From Paycheck show, Rocky has a new official portrait


By Gary Abernathy - gabernathy@timesgazette.com



I enjoyed the Mike Judge show on Cinemax about Johnny Paycheck from the “Tales From the Tour Bus” series, even though it was riddled with exaggerations and inaccuracies.

The disclaimer at the beginning of the program basically acknowledged that the memories of some contributors might be impaired, including by previous substance abuse.

One contributor whose memory was razor sharp was Rocky Coss, who was the Highland County prosecutor when Paycheck stood trial here for wounding a man in a shooting at a Hillsboro bar. Rocky, now our common pleas judge, carried much of the narrative of the show.

Of course, he did so in cartoon form, since the conceit of the show was to turn all the interviewees into cartoon versions of themselves while using their actual voices from recorded Q&A sessions.

I’m not so sure it wouldn’t have worked better to simply use actual video of the contributors, switching to animation only when depicting past events. But then again, I’m not the successful creator of “Beavis and Butt-Head” or “King of the Hill.”

Still, it was priceless to have the cartoon version of Rocky. It was good that he had enough of a self-deprecating sense of humor to go along with the show. And I seriously think he should consider using that as his official portrait on the courtroom wall when he decides to call it quits.

I covered the Paycheck trial. What I remember most is Johnny’s difficulty sitting still in the defendant’s chair. There were more short recesses during that trial than any others I can recall, mainly, I think, because Johnny squirmed so much.

I also remember former Ohio Gov. James Rhodes being summoned to the courthouse to testify as a character witness for Paycheck, only because Rhodes had given him an award at the state fair one year. Ultimately, the jury was ordered out of the room when Rhodes was questioned, and the judge determined his testimony was irrelevant. But it made for a good spectacle one afternoon, with TV cameras capturing all the drama.

The only truly unfortunate part of the show was the unnecessarily crass depiction of presiding judge Darrell Hottle, who passed away in 1989, losing his arm in a farm accident as a youth. I knew the judge pretty well. He had a good sense of humor about himself, but I don’t think he would have been amused, nor should he have been.

Another episode I watched centered on Jerry Lee Lewis, who is still living – shockingly – and whose life and times rival Paycheck’s in the “wild and crazy” category.

One of the Jerry Lee moments depicted on the show offered an example of the liberties taken by the series. According to “Tales From the Tour Bus,” one night in 1976 Jerry Lee drove up to the gates of Graceland, drunk and pistol in hand. He told the gatehouse guard that Elvis had called and wanted to see him.

Upon being refused entry, according to the show, Jerry Lee backed up his Caddy or Lincoln or whatever it was, and crashed through the gates, driving up the driveway and pounding on Graceland’s doors.

In fact, Jerry Lee did show up in the wee hours of the morning in 1976 and said Elvis had called and wanted to see him. And he was drunk. And he did have a gun on his dashboard. What really happened, according to various accounts as well as a police report, is that the guard — probably Elvis’ uncle, Vester Presley — called up to the house and received instructions from Elvis to call the police.

The police were called and Jerry Lee was arrested, his car towed away a short time later. Elvis reportedly watched it all unfold on his closed-circuit security system. There was no gate-crashing and no pounding on Graceland’s doors. But that’s what they call “poetic license.”

The only other show from the series available so far as of this writing was the first part of a two-part episode about George Jones and Tammy Wynette. It was fun, too.

I was working in Marion, Ohio, at the Marion Star when George headlined that town’s Popcorn Festival in 1991 or ’92. Yes, “No-Show George” showed up and did a great show, and our reviewer wrote a glowing review. I was the weekend editor on duty, and I wrote the headline, “They Kept Loving Him Last Night,” a take-off on his hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Clever, huh?

Greenfield’s Adams brothers contributed a lot of commentary and memories for both the Paycheck and Jones shows, having worked as sidemen for both of them. You get the feeling their stories are only limited by the time constraints of programming.

Hillsboro and Highland County in general sure do draw a lot of national media attention, some good, some bad, some weird. Good thing we have a good sense of humor about ourselves. Right?

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

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By Gary Abernathy

gabernathy@timesgazette.com