Back in early 2012 I was in a fucked up personal place and thought I wanted to be alone and away from my lady. Around that same time I came across Johnny Paycheck’s The Lovin’ Machine on a blog I found online, and instantly fell in love. The ache, sorrow and conviction in the 14 songs that make up that album embedded itself into my life and perfectly matched the feelings I was dealing with.
Johnny Paycheck is far from the character of ‘Take This Job And Shove It’. He made his name playing some of the purest, hardest honky tonk music ever made. Slide guitar virtuoso Lloyd Green the sole musician credit on his classic releases with the Little Darlin’ label, his performances there are all tour de forces of the art of putting your heartbreak to music. Sure he would ride the country outlaw gimmick in a series of overly sheened soft country releases with Epic but the man’s credentials forever sealed his legitimacy. The Lovin’ Machine is his masterpiece from this era. It is his masterpiece period.
The title track is upbeat honky tonk at its best, a confusing lyric blurring his lady with his ride and a storming, incisive performance from Green on his pedal steel. ‘Miller’s Cave’ is a great twist-ending tale, a trope Paycheck would often return to of lovers revenge gone fatally astray, a key theme in this period. ‘Florence Jean’ is a longing bar room weeper, a lament for the scarlet woman he must leave behind. The idiosyncratic delivery cutting to the core of the emotion of each word, the pain twisting every syllable with that rich, sonorous tone can send chills up my spine. ‘Hang On Sally’ is a vulgar tale artfully told, another of his lyrical strengths, the line “the sweetness of the drippage from her lips needs tasting” always brings a rye smile to my lips. He returns again to the weeper with ‘Is That All I Meant To You’, classic heartache from the disposed in a relationship gone wrong, the ache and the hurt so evident in his rich voice.
‘(Pardon Me) I’ve Got Someone To Kill’ is the signature song from the Little Darling catalogue, and is a sublime tale of desperate murder, love and revenge set to glorious honky tonk piano and an almost offhand delivery from Paycheck as he boasts of his gun buying back “all the pride they took” from him. The restrained delivery enhances the menace, and this is classic dark country, black to the bone. Paycheck’s upbeat take on friend and mentor Merle Haggard’s ‘Swinging Doors’ is a rip snorting good time for the man who chose his beer and freedom over the woman at home, a song I can beat out on an acoustic guitar with gusto at the slightest invitation. ‘We’re The Kind Of People’ is autobiography of Paycheck as the fan of songs of sorrow and personal loss, a dedication to the craft he practices with such precision here. Revenge sits front and centre again in ‘The Johnson’s Of Turkey Ridge’, one of the most rollicking good times ever had killing a neighbouring family for having years earlier dispatched your own father. ‘Between Love And Hate’ is a sublime take on the man back on his feet after being cheated yet again by a woman, the haunting instrumentation an inspired choice and the song will resonate with anybody who has walked that line. ‘Don’t You Say Nothin’ At All’ is all bar room bravado and an untouchable delivery, and the final two tracks are fine rounders to the album (a shock deviation from the 12 son standard of the time, in my opinion they could have stuck with that convention and dropped them without damaging the album one bit).
This is easily a desert island album for me, an artefact from a time when country music was where social misfits went to tell their story and a rip snorting good time.
By: Roger Killjoy