“He Could Have Been A Crip…” Johnny Paycheck’s Bandmates & Friends Reflect On The Outlaw’s Country Music Career

Johnny Paycheck
George Rose/Getty Images

Johnny Paycheck, the outlaw legend, lived a life of extremes, truly embodying a lifestyle that matched his outlaw persona.

Paycheck was grew up poor, and pulled himself out of poverty with his music. He became a working-class hero after recording the great blue collar anthem “Take This Job and Shove It” in 1977.

Paycheck moved Nashville and began landing work as a session player and musician, becoming a sought after bass player and vocalist, eventually winding up the backing band of Ray Price, George Jones, Patsy Cline and more. However, that stint came to an end when Paycheck drunkenly stole Cline’s car after a show.

He tried taking it for a joy ride but Cline got wind, and called security; they closed the gates before Paycheck could leave, so he simply drove in circles around the fairgrounds until the car ran out of gas. Luckily no one was injured.

Longtime bandmate Gary Adams recalled his wild behavior on Mike Judge’s Tales From The Tour Bus:

“Paycheck had a total disregard for the law when he was drinking. He had a way of destroying himself every 5 years.”

Paycheck soon traded one substance for another, turning from booze to uppers: cocaine and amphetamines.

“We’d stay up for 3 or 4 hours just to get in tune and then Jam for 3 or four days straight.”

This shift in drug choice also marked a shift in behavior, instead of stealing cars, Paycheck’s run-ins began to involve personal confrontation.

Paycheck was a shorter fellow, and tended to have a “Napoleon Complex” or “Short Mans Syndrome” as some would say. Johnny was also rumored to have a shorter johnson than most, and he apparently pulled it out often. For some reason…

Needless to say, he was always looking for ways to make himself feel bigger and tougher, and he found this in the company none other than the Hells Angels Motorcycle Gang.

“When he hung out with the hells angels he felt about 10 feet taller. They took care of him like a baby.”

Late in 1985 after wrapping up a tour, Paycheck kept the party going at a Hells Angels clubhouse in Maryland. The club happened to be under FBI surveillance, and the angels were warned that the place could be raided by a rival gang to blow the place up. Paycheck and the Angels all split, but, before leaving Paycheck ran back inside to grab a stash of Peruvian cocaine. He got on the road, high out of his mind, with 2 cases of cash and the large stash of coke.

Driving down Highway 72, Paycheck stopped at the first bar he could find… The North High Lounge in Hillsboro, Ohio.

“He come in there and he was talkin to a couple of ol boys… we all used to grow up together.”

Two fellows at the bar – Lloyd and Larry – had been drinking that evening. Apparently the boys were feeling loose and initiated a conversation with Paycheck:

“They had several beers, maybe as many as 8. They were as friendly as they could possibly be… they didn’t know that he was just totally, totally gone on his cocaine.”

The details that followed are still unclear, but Paycheck ended up getting offended at something, and pulled out his pistol, shooting Larry in the head. “Thankfully Larry was hardheaded” and the bullet went through the top of his forehead and out of the top of his scalp.  “It just barely went through his scalp” Arnie Adams said… “it wasn’t nothin serious.”

When reflecting on the events, Paychecks longtime friend and collaborator Swamp Dogg says:

“Paycheck…. he could have been a crip!”

Watch Paycheck at his finest here:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock