Friday, March 4, 2011

Psychic Payne

by Will Rigby

Leon Payne's song "Psycho" is legendary, and rightly so.

Payne was a blind country singer and songwriter who has the distinction of having two of his songs recorded by Hank Williams: "Lost Highway" (listen to Leon's version here) and "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me." Other well-known songs he wrote are "I Love You Because," which Elvis Presley recorded at his first session for Sun Records in 1954, and "Things Have Gone To Pieces," originally a hit for George Jones.

On a day off in Nashville in 1999 I poked around Elder's Book Store on Elliston Place. Elder's must be one of the premier sources of books on the Civil War, but when I asked Mr. Elder where his books on music were, he said he had just gotten some in that he didn't know quite what they were. In retrospect I find this a bit surprising, because he is a prominent used book dealer in Music City, and these books are uniquely Music Row products.

The books are/were songbooks printed (rather inexpensively) by music publishers to give/loan to artists, producers, and studios in Nashville for the purpose of learning the songs in order to record them. They measure 12" wide by 9" high, typically with two pages of sheet music reduced to fit side by side on one page (although there are exceptions). Some of the songs are written out by hand and photocopied.

The purpose of these books has been supplanted by CDs, MP3s, etc., so I presume they are obsolete artifacts that are no longer made. Which makes me wonder why Mr. Elder hadn't seen them before. I suspect that he has seen more of them by now, and wouldn't be surprised if there is a collector's market for them. He also had books of the Louvin Brothers, Don Gibson, and Don Everly (I bought all these), and others.

(click on image to enlarge)

Of course, "Psycho" sheet music is the most unusual find. We present it here as an artifact and a public service. Note the restriction at the bottom of the first page: "The use of the lyrics to this song with any other music is expressly prohibited". There are a couple of lyric differences from the recorded versions: "my hands near his throat" is printed but generally sung "around his throat"; and most significantly, the usual recorded ending "Mama, why don't you wake up?" is NOT in the sheet music.

(click on image to enlarge)

Payne supposedly told his publisher, Fred Rose, not to allow "Psycho" to be recorded until after he died. The first recording, by Eddie Noack, came out in 1968, but Payne did not die until 1969, so perhaps the tale is apocryphal. I recall reading a review of the 45 around 1971 (by Greg Shaw, I think), so perhaps the record came out later than the citations I can find.

There is not a lot of information on this unusual song to be found on the Web. Perhaps, someone will at least make a Wikipedia page for it, and while they're at it, one for Eddie Noack, too.

Eddie Noack


"Psycho" mp3
by Eddie Noack, 1968.
froim K-ARK 45-843
out of print

"Psycho" mp3
by Jack Kittel, 1975.
available on Psycho (Jack Forever)

"Psycho" mp3
by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1981.
available on Almost Blue.

"Psycho" mp3
by Teddy Thompson, 1998.
available on Psycho

...and from reader, Tex. I don't know how this one slipped by us,
it is by far the scariest version:

"Psycho" mp3
by Andre Williams and the Sadies, 1999.
available on Red Dirt


Written and Performed by Leon Payne...

"Empty Dreams" mp3
by Leon Payne, 1951.
available on I Love You Because

"Poke Salad Green" mp3
by Leon Payne, 1952.
available on I Love You Because

"Two by Four" mp3
by Leon Payne, 1956.
available on A Living Legend Of Country Music

"Close To You" mp3
by Leon Payne, 1963.
available on A Living Legend Of Country Music


written by Leon Payne...

"Lost Highway" mp3
by Hank Williams, 1949.
available on Hank Williams - 40 Greatest Hits

"They'll Never Take Her Love From Me" mp3
by Doug Sahm, 2000.
available on Return of Wayne Douglas

"I Love You Because (Take 3)" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1954.
available on The Complete Sun Sessions

"Things Have Gone To Pieces" mp3
by George Jones, 1971.
available on Sings the Great Songs of Leon Payne

"Take Me (Take 1 with string overdub)" mp3
by George Jones, 1965.
available on Walk Through This World With Me - The Complete Musicor Recordings, 1965-1971 (Part 1)

"Blue Side of Lonesome" mp3
by John Prine and Mac Wiseman, 2007.
available on Standard Songs for Average People


Pol Dodu said...

Thanks for this. The book really is a good find.
I love "Psycho" since I heard the Costello version. Among the covers, there's also the version by T. Tex Edwards & Out On Parole on their 1989 murder covers album "Pardon me, I've got someone to kill".

Anonymous said...

beasts of bourbon

Mr Twang said...

On the Doug Sahm's album cited here (the posthumously released "Return of Wayne Douglas") Doug includes a nice rap about meeting the mighty Leon Payne as a youngster. Thanks for this post about a fascinating enigmatic figure,and great songwriter.

Mark said...

Thanks for this post. Before reading it yesterday I had never heard of Leon Payne.

plasticsun said...

Thanks a lot of this great post!

Unknown said...

Based on the 1966 Charles Whitman murders at the University of Texas in Austin.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! I've been fascinated by this song since I heard it on Dr. Demento some 30 years ago. Cool to get some history about it after all these years. Now that I think of it, it's mildly surprising that Porter Wagoner didn't cover this one.

Thanks too for the other mp3s (though FYI, the Doug Sahm rip is pretty messed up).

Anonymous said...

My favorite version of this tune is by the Beasts of Bourbon. However, I really enjoyed the the post. Thx

Noah said...

thank you, i learn so much from you. this is quite the best

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

Anonymous said...

Those dudes down at Elders bookstore are some crazy racists.

Timmy said...

I was told when interviewing Jimmy rabbitt (real name: Eddie Payne), disc jockey & singer, that he was raised believing that Leon Payne was his father. He has since been led to believe that Leon was perhaps his adopted father.

Steve said...

My favorite version of "Psycho" is the 1984 version by the Aussie band Beasts of Bourbon. Very haunting.

jonder said...

I just discovered the Jack Kittel version of "Psycho" through the Bill Murray movie "Larger than Life". Never would have imagined that "Lost Highway" was written by the same songwriter. Thanks for a great story!

CoverHeaven said...

So Payne never himself recorded a version of 'Psycho'? Noack's version was the original recording??

Anonymous said...

to refresh blog: ^Payne's daughter discounted the Whitman-inspiration here but has noted that connection with another song, The Selfishness In Man ^ and ^ yes, never Payne / yes, original Noack ^ - now done with unfinished business...

written "by Will Rigby"? in that case...
notwithstanding 'Amplifier' :-), this is the all-time best murder ballad - thx for an excellent account of song!

Since posted, this (IMHO) best rendition ever: Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman - May 2012.

Until The Handsome Family decide to cover, of course...

ikeshut said...

Thank you for the information and your interesting comments about Leon Payne and his great song 'Psycho'. Does your Leon Payne songbook contain 'Lost Highway'? I've been searching for the proper sheet music to this song for a long while, and it doesn't seem to be available for love or money. I have a transcription of 'Lost Highway' from Jerry Lee Lewis' "Last Man Standing" album but it doesn't seem quite right to me. So if you ever decide to upload "Lost Highway' as a public service, I for one would be extremely grateful.