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Owens, Tweedy Honor Paycheck

Hank III, Fulks pay tribute to late country outlaw

January 9, 2004 12:00 AM ET

With backing vocals by Jeff Tweedy, Bobby Bare Jr. and Radney Foster, country legend Buck Owens has recorded a cover of Johnny Paycheck's blue-collar rebellion classic "Take This Job and Shove It." The song will be included on Touch My Heart, a tribute to the late, great Paycheck organized by singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks and scheduled for release in the summer. "We had Buck's song, and just added those three names to make it something of a Monday Night Football event," Fulks says.

Though the set features covers of some of Paycheck's most popular Seventies cuts (Paycheck pal George Jones offers his take on "She's All I Got"), Fulks' reverence for Paycheck came with his discovery of the late country outlaw's lesser-known Sixties sides for the Little Darlin' label, a collection of dark, hardcore honky-tonk. "For a time, to me he was just the guy who sang 'Take This Job and Shove It,'" Fulks says. "And he'd appeared on The Gong Show, which is the strongest memory I had of him. But I was blown away when I heard the Little Darlin' stuff."

Fulks, whose own outsider music bounces between country, bluegrass, pop and punk, deliberately avoided some of the Little Darlin' material, as songs like "The Cave" and "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill" ran the risk of being misinterpreted by listeners. "So many of those songs were over the top," he says, "but self-consciously so. Those two have been poster songs for a kind of reductive approach to country music. I think Johnny was deeper than those songs stand for."

In addition to pulling together a diverse batch of performers -- Hank Williams III represents for the punkier side of country, Marshall Crenshaw for pop, Larry Cordle for bluegrass and Mavis Staples for gospel -- Fulks also tracked down Lloyd Green, whose steel guitar was a co-star on the Little Darlin' sides. Green appears on almost every cut on the record. "He'd retired about ten years ago," Fulks says. "But he was thinking about coming out of the shadows when I called him. He's kept his chops together over the years and he has a crystal clear memory. He was really into revisiting the old stuff and trying to improve it where he could."

Fulks had hoped to extend an olive branch to some current Nashville stars, rather than just the fringe set of which he's a member, but says he "got nowhere with that. After four or five calls, I abandoned that plan."

He'd also hoped to get the album recorded and released while Paycheck could hear it "to let him know that he was still appreciated," but diabetes and emphysema had taken their toll on the singer, who died last February at the age of sixty-four. But that's the only rub for Fulks, who calls the project, "the greatest thing I've been involved with. I'm really proud of it as a piece of music."

Track list for Touch My Heart:

Neko Case, "If I'm Gonna Sink (I Might as Well Go to the Bottom)"
Big Al Anderson, "Someone to Give My Love To"
Marshall Crenshaw, "I'm Barely Hanging On to Me"
Robbie Fulks and Gail Davies, "Shakin' the Blues"
Dallas Wayne, "I Did the Right Thing"
George Jones, "She's All I Got"
Mavis Staples, "Touch My Heart"
Hank Williams III, "The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised"
Jim Lauderdale, "I Want You to Know"
Dave Alvin, "11 Months and 29 Days"
Johnny Bush, "Apartment #9"
Billy Yates, "The Lovin' Machine"
Bobby Bare Jr. "Motel Time Again"
Mike Ireland, "A Man That's Satisfied"
Buck Owens with Bobby Bare, Radney Foster and Jeff Tweedy, "Take This Job and Shove It"
Larry Cordle, "Old Violin"

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