Johnny Paycheck's Epic hits were rarely quite as compelling - or downright weird - as his '60s recordings for the Hilltop and Little Darlin' labels. Nevertheless, he was one of Epic's most consistent hitmakers during the '70s. And though Paycheck would likely have been better served by a two-disc collection (many of Paycheck's Epic hits are nowhere to be found), this generous set of Epic-era hits, album tracks and live cuts does a solid job of summing up his most commercially successful period.
Having hooked up with producer Billy Sherrill in 1971, Paycheck nimbly recast himself as all things to all men: world-weary balladeer, populist blue-collar outlaw and hardcore honky-tonker. And blessed with one of the great voices in the business at that time, he actually pulled it off. Best remembered these days for 1971's "She's All I Got" and 1977's "Take This Job and Shove It," Paycheck also turned out a string of supremely soulful ballads like 1976's "I've Seen Better Days" and barroom numbers like "Barstool Mountain" as well as a string of duets with his ex-employer George Jones, all of which still echo in the recordings of hard country singers like Dale Watson.
By the early '80s, Paycheck's career had crashed and burned, thanks to drugs, booze, lawsuits, tax problems (reflected in "Me and the I.R.S."), missed gigs and other difficulties that had been building for years. The big surprise of his 1989 incarceration wasn't that he ended up in jail, but that it had taken him so long to get there. It's no secret that Paycheck has been ill for several years now, battling emphysema and diabetes. If this is to be the last word on Johnny Paycheck's career, at least it's a classy one.