No song is as disturbing and unforgettable as Psycho, a Texas murder ballad from a killer’s perspective. Hear it once, and you may never want to play it again (especially in a dark room). Most bizarre of all, it was written by an admired, blind Texas songwriter who wrote a beloved country classic, then recorded by a Texas honky-tonk legend who himself had written a classic gospel song.
Leon Payne was born in Alba, Texas, on June 15, 1917. Blind in one eye at birth, he later lost sight in his other eye during early childhood. Educated at the famous Texas School for the Blind, Payne met and married his wife, Myrtie Velma Courmier (who was also blind). Payne would become known as “The Blind Balladeer.” He played with Bob Wills in the 1930s and also had a popular radio show out of Palestine, Texas.
Today Psycho is recognized as a cult classic, revealing the darker side of country music. On his Theme Time Radio Hour broadcast in 2007, Bob Dylan said, before playing the song, “Eddie Noack, a singer and songwriter originally from Houston, Texas, who recorded for Starday Records. He wanted to be a journalist. But we have enough journalists, but not enough people who could sing and write like Eddie Noack. Eddie recorded the song ‘Psycho,’ written by Leon Payne, a song about a serial killer. Quite understandably, it never got a lot of airplay but has become quite a bit of a cult favorite as is Eddie Noack himself.”
Dylan has been a longtime fan of Noack’s songwriting. He’d talk Johnny Cash into recording Noack’s gospel tune, These Hands, which Cash often performed in concert. Dylan himself would record the song in 1970. It was unreleased until 2013, when it was included on the Dylan bootleg series album Another Self Portrait.
“Psycho” remains the gold standard for the wicked side of country — a gruesome Texas murder ballad masterpiece. The sadistic twisted ending and Noack’s deadpan delivery may never be topped. In fact, maybe, just maybe, no one should ever even try.