The Rough and Rowdy Times of Johnny Paycheck’s Real Life Were Mirrored on His 1977 Outlaw Hit “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)

By 1966, Johnny Paycheck already hit the top 10 on the Country chart with his single “The Lovin’ Machine,” followed by “Motel Time Again,” and “Jukebox Charlie.” In December of ’66, Tammy Wynette also landed her first single on the Country charts with a cover of PayCheck’s “Apartment #9.”

Throughout the 1970s, and in the thick of the outlaw country movement, Paycheck released a stream of more hits, including his iconic cover of David Allan Coe‘s “Take This Job and Shove It“—Paycheck’s first and only No. 1—released on the album of the same name in 1977. Earlier that year, Paycheck released another album, Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets, and hit the top 10 again with the title track and a song chronicling his rough and rowdy ways, “I’m the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised).”

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‘I guess that’s why she let me go so far’

Written by Bobby Borchers, Wayne Kemp, and Mack Vickery, “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)” tells the story of a young man going down all the wrong paths, smoking, stealing cars, and holding up liquor stores.

I can’t sell my mama short on loving me
I guess that’s why she let me go so far
Mama tried to stop me short of stealing
I guess that’s why I had to steal that car

She told me not to smoke it
But I did and it took me far away
And I turned out to be
The only hell my mama ever raised

Well, I rolled into Atlanta, stolen tags and almost out of gas
Yeah, I had to get some money, lately, I’d learned how to get it fast
Those neon lights was calling me and somehow I just had to get downtown
So I reached into the glove box, another liquor store went down

[RELATED: The Drug Bust That Made Waylon Jennings Write “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”]

When all his outlaw antics lead him behind bars, his reflections take him back to his mama and the good ‘ol days.

And I said ‘Precious memories’, take me back to the good ol’ days’
Let me hear my men and sing, ‘Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me’
She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the devil’s ways
And I turned out to be the only hell my mama ever raised

When they put them handcuffs on me, Lord how I fought to resist
But agent clamped ’em tighter, ’til that metal bit into my wrist
They took my belt and my billfold, my fingerprints, and the profile of my face
And then they locked away the only hell my mama ever ever raised

And I’d sing ‘Precious memories’, take me back to the good ol’ days’
Let me hear mama singing, ‘Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me’
She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the devil’s ways

Later Years

The song mirrored Paycheck’s outlaw-driven life. In the 1950s, Paycheck was sentenced to two years in prison for assaulting a naval officer. His career began to decline by the 1980s due to drug and alcohol abuse, and other legal issues, and in 1985, Paycheck was convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail for shooting a man at the North High Lounge in Hillsboro, Ohio, which he claimed was self defense.

“I heard from fans constantly throughout the entire two years,” said Paycheck of his time in prison. “The letters never stopped, from throughout the world. I looked forward to mail call every day.”

After being pardoned and released from prison in 1991, Paycheck turned his life around, becoming a born-again Christian and remaining sober during the final years of his life.

“Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong”

Paycheck became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1997 and died on February 19, 2003 at 64 after a lengthy illness. He was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville, Tennessee in a plot that was reportedly paid for by George Jones.

“I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised),” which went to No. 8 on Country chart continued to resonate long after its release with fellow outlaws like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson also sharing their renditions.

“I’m a man who believes that right is right and wrong is wrong,” Paycheck said in a 1988 interview. “Treat me right, and I will give you my all. Treat me wrong, and I will give you nothing. They don’t like me for that, but that’s the way I am.”

Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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