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
Cox News Service
August 9, 2004
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.
My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck (Various
Paycheck is best remembered as the likably ornery Nashville outlaw
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.
recorded most of these performances with the same core session band
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.
every track on Touch My Heart dips into a slightly different shade
From the prestigious N.Y. Times (Sunday Edition):
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.
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.
2004 The Washington Post
18, 2004 Wednesday
A Johnny Paycheck Tribute That Really Pays Off
Bill Friskics-Warren, Special to The Washington Post
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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."
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.
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
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
MoMZine: So how did you approach it? Did you try to match artists with
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
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