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Feb. 3: I don’t know you from Adam, but if you’re gonna play the jukebox, please don’t play A-11.

Hank Cochran’s words, splendidly interpreted by Johnny Paycheck in the summer of 1965. He was covering Buck Owens, whose Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat album the previous year included the song. To my mind, Paycheck’s version, recorded in New York with the instrumental backing of George Jones’ road band, outdid Owens’ in every way. I’m not alone in that assessment, apparently. Here’s Daniel Cooper of the Country Music Foundation:

    “The Jones Boys gave the track the Ray Price rhythmic treatment, but with suddenn stops and starts that added to the arrangement’s kinetic energy. With Paycheck singing like it might be the last single he’d ever have a chance to record, his recharged version of “A-11” jumped up and – for what was surely the only time in the 1960s – made Buck Owens sound dreary by comparison.”

This was Paycheck’s first hit in a half-dozen years of trying. His greatest success would come in the following decade, under the tutelage of countrypolitan maestro Billy Sherrill at Epic Records. But if you like pure, authentic honky-tonk music with a wild-eyed edge, find the CD collection titled The Real Mr. Heartache – The Little Darlin’ Years. And if you play “A-11,” there’ll be tears — of unbridled appreciation.

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