This is a really exciting project, released on the Sugar Hill Label: Robbie Fulks (producer) and a number of well-known artists paying tribute to Johnny Paycheck, one of the all-time great vocalists of country music. who passed away in February of 2003 at age 64. It is good to see that several songs from Johnny's years with Little Darlin' were included, and it is even better to know that Lloyd Green who did so much for these recordings by  playing incredible steel guitar, was invited to participate in this project.

Below please read  reviews of this outstanding project:

Originally posted in Atlanta Journal Constitution...

Copyright 2004 Cox Enterprises, Inc. 

  Cox News Service

  August 9, 2004 Monday

  SECTION: Entertainment, Television and Culture

  There are so many tribute albums and so few that warrant more than one listen. But this one is a stellar exception that boasts several good reasons to listen intently and return again and again. First, it gives props to a man whom most casual listeners think of as a one-trick pony. Johnny Paycheck didn't even write "Take This Job and Shove It" - David Allan Coe did - he just brought it into the American consciousness. And by the time he recorded that immortal tune, he'd been in the music business for nearly 20 years, spending time as a sideman for Porter Wagoner, Ray Price and George Jones before recording on his own. The hard-drinking, violence-prone Paycheck was outlaw country before the phrase was coined, and many of his tunes explore the volatile mix of alcohol and romantic obsession. He could lighten them with humor, but sometimes the pain was all there was.

  Alt-country's own outlaw, Robbie Fulks, deserves thanks for giving Paycheck his due, but give Fulks credit for making sure "Touch My Heart" succeeds on a purely musical level, too. The album is practically a master class in pedal steel from Lloyd Green, who provided the same service on many of the original recordings. The mix of Green's stinging steel and Neko Case's powerful pipes on "If I'm Gonna Sink (I Might as Well Go to the Bottom)" is explosive.

  The cherry on the sundae is the vocal talent Fulks has assembled. Mavis Staples pulls the gospel roots of "Touch My Heart" to the surface, George Jones gives "She's All I Got" all the ache it can take, and Hank Williams III conjures the ghost of his grandfather on "I'm the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised." Bobby Bare Jr. takes the lead on "Motel Time Again," a tune penned by his father and one of Paycheck's biggest hits, while the senior Bare joins Radney Foster, Buck Owens and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy for a knockabout version of "Take This Job and Shove It."  




Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck (Various Artists)

by Mark Deming

[four stars]

Johnny Paycheck is best remembered as the likably ornery Nashville outlaw who scored a major crossover hit with David Allan Coe's "Take This Job and Shove it" and made the title a household phrase. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Paycheck's biggest hit also created a one-dimensional image that he was never able to escape, and did no justice to the full scope of his talent.

Paycheck was a fine singer, a gifted songwriter, a respected journeyman musician who anchored road bands for George Jones and Porter Wagoner, and an artist whose work could be bitingly funny, heart-wrenching, intensely personal, or a little disturbing depending on which tune from which point of his career you chose to cue up. In short, the late Johnny Paycheck is a guy whose public profile could stand an overhaul, and thankfully ace songwriter and noted fan Robbie Fulks has been given the opportunity to do just that with Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck, in which 20 artists interpret songs that were either written or recorded by Paycheck during his nearly 40-year career in music.

Fulks recorded most of these performances with the same core session band (including Redd Volkaert on guitar and the great Lloyd Green on pedal steel), giving the album a consistent and unified personality that makes this more than a collection of well-intentioned but scattershot single sides, and the "casting" is inspired, with all the performers ideal fits for their selections.

George Jones captures the desperation amidst the bravado of "She's All I Got," Mavis Staples finds an almost spiritual devotion in "Touch My Heart," Neko Case's hard-edged honky tonk charge through "If I'm Gonna Sink (I Might as Well go to the Bottom)" is breathless and a little bit scary, Mike Ireland's beautiful take on "A Man That's Satisfied" confirms he's one of the greatest unsung talents in country music, and Hank Williams III captures the dark and hopeless heart of "I'm the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised" while calling up the spirit of his grandpa.

Nearly every track on Touch My Heart dips into a slightly different shade of classic country music, and every song satisfies, while cohering into a thoroughly convincing and genuinely affecting argument for the diversity of Johnny Paycheck's talent. In short, this is a working model of how a tribute album should be done, and one imagines that, somewhere in that great honky tonk in the sky, Paycheck is tipping his hat to Robbie Fulks and his many talented friends they've truly done right by his work and his memory. Points added for David Cantwell's superb liner notes.


From the prestigious N.Y. Times (Sunday Edition):

TOUCH MY HEART: A TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY PAYCHECK' Tribute albums have become a morass of good intentions. They're everywhere and inconsequential. In country music and jazz, where honorable elders hang heavy over youthful ambitions, the genre is especially plentiful and full of mailed-in performances. But I will return to "Touch My Heart" (Sugar Hill). Paycheck, who died last year, was the ultimate underdog of the mainstream: his many brushes with success couldn't correct a chronic problem with authority. His great skills as a singer and a songwriter tended to be overlooked; instead, he occupied the ever-available slot of Nashville miscreant.

Here, under the direction of the producer Robbie Fulks, underdogs and mainstreamers take the real measure of him, with a backing band that includes Lloyd Green, the steel guitarist who graced the early years of Paycheck's discography.

Neko Case, Dave Alvin, Mike Ireland, Jeff Tweedy, Bobby Bare Jr., Hank Williams III and Mr. Fulks himself represent the current alt-country underdogs; George Jones, Jim Lauderdale, Johnny Bush, Radney Foster and Bobby Bare represent country's true hit parade of the past. But in the record's masterstroke, Mavis Staples - the queen of tribute-album appearances - was drafted to sing "Touch My Heart," a forgotten early hit. The song's tempo is slowed way down; with a Hammond organ purring in the background, Ms. Staples pours it on, amplifying the dramatic misery in Paycheck's songwriting and reshaping it into gospel.


Copyright 2004 The Washington Post

The Washington Post

August 18, 2004 Wednesday

HEADLINE: A Johnny Paycheck Tribute That Really Pays Off

BYLINE: Bill Friskics-Warren, Special to The Washington Post

The late Johnny Paycheck was many things: an iconoclastic honky-tonker, a limber country-soul crooner, a self-made musical "outlaw" and a wickedly tragicomic songwriter. He was also a brawler and a real-life convict, a notorious boozehound and drug addict, and, perhaps most poignantly, a bighearted and dignified man. The one thing that Johnny Paycheck wasn't was reducible to any one of these qualities, no matter what those who fetishize the seamier side of his life and music might have us believe.

Like so many great, tortured artists -- and the man born Donald Eugene Lytle certainly was both -- Paycheck, who died last year at the age of 64, was a complicated and conflicted soul. That's why the career-spanning tribute CD "Touch My Heart," produced by the similarly gifted and hard-to-peg Robbie Fulks, is so welcome: It bears glowing witness to virtually every aspect of Paycheck's outsize music and persona.

Paycheck's dissipated yet self-deprecating '60s sides for the Little Darlin' label are represented by Neko Case's steel-saturated take of "If I'm Gonna Sink (I Might as Well Go to the Bottom)" and by Marshall Crenshaw's shuffling-in-spite-of-itself version of "I'm Barely Hangin' On to Me." Also culled from Paycheck's Little Darlin' years are Bobby Bare Jr.'s bloodshot remake of "Motel Time Again" and Johnny Bush's update of the lovelorn "Apartment #9," a Paycheck original that made the country charts in the late '60s for both Bobby Austin and Tammy Wynette (and that Bush previously recorded).

The groove-rich countrypolitan hits that Paycheck recorded with producer Billy Sherrill get their due here as well. Former NRBQ mainstay Al Anderson croons Paycheck's sultry 1972 profession of undying love, "Someone to Give My Love To," while Johnny's old running buddy George Jones wraps his rubbery pipes around the desperate entreaty "She's All I Got."

A No. 2 country smash for Paycheck in 1972, "She's All I Got" is the most celebrated example of the late singer's facility with R&B material. Written by Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams and Gary "U.S." Bonds, the song originally was a 1971 pop hit for Nashville soul singer and DJ Freddie North. Conversely, Paycheck's own compositions lend themselves to artists working in genres outside country music, such as gospel-soul phenom Mavis Staples, who delivers a ravaged, nearly six-minute version of this tribute's centerpiece and title track.

Paycheck's outlaw persona, the most enduring aspect of his legacy, is presented here as well, although to producer Fulks's credit, it's not oversold. Hank Williams III chips in a wraithlike rendition of "I'm the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)." Dave Alvin takes a croaky turn on the cellblock dispatch "11 Months and 29 Days," while a rowdy intergenerational crew led by Buck Owens and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy reprises the obligatory yet perennially anthemic "Take This Job and Shove It."

Just as salutary as this set's inspired performances, production and material is its range of contributors, from young to old, country to rock, pop to soul, including the criminally unsung Mike Ireland. And not to be overlooked is the album's in-the-pocket house band, most notably the great Lloyd Green, whose eerie steel guitar licks made Paycheck's Little Darlin' sides some of the most zonked-out and heart-rending country records ever heard, within or outside the mainstream.


From the Miles of Music MoMZine.

  MoMZine: Why you? What made Fran approach you?

  Fulks: I guess she was a fan of both [Paycheck and me]. It's just on of those weird things, she's not really on the inside in country music, she's not in the Nashville scene, she's in New Jersey. Her take on country music reflects more where she's at than any real world thing, she's in that sort of punk underground scene that reflects a New York City understanding of country music. For instance, she thought it would be great to have David Johansen and Iggy Pop and people like that sing on it. I guess that ties into why she thought that somebody like me would have anything to do with Johnny Paycheck. She sort of wanted to guide the record a little bit in that direction and I resisted it and it was just another instance where she was just so congenial to work with. Anytime we had a disagreement she just kind of allowed me to prevail. It was really an unprecedented, beautiful working environment. I had some good and bad times making records but this was the greatest environment that you'd want. It makes you want to re-order the business so that it's run by private patronage rather than a record company.

  MoMZine: What's your relationship with the music? When did you first come to it?

  Fulks: I have a lot of Johnny Paycheck's records, probably 100 of his songs in my head and I just think he's just one of the greats, one of the six or seven best honkytonk singers of the last century. Fran didn't know that my love of Paycheck ran that deep. It just happened to work out that way. Johnny first hit me when I was just opening up the whole box of country music in the mid '80s, when I was already an adult. A fiddle player that I was working gave me a couple records of Johnny's and said, "Well if you think this is the guy that sang 'Take This Job And Shove It' and appeared on The Gong Show," which is pretty much all I knew of him, he said "I've got a real surprise for you." I put on the cassette and I was really blown away, instantly. The Little Darlin' music is so universal and the playing, especially Lloyd Green's, is unlike anything else in country music.

  MoMZine: What is it about his sort of honkytonk that's special?

  Fulks: I was talking about this with Lloyd the other day. Lloyd quoted Johnny when somebody asked him what made those records different. He said, in that sort of simple country way, "Well I sang those records with an attitude and Lloyd Green played 'em with an attitude." And Lloyd said, "Well that just about sums it up." I think the key really was in the interplay between Lloyd and Johnny and the fact that those guys, who obviously weren't insiders, were sort of looking to succeed through kicking ass and standing out by being different. And they also happened to be lucky enough to record at a time in country music where the standard was to record a group of instrumentalists performing a song in a room quickly, which has really led to the best musical results, compared to any other method, I think, that's been used. So, all those things along with [producer] Aubrey Mayhew being the overseer and being the chief ass kicker -- his attitude was just to make a mark with those records and mix and master them in such a way that they would almost sound annoying, that they would really stand above the competition with their darkness and piercing-ness of the steel tone and a couple other respects.

  MoMZine: So how did you approach it? Did you try to match artists with songs?

  Fulks: One of the reasons that I just crow about this record so much, like I wasn't involved with it, is because in a way I wasn't that much involved with it. I didn't pair people with songs, I just called people that I was really a fan of their singing, people I thought were great vocal interpreters, which applies equally to George Jones as it does to Larry Cordle or Neko [Case], and certainly Mavis [Staples]. So I just called and for the most part they picked their own songs. I did send ["Touch My Heart"] to Mavis and asked her to sing that particular song but most people in country music are well aware of the breadth and quality of Johnny's work and most of them are excited to think about which song to pick out.

  MoMZine: Talk about the experience of having such greats as George Jones and Mavis Staples in the studio.

  Fulks: Well it's kind of out-of-body. My response to a situation like that is just to laugh. The absurdity of sitting in a control room and listening to George or Mavis sing and being in the position after the take of saying "Let's re-sing this line," or "Oh, just one more time, you're just warming up now" -- I'm not gonna say any of that crap to those people. All those guys just know what they're doing so well and they are much more aware of their own instrument and their own capabilities than I am, so certainly, with the real heavy hitters like Mavis and George, my approach would be just to get them on the first take or two, listen back with them and then be open to any changes that they wanted to make, but not to force my own opinions too much.

  MoMZine: Any artists or performances that surprised you in any way?

  Fulks: Hank III really surprised me. I wasn't involved with that [session], he couldn't make it in because he couldn't work it around his tour schedule, so he ended up mailing me his vocal, and he totally re-imagined "I'm The Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised" from the ground up. The first time I heard it I was not even that pleasantly surprised by it, it took a while to grow on me. After I had listened to it a dozen times and I realized its incredible worth and the incredible creativity that he put into it, I thought, well this is gonna be the lynchpin of the whole record. Obviously he sounds like Senior, and all that's cool, but that song has a country-ness to it that is really valuable to the record. As much as I like all the other tracks they're slick in a way, they're not from the holler, and that thing is from a really dark holler.

  MoMZine: Talk about the version of "Take This Job And Shove It." It's definitely the beacon and perhaps the most cliché thing about Paycheck, the one thing that people on the perimeter might know about him. So, how do you approach it how did you decide to have Buck, Bare, Radney Foster and Jeff Tweedy sing on it?

  Fulks: I was inclining toward not including that song on the record and I said to Fran one time, "Do you think that it would be too willfully strange to omit that song?" And she said yes. That's like one instance where she did prevail. But nobody was picking it. Who wants to do that song, you know, in the sense of either standing up to the iconic nature of the song or just singing an overdone song. Luckily, Buck picked it, it was the one he most wanted to do because I guess he sings it a the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield when somebody has a retirement party, so he was well familiar with it. But Buck couldn't leave Bakersfield because he's a stay-in-one-place kind of guy at this point. So I mail him the track, he mails me back the vocal and requested that there be another singer, maybe a duet situation with [Jim] Lauderdale or something like that, to make it stronger. And at that point I started to think about the kind of track that we recorded and the Monday Night Football-event kind of tracks that people sometimes do in Nashville. There's some video that we were watching in the studio the weekend that we were recording it that had Marty Stuart and Earl Scruggs and Paul Shaffer and Steve Martin and a bunch of weirdoes like that in the studio and they're trying to a super-event out of some songs. And I thought, maybe it would be cool if we did that with this song because it's such a candidate for that kind of treatment, but maybe we could do it with A), a group of singers who could stand up to the iconic nature of Buck Owens's vocals, and B), a weird, unusual group of people that would resonate with the lyric of the song, people that were individualistic and bold people. And so that's how I thought of those three guys.

  It was a really interesting day in the studio. We had Buck's vocals on it but then we had those three guys standing around a single mike and the interplay alone between Bare, Sr. and Radney Foster was really hilarious. Bobby Bare was trying to goad Radney into replacing the word "sucker" in the song with "cocksucker" and I think Radney was kind of amused by the idea at first but as Bare continued to needle at him, told him to sing "motherfucker" and other words in place of the word "sucker," he just sort of started blocking him out and trying to concentrate on what he was doing. Bobby Bare Sr. is still the bad boy of country music.

  MoMZine: Is there a common thread that attracts you to all these artists featured on the album?

  Fulks: They're all great singers. Somewhere somebody said there was an emphasis on including songwriters as well as singers but I would disagree with that. Al Anderson, in my opinion, is up there with anybody else on the record as a singer. I just think he's an unsung American treasure. I'm just a total fan of anyone who sings on the record.

  MoMZine: Did you learn anything new about Paycheck while working on the project.

  Fulks: Not so much. We didn't really even talk about Johnny. We had so much work to do over those two weekends that we didn't tell stories so much. I think Paycheck strikes me as the kind of guy who was enigmatic and laconic and a lot of the stories that are fun to tell about him rise out of his self-narcosis, which makes you wonder if his weirdness is ingrained or artificially induced.

  MoMZine: You recorded in two weekends with a house band. Was that out of necessity or for aesthetic?

  Fulks: Everything was the way I wanted to do it and the house band idea got from a record that Gail Davies did on Webb Pierce a couple years before that that I contributed to. I thought that was just a good way to tie it all together. Definitely the idea of farming out tracks is, in my opinion, a really bad way to go about it because there's no quality control and you're sort of counting on people's good graces to oversee their own thing and to submit it on time, and it's just no fun. This way you get to shape something and you get to record country music the way it's really supposed to be recorded, with an emphasis on performance quality and performance intensity that you can only really achieve when there's spontaneous interplay and live performance.

  MoMZine: What's the biggest Paycheck-ian trait in your own music?

  Fulks: I think he had a mischievous streak and a tendency to say that one word or deliver that one formulation that was deliberately aimed to be provocative. I guess I do emulate that quality in him and in a couple other people. I think that's a really cool quality in country music, and it's in R&B and hip-hop and other kinds of music too -- the idea of provocation isn't exclusive to country music.

  MoMZine: Would Johnny Paycheck have been made for these times?

  Fulks: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, he'd be recording for Bloodshot Records and selling 8000 records.

  MoMZine: What's the message you'd like people to get out of this record?

  Fulks: I'd like them to go back to the original records and hear how brilliant Paycheck was. I think one of the common threads in a lot of things I have done in my life in the last 15 years is to try to push country into that place where it's appreciated in the same way that music like jazz is appreciated. I saw in the newspaper where Roy Haynes was coming to town to play at a place called the Chicago Jazz Showcase for a $20-$25 ticket. I thought, well that's great, wouldn't it be cool if Connie Smith was coming to the Country Music Showcase for that ticket price. But that's something that is not going to happen for the time being because country music isn't appreciated in quite the same way. It really ought to be, the [success of] O Brother… points out one more time how much more inclined educated people are to appreciate acoustic music than electric. Well, once you plug in a dobro or guitar it doesn't make it less of an art form. Lloyd Green is every bit as high an artist in his field as Dizzy Gillespie was in his. I think it's just a matter of educating the elites on the artistic value of country music. On a purely musical level, country music does not need to take a back seat to jazz. I think jazz players understand that and other people should too.