Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s01e01 Episode Script

Johnny Paycheck

1 (country western music plays) (engine idling) Hello.
You ever hear of this guy, Johnny Paycheck? No? You don't like country music, do you? You think it's corny and twangy and kind of stupid.
Well, you could be right, but it's always good to keep an open mind.
You know, Johnny Paycheck here sold over 10 million records.
That's on par with people like NWA and Gwen Stefani.
In the early '90s once, I was watching TV, and there was all this hubbub on the news about NWA and gangsta rap and how it was just too violent.
I got tired of watching this, because I actually like NWA and gangsta rap, so I switched over to the Country Music Channel, where I saw Johnny Paycheck being interviewed.
(country music plays) And he had just gotten out of jail for shooting a guy, like, he really shot a guy.
And I thought, "Why isn't anybody worried about Johnny Paycheck? Why isn't Connie Chung picking on him?" Hey, Sharon Rae You are my life Wish I was half the man That you been a wife Mike Judge: Johnny Paycheck was a dirt poor kid who pulled himself out of poverty with his music, became a working-class hero, and almost killed himself and one other person, that we know of, in the process.
And he looks a lot like Charles Manson.
(theme music playing) Mike: Greenfield, Ohio, birthplace of the detachable horse collar, Johnny Paycheck, and these three guys, the Adams Brothers Don, Gary, and Arnie Paycheck's backup band for nearly two decades.
(country music playing) The first time I met Johnny Paycheck, I was like four years old.
One of my brothers had him under a tree, kicking his butt.
(guys laugh) We just hung out together, 'cause we lived in the the same neighborhood, in the country.
I remember one time when he came to the house, he brought a guitar with him, and he sat in that kitchen and sang and sang and sang.
A couple years after that, me and Gary got in a talent show in Greenfield, and we needed a guitar player, and so he played guitar for us and, uh, and we lost.
Gary: Lost to a woman that pantomimed, so that was rough to take.
(guys laugh) Of course at that time, he was Donny Lytle.
(chuckles) Donny Lytle.
He had several different nicknames that a lot of people would call him.
In his youth, uh, a lot of people referred to him as Hubcap Donny.
Gary: He was a hubcap thief.
Him stealing hubcaps, they forgot to mention it had the car with it.
- Arnie: Oh yeah.
- (guys laugh) He had a little, uh, criminal element to him.
When he was in Greenfield one time, uh, he went downtown and, uh, got drunk, and he went and broke into a car lot.
Arnie: He seen the car out there on the lot that he liked, so he went in and found a key for it, took it for a drive and didn't like it, so he brought it back, went in, got another one.
This time, he got the whole key board.
Don: Stole all the keys.
Arnie: Got him another car, took off again.
(engine revs) Took it down to Paint Creek Don: - And took all the keys and throwed 'em in the creek.
He got in a little trouble over that.
Once he got out of jail, he was gone.
He took off for Nashville.
Mike: Down in Music City, Paycheck scraped by as a backup musician, playing with everyone from Porter Wagoner to George Jones.
Gary: He was kind of like a country music Mozart.
You know, he played guitar, lead guitar, uh, steel, and, uh, drums.
He was an excellent bass player.
Probably the best in Nashville in his day.
Oh, this used to be Our favorite night spot He was a great singer.
When she was here, it was heaven Gary: Next time I'd seen him was, uh, he had come back, and he had changed his name to Donny Young.
Mike: Donny Young wasn't exactly burning up the charts so he decided he would change his act.
Gary: - Back in them days there was a Johnny Dollar, and a Arnie: Johnny Cash and, uh, Johnny Western.
Mike: Donny's manager, figuring he'd cash in on the Johnny trend (bell dings) recalled an obscure Polish boxer, Johnny Paychek with a "K.
" Gary: From that point on, I mean, he totally believed he was Johnny Paycheck.
You couldn't talk him out of it.
Saying, "Okay, Donny.
" Or every time you'd call him Donny, he'd get mad at you.
I think he had an identity crisis.
Mike: He legally changed his name to Johnny Paycheck, and his career took off, but deep down inside, he was still Hubcap Donny.
Paycheck was, uh, playing with Patsy Cline.
Patsy: Crazy - Mike: Paycheck stole Patsy Cline's car.
- I'm crazy for feeling I think that was that was down in Texas someplace, a big country music park, and he got to drinking.
(Arnie chuckles) He found her keys and he just went out, got in her car, and took off.
(tires screech) And when he'd get to the gate, they would shut the gate on him.
There was only one entrance to it.
They said, "Just let him go.
He can't get out.
" And he went past that gate a half a dozen times, and he just drove around and around (guys laughing) and around inside the park.
(engine sputters) Arnie: But eventually it ran out of gas.
He had a total disregard for the law when he was drinking.
Mike: Old habits die hard, but somehow he managed to pick up a new one.
There was, like, a couple of 24-hour pharmacists there in Nashville, you know what I mean.
The drug of choice back then was them Old Yellers.
We'd go to the jam sessions, and Paycheck was always up there playing bass.
Well, we'd stay up for three or four days just to get in tune, and then jam for three or four more.
- (horn honks) - Mike: Between the speed binges and stints in jail, Paycheck found himself broke and homeless.
Then he met a man named Swamp Dogg.
(Swamp Dogg clears throat) Umm (burps) Excuse me.
My song, I wrote, "Don't Take Her, She's All I Got," single-handedly put Johnny Paycheck on the map, 'cause he wasn't nowhere near the map.
Let me tell you now, friend Don't take her, she's all I've got Please don't take her love away from me I'm begging you, friend Swamp: That single did a shitload of sales.
People were buying the hell out of it.
We made a fortune with that motherfucker.
But, anyway, I digress.
Paycheck had a way of destroying hisself about every five years.
I mean, you could look for it.
I mean any he'd get up, things would be going pretty smooth, and then he would he would just totally - he was hellbent on self destruction.
- Gary: Yeah, he did.
He had a five-year cycle.
- Yeah, he had about four of those.
- Gary: Yeah.
Yeah, and was clean-cut, you know, and then "Don't Take Her, She's All I Got," and he just as tame as doing everything like a businessman, and then all of a sudden, he put that hat on, and I thought, "Okay, the five years is up.
I'm going home.
" (laughs) - (yelling) - Gary: We was in Canada, and Paycheck got drunk and rowdy in the hotel there.
- (thuds) - (police sirens wail) So, the hotel people called the police on him, and they come down and they hauled him off.
Anyhow, we went down to get him out the next morning and had to pay the fine.
Paycheck didn't even have a shirt on, had to go to court without a shirt.
- God save - I mean, it was in Canada and that little deal there where they all get up and all hail the queen, something like that.
Paycheck went, "Fuck the queen.
" (guys laugh) I think Johnny Paycheck was the real deal when it came down to being a gangster, to being a thug, and he could've he could've been a Crip (laughs) very easily.
We just did things the way we wanted to, and, uh, somebody didn't like it, we'd tell 'em where to kiss it.
Johnny didn't take no shit.
Mike: In October of 1976, Johnny released what many considered to be the quintessential outlaw country record, 11 Months and 29 Days.
This was a reference to the length of his latest stint in prison for check fraud.
This charge earned him a new nickname: Johnny Bad Check.
A psychiatrist might be able to figure out what caused all Paycheck's troubles, but his friends have their own theory.
Paycheck was a little feller.
He was intimidated by anybody over four feet tall.
He had that little man complex.
I guess he would have a Napoleon complex, 'cause he was short.
Hadn't been for that hat, he really would have been short.
Mike: Paycheck's longtime manager, Ernie Stepp, had to stick up for Johnny on more than one occasion.
If I'm working for you, and if it's any way possible without killing somebody I'll do it.
One time, we was coming out of California, and, uh, John wanted a a Big Mac.
That's what he was wanting.
He was coming down off of drinking a little bit.
I told the bus driver I said, "John wants a double-Decker hamburger.
" Anyway, he stopped at a truck stop, and that's where we were gonna eat.
I said, "No, uh, John wants a a different kind of sandwich, a double triple hamburger.
" He said, no, he's driving the fucking bus, we'll stop where he wants.
John, he didn't come out of the back of the bus for food, cops, or nobody.
Anyway, I shot the bus driver in the ear.
(gunshot) First I hit him upside the head.
I got him down on the on that front seat.
Yes, they're easier to shoot when you get 'em down.
- (laughs) - Yeah, if you if you don't get the right kind of sandwich for me, I'll shoot you.
(laughs) Mike: Ernie not only made sure Paycheck got his double triple hamburgers and kept his bus driver in line, he also guided him to the biggest moment of his career.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, please, the fabulous Johnny Paycheck! Take this job and shove it I ain't working here no more That was a classic.
That's his signature song.
It went to number one, and the unemployment rate skyrocketed.
You better not try to stand in my way as I'm walking It was All of a sudden, that's all you heard.
It was like "Jingle Bells.
" Take this job and shove it (cheers, applause) It was the battle cry of all the working people.
John become the working-class hero because that was their slogan.
The governor of West Virginia decided to bring Johnny Paycheck in to support the miners.
Tom Brokaw: It is blood that has made Harlan County famous, blood spilled in some of the most violent labor disputes in this country's history.
Newswoman: People in these mountains have guns, and violence on a picket line is not unusual.
As the strike dragged on for more than a year, two miners were shot, one man was killed.
So they brought in, basically, an army of state troopers, and the state troopers lined up and put a wall between 'em.
And they said, "If you come across the line, "we're arresting all of you, and you're all going to jail, or we'll shoot it out with you.
" And it was really tense.
And all of a sudden, right out in the middle of the road, Paycheck walking out there with a guitar, and he goes Take this job and shove it (cheering) Dub: And this crowd just explode I mean, the coal miners just go insane.
He was their hero.
John spoke what they couldn't speak.
He was the reason why they got the contract signed and the scabbers went home.
That was the only time I ever seen Paycheck cry.
(cries) Damn.
(chuckles) Mike: For Johnny, the success of "Take This Job and Shove It" had its highs and its highs.
And the next thing I knew, he was just a total cokehead.
He was sucking a lot of powder, a lot of it.
We were driving down the road in in the bus, and he'd run out of cocaine.
So he gets on the radio.
He said, "Hey, out there, breaker, breaker.
" (laughs) He says, "This is Johnny Paycheck.
I want some cocaine and don't care what it costs.
" - (laughs) - (truck honks) So, here are a couple of truckers, we're going down the roads a way, and they were going into a rest area.
Gary: These guys brought it back and handed it to him, and they said, "Here's your cocaine, man.
" The cocaine they had, I wouldn't give it to a dog.
- Gary: He said - (sniffs) "Boy, that's some good stuff.
" (guys laugh) And he spent I know for a fact $16 million up his nose.
- (sniffing) - He'd just set there.
There's nothing worse than a hillbilly - with a hit record.
- (guys laugh) I was with him one time when he said, - "Don, let's rent a Learjet.
" - (engine shrieks) Don: And we flew 80 mile on the other side of the job we was going to and had to catch cabs back to where we was going.
(guys laugh) He couldn't handle success, if you really wanna know the truth.
Every time he was ready to make it big, he would screw up.
He walked into, uh, a meeting in LA with the the heads of Epic Records, and, uh, I guess Paycheck got upset because they wasn't putting enough money behind him or something like that, but he he just busted in the door.
"I'm a star.
I'm a giant star.
" - "Bigger than Elvis.
" - "I'm bigger than country music itself.
" Mike: Johnny's friends are quick to note that some parts of Paycheck were not bigger than country music.
He did like like to be naked, and why if you'd see him, you'd wonder why.
So small, he should have been ashamed of hisself.
I never heard anything about his teeny-weeny peenie, because I don't want 'em talking about my teeny-weeny peenie, (laughs) so I said shit.
Uh Mike: Clearly, Paycheck needed something to make him feel like a man.
He grew ten feet when he was, uh riding with the Hells Angels.
- (motorcycles revving) - Ernie: Hell, the Hells Angels took care of Johnny like he was a baby.
They made sure he never got hurt, and they took care of that boy.
Uh, you know, he liked to play the role, like ride a big, bad motorcycle.
He got to be the badass that he dreamed that he was.
We played at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and Willie was on the show, and the Hells Angels was all up there, and he said, "Don, hey, I think I'm gonna be a hitman for the Hells Angels.
" I said, "You set your sights pretty high, buddy.
" (guys laugh) And here's the story that goes with that.
In Oakland, California, federal and local police tried to round up members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.
Mike: Late in 1985, - after wrapping up a tour, - (sniffs) Johnny Paycheck kept the party going at a Hells Angels clubhouse in Maryland.
It happened to be under FBI surveillance.
Agents allegedly warned the bikers about a credible threat by a rival gang to blow the place up.
Upon hearing the news, Paycheck summoned all the courage he had, ran into the clubhouse and grabbed a stash of Peruvian cocaine.
He headed back home to Greenfield, high out of his mind, with two suitcases full of money and said cocaine.
Gary: And he was looking for my cousin Red Dog's daughter, Niecey, my niece, who was 14 years old.
And I said, "They call her Niecey.
" I said, "Here in Greenfield, we call that statutory rape.
" - (guys laugh) - Gary: For some reason or other, he had thought that I'd been sleeping with Niecey, who was just like a daughter to me.
I said, "No, that's bullshit.
" Somebody told me he was coming over to shoot me.
Mike: Attorney Rocky Coss has a slightly different version of the events.
(clears throat) Johnny claimed the purpose of the visit was to come see his mother before Christmas.
He then decided to come look for a place to get a drink.
And so he drove down 72 down into Hillsboro, and the first bar that he came to that was open was the North High Lounge.
So he come in there and he was talking to a couple of old boys that we all used to grow up together.
Rocky: Lloyd and Larry had both been drinking that evening and had several beers, maybe as many as eight.
And you know, they were certainly loose, you know, as many people are that are drinking.
Bowers wanted to meet him, so he went up and initiated the contact with Paycheck at the bar.
Gary: "Hey, buddy, come here and let me buy you a drink" and all that stuff.
They was as friendly as they could possibly be.
Well, they didn't know he was just totally - (sniffing) - totally gone on his cocaine.
Paycheck's version of the events was that Larry and Lloyd were basically crowding him and that Larry had a bottle in his hand.
He took that as being a prelude to Wise attacking him with the bottle.
Mike: Attorney Ralph Buss, lawyer for the Hells Angels, Johnny Paycheck, and owner and operator of his own karate studio.
Johnny was especially afraid of broken bottles.
He had a tremendous acuity of imminent danger.
Yeah, during that process is when the hat exchange took place.
Johnny was wearing his Johnny Paycheck tour hat.
Bowers had a I believe, a camouflage hat.
Larry Wise is wearing a Jack Daniel's hat.
In Highland County, I mean, people lots and lots of people wear hats.
You know, I wear hats quite often.
Lloyd indicated that he liked Johnny's hat, talked to Johnny about it, and ended up they exchanged hats.
It appeared to be a fair and clean exchange of hats.
I remember the hat was a big, big deal to him and definitely a threat.
Then shortly after that Wise, uh, was a part-time taxidermist, and he said he had a great turtle soup recipe and you know, he suggested that Johnny might, you know, enjoy having a meal cooked by Larry.
Well, it really, Paycheck was kind of hungry and and Lloyd had said, "We got some turtle soup out in the out in the truck.
" I heard that they had a little disagreement on how you make it.
Not, uh, "Was it there?" Or "Who had it?" That's what I heard.
Rocky: Paycheck made the comment that well, you know, made him sound like, "I they thought I was some kind of a hick.
" Gary: That kind of insulted Paycheck.
Like, I don't know why that would insult him, but it did.
It was not intended as an insult.
It was intended to be friendly and offer hospitality, a unique dish.
All right now, I gotta tell you, you gotta go out and catch this turtle.
And you cut him out of the shell.
Now, he must still be alive, but if he don't, you cut his head off, take his guts out.
He's still got skin on his tail, - because that's how they have sex.
A male turtle - With their tail? - Yeah.
- I didn't know that.
A male turtle has got a dick in his tail, and the female turtle has got a pussy in her tail.
- And he gets up - Seem like you know an awful lot about turtles.
- (both laugh) - Oh listen, I'm Here, I have fucked every kind of animal, woman there is but a turtle, and I tried.
I never had turtle soup, but Johnny apparently considers this to be the third and final insult and erupts.
- (cocks) - Gun is fired.
It hit Larry Wise right in the forehead.
Thankfully, he was hardheaded and kind of went around it and it came out the scalp, and it goes through the hat.
The hat flips off onto the floor, and he started bleeding.
Gary: It just barely went under his scalp, you know, wasn't nothing serious.
Wise, fearing for his life, runs out the door.
According to one of the witnesses, he was booking it down South High Street.
Johnny, for reasons that no one knows, scoops up Larry's hat, the Jack Daniel's hat, runs out the door with the gun, yells at Larry: "Come back, Larry!" Said, "I won't shoot you no more.
" (guys laugh) Rocky: Johnny gets in his car and takes off.
During that time, he looked over and he saw the gun, he threw it out the window.
Drives back to Larry Adams' house.
Well, the hat is found when the police search his car with an incriminating bullet hole in it (dings) sitting there on the seat.
Paycheck claimed he didn't know how it got there.
- (police siren blares) - And the police went in - (handcuffs click) - and made the arrest.
Mike: Paycheck needed money fast.
Through his buddies in the Hells Angels, he contacted Ralph Buss to raise the $50,000 bail.
I personally called Johnny Cash (rings) and he answered the phone as "House of Cash.
" And I said, "Mr.
Cash, I represent Johnny Paycheck.
" He says, "'The House of Cash' is a misnomer.
" (clangs) Then we contacted Jerry Lee Lewis, who actually did a fundraiser for Paycheck.
We got a check ultimately for $1,400.
(laughs) Mike: Somehow between Merle Haggard and some of his other Nashville cronies, Paycheck made bail and was finally released from county jail.
(jail door clanks) On New Year's Eve, there's a party going on at the Sunnyside Bar, which is about five, six miles west of Hillsboro.
(people chattering) There's about 200 people in this bar.
Paycheck shows up there.
He walked in there, and he had a T-shirt on that said "Kill 'Em All.
" Gary: As he's coming up on stage there and putting the guitar on, some smart Aleck out there in the crowd - went and busted one of the balloons.
- (pops) - (people scream) - (clattering) Gary: Two hundred people dove under the tables.
And somebody asked him, said, "John, why did you shoot that guy in Hillsboro last week?" He said, "'Cause the son of a bitch had it coming! That's why!" (guys laugh) And every one of those people that heard that showed up in court and testified against him.
The trial was like a three-ring circus.
There was a TV camera.
There was a photographer.
- (camera clicks) - There are reporters from newspapers from all over Ohio.
And amid all that there were some groupies, you know, you wouldn't describe 'em as hot - except that the weather was warm.
- (rimshot) The judge presiding had one arm.
He had lost his left arm in a farm accident.
- (grinds) - (thuds) The judge also had a tendency sometimes to get headaches.
He was sensitive to light.
Uh, he was very very concerned about sunlight coming into the courtroom.
So he would quite often on the bench wear sunglasses.
Two pairs of sunglasses.
Rocky: Either prescription, or he'd have a clip-on, and sometimes he'd put on both of them.
Well, Johnny Paycheck walked into the courtroom.
He really didn't make any effort to try to clean himself up for the trial.
Ralph: - His clothes didn't look good.
His hair was long, and I would describe it as scraggly.
He had a beard.
And it was much, much too large.
It wasn't trimmed.
He looked dangerous or close to psychotic.
He had a curious resemblance almost to Charles Manson.
I went to court with him, and, uh, you know, they went through The prosecution went through their little thing there.
And then we had we took off like an hour for lunch.
- Well, me and him just went across the street there - (barking) at a bar and set there and got about half drunk.
Come back in, and he said, "You wait till my attorney gets him.
" He literally believed that there was gonna be 3,000 Hells Angels come riding over the hill and rescue him.
They was gonna bust him out of the trial there on their motorcycles and ride off into the sunset with him.
(laughs) So, Ralph Buss calls Johnny to testify at his own trial.
He felt that this would be one of those cases where testifying was a good move.
It was not.
He was so high.
Rocky: Well, during the cross-examination, he was trying to portray himself as a peaceful, nonviolent person, and yet he had an album and a song called Armed and Crazy.
Mike: This fact, combined with Johnny's unusual behavior and appearance in the courtroom had a not-so-surprising effect on the jury.
Things got progressively worse.
Johnny's on the witness stand, and for some reason he picks up this large gun that's laying there, and he raises it above his head.
Rocky: And he does this whirling thing with the gun.
When that happened, Ralph just went pale.
It was all over.
The end.
(jail door clangs shut) My heart sank, and I visualized him already wearing the handcuffs, schlepping down the hall.
About, um, two and a half hours later, Johnny Paycheck's found guilty, and he is sentenced to seven to nine and a half years in Ohio State Prison.
Gary: So the judge said, "Okay, That'll be seven years" or whatever it was, and as they're leading John off, and he said, "I'll be out in two weeks!" (guys laugh) And he went directly from the courtroom to jail.
(clangs) Gary: When he was in the Chillicothe prison down there, he somehow or another got Merle Haggard to promise to come up and do a concert.
They've asked me to come out here and introduce this gentleman I've known for about 25 years.
I've been doing time with him on the streets.
(cheering) He said going to prison was the best thing that ever happened to him.
He said, "That saved my life.
" Well, I can't sell my mama's short On loving me And it literally did.
So far Gary: And it gave him, I think, the inspiration to do the best song that he had ever written - as far as I'm concerned - (acoustic guitar plays) was "The Old Violin.
" I can't recall One time in my life I've felt as lonely As I do tonight Yeah, it's really kinda kinda hard when you set there and write your own funeral song.
Tonight I feel Like an old violin Man: Yeah, yeah.
All right.
Soon to be put away Never played again It makes me cry also, just like they are, because you can't help but love the guy.
He was such a genius.
Johnny: I can't say Swamp: I talked to him a few times on the telephone before he passed, and I said, "Man, I got some great songs.
I'd like to come to Nashville and and do 'em.
" Well, I guess it's 'cause the truth Is the hardest thing I ever faced Gary: You know, Johnny Paycheck was a pretty rough scoundrel and outlaw.
He had good points and he had bad points, but in the end, his good points outweighed the bad.
And just like that, it hit me Well, that old violin and I were just alike We'd give our all to music, and soon We'll give our life Gary: The last thing he said to me was, "Hey, Gary, I owe you one.
" I said, "You don't owe me nothing.
" - Man: Whoo! - Man 2: All right! (cheers, applause) (theme music playing)
Next Episode