My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Bobby Austin

Spotlight Artist: Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)

tammy-wynette-200-030612One day in 1966, a receptionist was absent from her desk and the course of country music was forever altered. It sounds like an unlikely scenario, but an unattended receptionists’ desk is what prompted Wynette Byrd, an aspiring singer and divorced mother of three, to knock on the office door of producer Billy Sherrill.  Sherrill tried to brush her off, telling her to leave a tape that he would listen to later.  She didn’t have one, so she offered him a live audition, right then and there.  He listened to her and then politely dismissed her, but shortly thereafter had a change of heart.  He had been trying to obtain the rights to an independent label recording of “Apartment No. 9”, a tune written by Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck.  When his efforts failed, he decided to have one of his own artists record the song instead.  He offered it to Wynette, who, having been turned down by every major label in Nashville, was about to return home to Birmingham, Alabama and abandon her dream of becoming a singer.

“Apartment No. 9”, produced by Sherill, was a modest hit for Tammy Wynette, as she was now known, reaching #44 on the Billboard country singles chart.  It performed well enough to secure her a contract with Epic Records.  Her second single, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”, reached #3, was followed by a string of #1s, and a star was born.  Tammy Wynette was eventually credited by her label as the first female country artist to have a million-selling album and became known as The First Lady of Country Music.

She was born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942 in Tremont, Mississippi.  Her father died from a brain tumor when Wynette was nine months old.  She was raised by her grandparents when her mother obtained work in a Memphis defense plant. After World War II ended, her mother remarried and returned to Mississippi.  Like many mother s and daughters, they did not always get along.  The desire to get out from under her mother’s control played a large part in Wynette’s ill-advised decision to marry Euple Byrd a month before she was to graduate from high school.  Unsurprisingly, the union was not a happy one and Wynette left him prior to the birth of their third daughter.  Shortly after obtaining work as a hairdresser in Birmingham, Alabama, she began to pursue her dream of becoming a country singer.

After securing her deal with Epic, success came quickly for Tammy.  “I Don’t Wanna Play House” became her first #1 hit in 1967.  That same year, “Take Me To Your World” also chopped the charts, as did “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” in early 1968.  Then, one day in the recording studio she helped Sherrill finish a song that he had been writing.  She had some reservations about the final product, but he convinced her to record “Stand By Your Man”, which became her signature hit and one of the most recognized songs in country music.  In 2003, CMT ranked it at #1 on its list of top 100 country songs of all time.

Although very successful professionally, Wynette’s personal life continued to be tumultuous.  She married her childhood idol George Jones in 1969, shortly after her brief second marriage to songwriter Don Chapel was annulled.  She and Jones had a daughter together, Tamala Georgette Jones, who was born in 1970, and they also recorded a number of successful duet records.  They divorced in 1975, primarily because of Jones’ alcoholism.  Another brief marriage to Michael Tomlin ended after only 44 days.  In 1978 Tammy married producer and songwriter George Richey, to whom she remained wed for the rest of her life.

Beginning in the 1970s Tammy was frequently plagued with ill health, which began with complications from a hysterectomy that she underwent shortly after Georgette’s birth.  She was frequently hospitalized for bile duct infections and underwent dozens of surgeries, which led to a dependency on prescription painkillers.  She entered the Betty Ford Center in 1986 to overcome her addiction.

Tammy’s hits began to taper off in the early 1980s, although she remained a concert draw.  She continued to work a grueling schedule despite her continuing health problems.  She landed a role on the CBS daytime soap Capitol in 1986.

The entire nation mourned when Tammy Wynette passed away peacefully in her sleep on April 6, 1998, at age 55.  The initial cause of death was said to be a blood clot in her lung, but like her life, her death was shrouded in drama.  Her daughters alleged that Wynette’s husband George Richey had overmedicated her and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him.  Wynette’s body was disinterred and an autopsy cited cardiac arrythmia as the cause of death.  The lawsuit against Richey was subsequently dropped.

In 1998 the Country Music Hall of Fame voted to induct her into its hallowed halls. Wanting to keep the decision a surprise, her family kept the news from her. Sadly, she passed away shortly before her induction, unaware of the honor that had been bestowed on her.

Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette was a trailblazer for women in country music during the 1960s and 1970s.  While we cannot do her rich legacy justice in a single month, we are attempting to cover at least some of the highlights as we spotlight her career during the month of November.  Keep the Kleenex at hand.

Country Heritage Redux: Johnny Paycheck

A version of this article originally appeared on the now defunct 9513 weblog. Because the series in which it appeared was titled ‘Forgotten Artists’, I referred to the subject of the article as either Donald Lytle (his real name) or Donnie Young (his original sobriquet) so that I could get into his background without giving away his more famous sobriquet, that of Johnny Paycheck. Thanks to one monster song, “Take This Job And Shove It”, Johnny Paycheck’s name will be remembered for a long time; however, that song was hardly typical of the artistry of Johnny Paycheck. For this article we will refer to him as Johnny Paycheck.

Very few artists have been as successful at reinventing themselves as Johnny Paycheck (May 31, 1938-February 19, 2003). Born Donald Eugene Lytle, and later known as Donnie Young, Johnny Paycheck, John Austin Paycheck and perhaps a few other names that have slipped by me, Paycheck was possessed of enormous talent as a vocalist, but not as much talent at keeping himself in check. As a result, he continually found himself in hot water.
Johnny Paycheck was born in the small rural town of Greenfield, Ohio. Greenfield, located about 70 miles to the northeast of Cincinnati and 60 miles south of Columbus, is a typical Midwest small town, the sort of place Hal Ketchum sang about in his song “Small Town Saturday Night”, It’s the kind of town people either remain in forever or can’t wait to leave. For a restless spirit like Paycheck, leaving was first and foremost in his thoughts.

He hit the road in 1953 with his clothing and his guitar, eventually winding up at a Navy recruiting center where he lied about his age and signed up for a tour of duty. Needless to say, restless spirits such as Johnny Paycheck rarely function well under the yoke of military discipline. While in the Navy, he got into a fight with an officer. Paycheck was court-martialed and sentenced to hard time in a Navy brig. Released after approximately three years, Johnny headed to Nashville to see if he could put his musical talent to good use. Since he had been playing the bars, skull orchards and juke-joints for side money ever since leaving Greenfield, it seemed like a logical thing to do.

Nashville during the late 1950s was not the cosmopolitan city that it is today. Nashville, in those days, was a boisterous town, a hangout for country musicians and a place where hard-working (and hard drinking) country boys came to blow off steam and have a good time. Paycheck fit right in, and before too long, his songwriting and instrumental abilities – and his unique vocals – came to the attention of the country music community. Soon, he was working as a sideman in the bands of some of the biggest stars in Nashville, including Ray Price (who recorded Johnny’s composition “Touch My Heart”), Faron Young, Porter Wagoner, and, later, George Jones.
His tempestuous nature led to him changing employers with some frequency. Difficulties with the likes of Faron Young and George Jones, both notorious carousers, were destined to occur.

Paycheck cut a couple of country and rockabilly sides for Decca and Mercury in the late ´50s under the moniker Donnie Young, before signing on as the full-time bassist and harmony vocalist with George Jones in 1960. Interestingly enough, Paycheck/Young´s first single, “On This Mountain Top” was billed as a duet with another restless soul – Roger Miller (although Miller functions basically as a background singer). The single gave Johnny his first chart success as the single reached #31 on Cashbox´s country chart. While this was a promising start, it would be more than a decade before he achieved sustained success as a recording artist.
During this period, Paycheck was in demand as a high tenor harmony singer, appearing on recordings with Faron Young, Ray Price, Skeets McDonald and countless others. His appearances with George Jones are often claimed to have influenced Jones´ vocals, and listening to Jones´ recordings of the 1960s, it is easy to discern a stylistic shift from those of the Starday/Mercury years. Whether or not this shift was as a result of Johnny Paycheck’s influence will forever be subject to debate.

In 1964, the Beatles´ music finally crossed the Atlantic Ocean (they had been big in Great Britain for about 18 months) and had some influence on the landscape of pop music. Of even greater importance in 1964 was another event – the convergence of the vocal stylings of Johnny Paycheck with the production genius of Aubrey Mayhew, a maverick Nashville record producer. Read more of this post

Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Heard It In A Love Song’

Mark Chesnutt’s second independent release, the follow-up to 2004’s Savin’ The Honky Tonk, is primarily a collection of remakes of a few well known songs and a handful of obscure ones. Though slightly less cohesive than its predecessor, Heard It In A Love Song allows Chesnutt to shine in a way that his last few major label releases did not.

The title track was a 1977 hit for the Marshall Tucker Band. I was never a big fan of the original version, so I wasn’t expecting to like Mark’s version very much, but after listening to it for the first time I was pleasantly surprised. Though vastly superior to the original, it is still the weakest song in this collection that seems slightly out of place alongside the other songs on the album. Its inclusion was likely a calculated move to garner some radio airplay; so many country radio program directors nowadays come from a pop/rock rather than country background, so remakes of old pop hits are often stand a better chance of making it onto station playlists. Indeed, “Heard It In A Love Song” is the most commercial song in this set; nevertheless it failed to chart when it was released as the album’s first single.

“That Good That Bad”, a pleasant dance-hall number and the only new original song on the album, was released as the second single. Written by Mark along with Roger Springer and Clessie Lee Morrissette, Jr., it is reminiscent of the type of song that appeared on Mark’s major label releases. In fact, it was recorded during Mark’s Thank God For Believers sessions, but left off the album. It too, failed to chart.

“A Hard Secret To Keep”, which had appeared on Savin’ The Honky Tonk, is reprised here in a newly-recorded version. Though it is a good song and Chesnutt’s performance is solid, its inclusion is a bit of a disappointment; Heard It In A Love Song contains a meager — by today’s standards — ten tracks, so recycling a song that appeared just one album earlier is bound to leave the listener feeling a little disappointed.

The remaining seven songs on the album are are remakes of songs made famous, to one degree or another, by other country artists. What sets Heard It In A Love Song apart from other cover albums is its reliance on some obscure material, as well as some well-known classics. Among the more famous songs are “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, which has been recorded countless times by artists such as Collin Raye, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless. Chesnutt’s rendition, however, is surprisingly strong, and is the best version of the song I’ve heard, aside from Waylon Jennings’ original recording. Mark turns in another strong performance on “Apartment #9”,. a Johnny Paycheck-Bobby Austin composition, that is best remembered as the record that resulted when a then-unknown Tammy Wynette knocked on Billy Sherill’s office door and asked for a record deal.

My favorite song on the album is “A Shoulder To Cry On”, an overlooked gem written by Merle Haggard, and recorded by Charley Pride. Pride’s 1973 recording was a #1 hit but it is largely forgotten today. Though Chesnutt’s version cannot compare with the original, it’s nice to see that the song was resurrected and given the opportunity to find a new audience.

“A Day In The Life Of A Fool” was originally recorded by George Jones for Musicor Records, and released in 1972 after Jones had departed the label for Epic. It was a common practice at the time, when an artist switched record companies, for the former label to dig into its archives and release singles to compete with the same artist’s recordings for a new label. This somewhat limited the record’s chart potential; it peaked at #30, and as such is one of the Possum’s most obscure hits. It was worthy of a revival. Covering a George Jones song has got to be an intimidating prospect for any artist, but Mark’s remake, which is somewhat less polished than the original, succeeds nicely.

Another rarity is the Tommy Collins composition “Goodbye Comes Hard To Me”, a decent song that didn’t make as much of an impression on me as the others, probably since I’m unfamiliar with the original. Rounding out the set are covers of Hank Williams Sr and Jr. — the latter’s energetic “You Can’t Find Many Kissers”, and a surprisingly good version of Hank Sr.’s 1949 classic “Lost Highway” which closes out the album.

Heard It In A Love Song may have been a commercial failure — it was the first Mark Chesnutt album since his 1988 independent debut that failed to produce any charting singles — but it is nonetheless one of his most enjoyable, particularly for those who are fed up with the watered-down pop that currently dominates the mainstream country scene.

Grade: A-

It’s out of print in CD form; but is still available with a relatively high price tagfrom third party sellers on Amazon. It is also available digitally from Amazon and iTunes, although, due to licensing restrictions, the digital version of the ablum does not include “That Good That Bad.”