Maury Dann (Rip Torn) is a successful country-western singer who travels around the Southern states in a Cadillac and gets himself into all sorts of adventures.
The film opens with Dann performing in a small club with his band, entourage, and nagging girlfriend, Mayleen, in tow. He meets a young girl named Sandy backstage and seduces her in the back of his car while her boyfriend and boss, Mr. Bridgeway, is looking for her.
The band returns to a nearby motel, bringing along Rosamond, a young lady from the show. The next day, Maury visits his invalid mother and, along with a couple of the guys from the band, goes on a hunting trip. He gets into a fistfight with Bob Tally over Maury's dog Snapper, who is not being properly taken care of by Maury's sick mother. After the fight, Maury reluctantly gives Snapper away to Bob, but fires him from the band before returning to the motel.
During the trip, Maury seduces Rosamond in the back of the Cadillac, much to Mayleen's dismay. Later, while in the ladies' room, Mayleen warns Rosamond to stay away from Maury. The band stops by a local radio station to help promote Maury's new album, Payday, and to bribe a DJ with a gift of Wild Turkey liquor to keep playing more of Maury's records on-air.
During a heated exchange, Maury kicks Mayleen out of the car and leaves her stranded by the side of the road. Maury take a detour and goes to visit his ex-wife, Galen, in order to celebrate his son's birthday. They get into an argument as well and Maury leaves without seeing his son.
At a restaurant, Maury and company are confronted by a drunken Bridgeway, who claims that Maury had raped Sandy the day before. Maury and Bridgeway step outside to discuss the matter. Bridgeway pulls out a knife and tries to attack Maury, who quickly turns the knife around and stabs Bridgeway to death. In order to avoid a scandal and missing tour dates, Maury's tour manager McGinty arranges for his chauffeur, Chicago, to take the blame for Bridgeway's death.
With Chicago gone, Maury hires a young fan named Ted, an aspiring country singer, to be his new driver. Rosamond, feeling distraught over Bridgeway's death, tells Ted that she wants to go home but doesn't have any money to go back. The local police and district attorney come to Maury's motel to bring him in for questioning over Bridgeway's death. He makes a dash for the Cadillac. With Ted in the back seat and Maury driving the car, Maury suffers a heart attack and dies behind the wheel.
The film ends with Ted, who survives the crash but is badly injured, running out of a wooded area looking for help.Rip Torn as Maury Dann
Ahna Capri as Mayleen Travis
Elayne Heilveil as Rosamond McClintock
Michael C. Gwynne as Clarence McGinty
Jeff Morris as Bob Tally
Cliff Emmich as Chicago
Henry O. Arnold as Ted Blankenship
Bobby Smith as Lyman Pitt
Dallas Smith as Henry Tutweiler
Richard Hoffman as Foggy Bottom Yonce
Walter Bamberg as Bridgeway
Eleanor Fell as Galen Dann
Clara Dunn as Mama Dann
Linda Spatz as Sandy
Earle Trigg as Bob Dickey
Winton McNair as Officer Ratliff
Mike Edwards as Restaurant Manager
Gene Cody as Motel Manager
Frazier Moss as Jesse Weatherwax
Bill Littleton as Process Server
Phillip Wende as Billy Lee Blackstone
Ed Neeley as Abe
Sonny Shroyer as Dabney
Cliff Hillerby as Club Manager
The film was named one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made by The New York Times. Paul Mavis, of DVD Talk, reviewing the Warner Bros. 2008 DVD release of Payday, wrote, "Sold as some kind of drive-in actioner, Payday is in fact a relentlessly depressing, grimly accurate view of the aimless, rootless wanderings of a low-watt country singer - who just also happens to be a thoroughly rotten son of a b*tch"
Payday was released by Warner Bros. on DVD January 8, 2008.