Perhaps one of country music’s most under-appreciated vocal stylists, Johnny Paycheck receives the star treatment with “The Soul & the Edge: The Best of Johnny Paycheck,” due April 30 on Columbia/Legacy.
Paycheck was an outlaw when outlaws weren’t cool, and the set masterfully blends his soulful ballads with rougher-edged, sometimes violent fare, both styles spiced with equal amounts of alcohol and attitude.
Bruce Dickinson served as the compilation’s executive producer for Sony/Legacy. “This was something I felt needed to be done,” Dickinson explains. “There are a few artists out there who for some reason or another didn’t get the recognition they deserve, and I felt that way about Johnny Paycheck. This is a guy who, for my money, changed how country music is sung.”
Marty Martel, Paycheck’s manager, says the title is more than appropriate. “He’s got more soul than anybody in this town, and he’s lived on the edge his whole life.”
For Paycheck, the compilation is in many ways a validation of the broad scope of his material. “It makes me feel good to listen to it, because this is a big part of my career,” says Paycheck, whose failing health — including struggles with emphysema — keep him off the road and out of the studio today. Even so, he looks back on his body of work with pride. “I enjoyed all those days. I enjoyed both the recording and the tours. I loved the studio work with the musicians and creating something. If I had it to do over again, I think I’d do about the same thing.”
Dickinson notes that considering Paycheck’s vast recording history, the collection did not come together easily. “Paycheck very quietly amassed over 80 chart hits, so whittling that down was a difficult task,” he says. “We decided to stick with his Epic years [except for the Mercury single “Old Violin”], which honed it down some, but it was still an awful lot of hits to deal with.”
In the end, Dickinson went with an intriguing mix of such classics as the bitter “Take This Job and Shove It,” the outlaw anthem “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised),” the quintessential cheatin’ song “Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets,” and the solid gold “(Don’t Take Her) She’s All I Got,” with lesser-known but often even more powerful cuts, like Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ragged Old Truck,” the violent “Colorado Cool-Aid,” the defiant “Fifteen Beers,” and the hangdog “11 Months and 29 Days.” Paycheck is also a confident balladeer, as evidenced on such stone country cuts as “Feminine Touch,” “Old Violin,” and Merle Haggard’s “All Night Lady.”
Paycheck says the harder stuff he recorded is reflective of the life he lived. “That was me, them’s all ‘life’ songs,” he says. “I regret a lot of that stuff I did.”
Indeed, Paycheck’s turbulent personal life-including ongoing battles with the Internal Revenue Service and scrapes with the law that landed him in prison for shooting a man at the North High Lounge in Hillsboro, Ohio — often overshadowed his career. But throughout, Paycheck was a total professional in the studio, churning out a steady stream of high-quality recordings, many with legendary Nashville producer Billy Sherrill at the helm.
“Billy Sherrill is the master to me, and I enjoyed every minute working with him,” Paycheck recalls. “People would bring me songs, but I always depended on Billy for songs, too.”
To Paycheck, the “outlaw” label transcended his legal troubles. “To me, an ‘outlaw’ is a man that did things his own way, whether you liked him or not. This world is full of people that want you to do things their way, not necessarily the way you want to do it. I did things my way.”
Excerpted from the March 30, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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