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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS : Bank on This Singer : You can expect some real honky-tonk sounds when Johnny Paycheck arrives at Cowboy Palace Saloon.

August 05, 1994|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Country singer Johnny Paycheck's name almost became a household word in the 1970s when his working-class anthem, "Take This Job and Shove It," rose to No. 1 on the country-Western charts. The song, which touched a chord with America's wage earners, even inspired a movie.

Then came the '80s, which were not as kind to Paycheck. He battled the law, the IRS and his own excesses. But now he's on the comeback trail, and this month that trail winds through Chatsworth. He will perform two shows Aug. 18 at the Cowboy Palace Saloon, singing his hits and new material.

"Paycheck is a natural for a honky-tonk," Cowboy Palace owner Bob Rustigian said. "His songs fit our place."

Paycheck, with a hell-raising image and a repertoire that chronicles the life and times of America's working and drinking class, certainly does fit the image of the Cowboy Palace, which bills itself as the "Last Real Honky-Tonk."

His songs, including "I'm the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised," "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill" and "Colorado Kool-Aid" reflect a steamier side of American tavern life.

But after a two-year prison stay resulting from a 1985 barroom shooting, Paycheck himself has been singing a somewhat different tune, extolling the joys of an alcohol- and drug-free life: The music remains the same, but the man says he is completely drug-, alcohol- and nicotine-free.

The Cowboy Palace, under several different names and owners, has been a fixture in the San Fernando Valley country music scene for almost 20 years. Although badly damaged in the Northridge earthquake, the club reopened after about three months.

Now Rustigian says he's looking at Aug. 18 as a test. Although he has no other similar concerts scheduled, he thinks that local country-Western fans will enjoy seeing recording artists in a club setting, and would like to create a regular series.

Paycheck, for his part, will be upfront and personal, signing autographs before each show.

"It's an intimate setting," Rustigian said. "You can even dance to his (Paycheck's) music."

Johnny Paycheck will perform two shows, at 9 and 11 p.m., Aug. 18 at the Cowboy Palace Saloon, 21635 Devonshire Blvd., Chatsworth. Tickets are $15 for each show, and $25 for both. Call (818) 341-0166.

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ONE OF THE GANG: The Rev. D. Kenneth Smith of Tujunga is viewing today's opening of Steven Spielberg's remake of "The Little Rascals" a little differently than most people.

The Seventh-day Adventist minister portrayed the bookish Waldo in the original cast of the "Our Gang" comedy shorts in the 1930s and '40s. The comedies were later repackaged for television with the new name "The Little Rascals."

"Well, I'll be interested in seeing it," Smith said.

By the time Smith was 15, he had appeared in more than 50 films. He made his movie debut in "The Plot Thickens" (1936). During his film career, he worked with such stars as Lucille Ball, ZaSu Pitts and John Barrymore. He appeared in 22 "Our Gang" episodes along with Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Froggy and the others.

But by age 15, Smith decided that an acting career was incompatible with his new religion. He was baptized that year at a Seventh-day Adventist evangelist meeting in North Hollywood, and he quit acting.

Smith didn't see any of his fellow cast members again until a 1986 reunion in Palm Springs.

Smith served as pastor at Seventh-day Adventist churches in Escondido, Fallbrook and Oceanside, then did missionary work in Thailand for 17 years. More recently, he was pastor at the La Crescenta and Sunland-Tujunga Seventh-day Adventist churches. Now in semi-retirement, Smith serves as an associate pastor at the Norwalk Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Smith said he has tapes of a few of his films, and that when any of his nine grandchildren come to his house in Tujunga, they watch the "Little Rascals" over and over again. Smith admits that he still enjoys seeing himself on the screen.

"I chose a different path," Smith said. "But, it's been a very rewarding life. I don't regret it, but those years were fun."

"The Little Rascals," produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and directed by Penelope Spheeris, opens at theaters nationwide today.

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