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Cinemax's "Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus" Ties One on with Country's Most Self-Destructive Stars (Most Now Dead)
September 22, 2017  | By Ed Bark

Hey network execs, just don’t say no to Mike Judge.

Ya hear? Just don’t. Because no matter how crazy it might sound, whatever he pitches you almost assuredly is destined to be an enduring, buzz-worthy, singular vision. Hell, you should be standing in line waiting for him to tell you just what it is.

The Austin-based mind behind Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill, Office Space, Idiocracy, and Silicon Valley is going his own way again with Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus. The half-hour animated series, with archival footage also dropped in, has received an eight-episode order from Cinemax. It launches on Friday, Sept. 22 (10 p.m. ET) as a reasonably fond look at some of country music’s most celebrated and talented self-destructive forces, most of them now dead.

Judge narrates the episodes and also hosts them in animated form for a few seconds at the beginning. An opening printed disclaimer says it’s all “about real people and real events. However, due to the passage of time and, in some cases, controlled or illicit substances, details of some tales are a bit hazy.”

The first episode’s specimen is Johnny Paycheck (top and left), real name, Donald Lytle. His mega-selling anthem, at least in blue-collar America, was “Take This Job and Shove It.”

Judge wonders if whoever’s watching has ever heard of Paycheck. He answers his own question: “No? You don’t like country music, do ya? You think it’s corny and twangy and kinda stupid. Well, you could be right, but it’s always good to keep an open mind.”

The beautiful setup continues, with Judge noting that Paycheck sold 10 million records in his day, equaling the sales of NWA and Gwen Stefani. Matter of fact, he was watching TV one day when he came upon a news story railing about the violence associated with both NWA and gangsta rap in general.

“I got tired of watching this because I actually like NWA and gangsta rap,” says Judge. So he switched over to a country music channel and saw Paycheck being interviewed shortly after he got out of jail for “shooting a guy. And I thought, ‘Why isn’t anyone worried about Johnny Paycheck? Why isn’t Connie Chung picking on him?’ ”

And away we go, with real-life friends and associates of the highly volatile Paycheck first seen as their actual selves before morphing into tale-telling cartoon characters. In the Paycheck saga, much of the telling is by the chortling Adams brothers, Gary, Arnie, and Don. They were Johnny’s backup band, and it was never dull. Squint, and you might see these guys as stand-ins for King of the Hill’s gossiping good ol’ boys.

For a while, until he fired ‘em, the Adams brothers also backed up George Jones (left), whose tempestuous marriage and singing career with man-hungry Tammy Wynette is recounted in Episodes 3 and 4 of Tales.

So the Adams trio will be back and don’t expect me to keep sorting ‘em out. In the Paycheck tale, they all laugh it up after remembering him once saying, “There’s nothing worse than a hillbilly with a hit record.”

In reality, there’s nothing inherently funny about Paycheck’s lifelong bouts with the bottle, his latter-day cocaine habit, and his violent tendencies. But he somehow managed to last until 2003, when he died at age 64. And the Adams brothers and others are simply telling it like he was with both affection and resignation.

“Paycheck had a way of destroying himself every five years,” one of the brothers says before another adds that he had about four of those cycles.

You’ll also meet one of Paycheck’s musical collaborators, an African-American man known as Swamp Dogg, real name Jerry Wiliams Jr.

“He coulda been a Crip -- very easily,” Swamp Dogg says in reference to a notorious L.A. gang.

Paycheck, in fact, did hang out with the Hell’s Angels, and once recorded an album titled Armed and Crazy.

Episode 2 chronicles another wild man, Jerry Lee Lewis (right), a vintage rock performer with two smash hits -- “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire” -- before he later turned to country music.

“The Killer,” as he proudly called himself, might have been the “The King” instead of Elvis “had he not married his 13-year-old second cousin,” says the man who signed him to his first Sun Records contract.

Yeah, that didn’t help. Her name was Myra Gale Brown, who in animated form says, “I was the thinking adult in that relationship.”

Lewis shared Paycheck’s fondness for firearms, and once shot his bass player in the shoulder after he demanded to be paid. The victim survived, and it was later ruled accidental.

Here’s a guy who also didn’t like it much when his hangers-on fell asleep rather than continue to party with him. As one tale has it, he sprayed machine gun fire in their vicinity to wake them all up and later tommy-gunned a big rack of false teeth. Lewis also drove his car through the closed gates of Graceland in hopes of keeping a promise to visit a distraught Elvis. And on it went, with Lewis somehow still ticking at age 81. At current count, he’s been through seven wives.

Then there’s the late George Jones, blessed with one of country music’s greatest voices -- and worst temperaments. In that, he replicated Paycheck. The two of ‘em used to fight all the time in the early years, says one of the Adams brothers.

Wynette idolized him from afar, enduring two miserable marriages and birthing three children before she and Jones forged a powder keg of a marriage while also becoming a hugely successful country-singing duo. Jones liked to begin his day with a couple of Bloody Marys for breakfast, switch to beers at lunch and then move on to whiskey, an associate recalls.

One of his drinking buddies was Waylon Jennings, (subject of Episodes 6 and 7). This regularly didn’t end well, such as the night when Jones called Jennings a “Conway Twitty singin’ sonofabitch” before Waylon took him outside, roped him to a tree and left him there.

Jones eventually became infamously known as “No Show Jones” for blowing off concert engagements.

“This was a guy who just didn’t give a damn,” says “gonzo” journalist Jimmy McDonough.

But Wynette endured him for quite a while, with her signature hit, “Stand By Your Man” devoted to Jones. Their six-year marriage came to a close after Jones terrorized Wynette in their home and at one point fired a shotgun at her.

Wynette, who died in 1998 at age 55, always wanted a man by her side, though, and for a while took up with Burt Reynolds. She also began recording with Jones again, rationalizing that “we may not can live together, but he can still make me cry hearin’ him sing.” In later years and until her death, she voiced Hank Hill’s mom, Tilly, on King of the Hill.

This barely scratches the surface of Tales From the Tour Bus, which makes for some awfully dark half-hours of television if you really think about it.

But Judge goes about this business in a manner that doesn’t make one want to unduly ruminate or judge. No one’s being held up to ridicule -- not wholly intentionally at least. These are people with talent to burn and seriously damaging character flaws that ended up burning most of them out. But no one wants to know about the times they went to church. That doesn’t make for much of a story. Instead, they want to know about the time that a very worse for wear Jones banished his imaginary duck friend from his tour bus, only to . . .

Well, you’ll just have to watch. And you know what? You really should. Although damned if I sometimes don’t know just why.

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