than the fantastic “Motel Time Again” – other standouts include “He’s In a Hurry (To Get Home To My Wife)” and the brooding, morose “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone To Kill”. No, Paycheck doesn’t quite have the pipes that Jones or Haggard did, and he certainly made some ill-advised cartoonish recordings like “Don’t Monkey With Another Monkey’s Monkey” that likely won’t travel to the Hall of Fame with him. But I’m happy to add this to the collection – at least 20 of the 24 tracks are first-rate “pure country gold”.