Jimmy Payne - A Payne in the Country

First published in Country MusicPeople, January 1974

My interest in songwriters goes back several years and recently during the Tompall Glaser/Hank Snow tour I was surprised to be introduced to a tall, gangling fellow by the name of Jimmy Payne. To many people that name means nothing, but as I stood warmly shaking his hand, a dozen or so tunes were flitting across my mind. I’d been interested in Jimmy’s career for a few years, but this chance meeting really caught me out. I wasn’t sure what to talk about, but Jimmy, with his friendly manner, quickly got the conversation under way.

He is most unlike the preconceived idea of a star, you notice the build of the man, more like a lumberjack than a writer of songs. He never attempted to impress with a meaningless list of his past achievements, and was continuously referring to other Nashville writers for whom he had a great respect, and you got the feeling they must be a whole lot better than Jimmy Payne. But I knew differently—I was familiar with Jimmy’s work, both as a writer and a singer.

Jimmy Payne was born in Arkansas in 1936 and moved with his family to Gideon, Missouri in 1944. Here he grew up with a young fellow by the name of Bill Rice, and neither realised back in those younger days that some twenty years later they would both be successful songwriters in Nashville; totally involved in the country music that was so much a part of their youthful life. Jimmy, like so many of the young boys who grew up in the Southern states of America just after the War, came under the influence of Hank Williams. Later in life it was Don Gibson and George Jones that gave him the necessary inspiration to embark on a career in country music.

It was service in the army during the late 1950s that finally sealed Jimmy’s fate as a budding singer. He was based with Chuck Glaser and played lead guitar in Chuck’s band in Ft. Lewis, Washington. After he finished his army service in 1960 he maintained his musical interests by just picking and singing along with other promising musicians whenever the chance arose. At this time he was working as a spray painter in St. Louis, Missouri and also dabbling in his future success as a part-time songwriter. It was this serious hobby as a writer that first took him to Nashville in the spring of 1962 and the chance to reacquaint himself with Chuck Glaser.

Chuck was impressed with the songs that Jimmy had written and believed he had a future as a singer as well as a writer. Jim and Tompall, the other two members of the Glasers were brought into the picture and Jimmy Payne cut his first record, Ladder To The Sky, a self-penned song with the Glasers supplying vocal support, was issued on the K-Ark label, but just disappeared and Jimmy Payne’s hopes of a career in country music were badly dented. He returned to St. Louis and took up his job as a paint sprayer again, his songwriting and singing taking on the status of a serious hobby that he would spend every spare minute at.

Throughout the period Jimmy kept in close contact with the Glaser Brothers by making regular trips to Nashville to keep in touch with the growing country music scene. He became friendly with another budding songwriter, John Hartford, who was at the time more into folk music, but had grown up on a basic diet of grassroots country music. Although John’s and Jimmy’s style of writing were completely different, they both understood and appreciated each other’s talents. In late 1963 Jimmy Payne was in the studios again, this time with Every Little Pretty Girl, a John Hartford song, again produced by Chuck Glaser. This disc was released by VeeJay label, but the timing was all wrong. VeeJay has just secured the Beatles contract and were experiencing a sales boom unheard of in the music business before. Jimmy Payne’s release was forgotten about and less than a year later VeeJay went bust.

The important thing that emerged from this VeeJay disc was John Hartford’s influence on the Glaser Brothers. They were really impressed with his writing ability and both Hartford and Jimmy Payne were signed to the Glaser Brothers Publishing Company. It wasn’t for two years, though, that both writers fulfilled the early promise shown with commercial success. In 1966 they both took Nashville by storm. Hartford had written Gentle On My Mind, a folk-country ballad that has become the most recorded of the genre and Jimmy Payne began a writing partnership with Jim Glaser that resulted in a score of big country and pop hits.

Jimmy Payne signed a recording contract with Epic during 1966 and produced by Billy Sherrill hit the country charts during the next few years with hits like What Does It Take To Keep A Woman Like You Satisfied, L.A. Angels and Woman, Woman. The latter song was covered for the pop market by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, who not only topped the American charts but also hit the charts all around the world. The song was such a commercial success that the group kept the flavour of the song for the subsequent hit, especially Young Girl, written by the group’s manager.

This success prompted Jimmy to take to the road and as well as touring occasionally with Tompall and the Glaser Brothers, he also formed his own group The Payne Gang. In 1968 he undertook a ten-week tour of the Far East which was a great success. He continued with his songwriting and provided many country Artists with big hits. Jim Glaser cut Please Take Me Back, his first solo hit for RCA Victor in 1969, but I feel the best Jimmy Payne song is I See Her (His) Love All Over You first recorded in 1969 by Wilma Burgess, but recently in the country charts by Jim Glaser. The song is a gem, the sadness evoked by the lyrics is tailor-made for Jim’s tenor vocals.

It appears that Jimmy Payne has a unique knack at recognising new songwriting talents. After his contract with Epic expired in 1970 he joined the Vanguard Label and his one and only release was Western Union Wire, a song written by Kinky Friedman, a writer who is just emerging in Nashville as a talent to watch with several of his songs cropping up on albums and singles. Kinky is another writer signed to Glaser Brothers Publishing Company and it can only be a matter of time before one of his songs takes off in a big way. Jimmy Payne’s career with Vanguard was short-lived and after only a few months the contract was mutually cancelled due to a difference in musical direction.

Jimmy Payne's talent as a writer and singer cannot be kept down and in early 1973 he signed with Cinnamon Records, a new Nashville label that is determined to give the lesser known names a chance in the growing country music maze. It seems this label could well be on the right track, and in the autumn of 1973 Jimmy experienced his first big hit for almost five years with Ramblin’ Man.

His ideas for songs come quite naturally, he never forces himself, but admits most themes come to mind while he’s driving. Although most big hits have been written with Jim Glaser, neither of them sit down with the thought that they must write another big song. Usually they throw ideas around and eventually the song just fits into place, both of them contributing to lyrics and the melody—the whole thing being just a bag of ideas shuffled into a song. Nothing contrived like so many of the Nashville songs. Jimmy Payne appears to be a happy man—he has his music, a wife and is very contented with his life. Although the big time hasn’t really come for him yet, if one day he does make it really big, he is the type of person who will come through just as he is—a friendly country singer who likes nothing better than to be able to pick and sing with a few friends.