Dan Penn is an American singer and songwriter.
Born in Alabama in 1941, Dan Penn became an R&B enthusiast at a young age. He had himself a band, Dan Penn & The Pallbearers, who played around Alabama and Mississippi. He was the lead singer, and his wonderful voice made him more than capable of handling the music that at the time was exclusively the domain of black people. He also began to write songs, which gave him no small measure of success, his earliest hit being "Is A Bluebird Blue", which Conway Twitty took to #35 in 1960. He soon shifted his focus away from performing and towards writing, finding his home in the studio. The studio in question was Rick Hall's Fame Studios, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He recorded a few singles for Hall, but they didn't go anywhere, and so he focused on writing. With keyboardist Spooner Oldham as his main writing partner, he was responsible for a vast canon of works, songs recorded by the various R&B artists at Fame. His songs from this era included classics such as "I'm Your Puppet", "You Left The Water Running", "Rainbow Road", "It Tears Me Up", "(Take Me) Just As I Am" and "I'm Living Good". Among the artists that recorded these songs at Fame were Mitty Collier, Billy Young, James Barnett, Arthur Conley, James & Bobby Purify, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Hughes, Otis Redding, James Govan, Wilson Pickett, The Ovations, Joe Simon, Maurice & Mac, Laura Lee and Percy Sledge.
It is a real shame that Penn never released any of his own recordings during this period at Fame (his debut solo album didn't come until 1972). However recently a 24-track compilation of demos has been released, and it's turned out to be a real revelation! The original demo recordings of these songs, recorded with Oldham and the other musicians at Fame, are brilliant and easily good enough quality to have been released. In many cases they rival or better the full production versions from the other artists, and Penn's voice was at its finest at this stage in his career. The Fame Recordings thus makes for an incredible lost album, a vital piece in the puzzle that is 60s Southern soul. These recordings are both masterpieces of country-soul and perfect little pop songs; testimony to Penn's reputation as the elusive white hero in a scene which was dominated by black singers.
In 1966 Penn and Oldham left Fame, and moved to Memphis to work at Chips Moman's American Sound Studio. The songs that came from their partnership have since been covered by Arthur Alexander, James Carr, The Box Tops, Barbara Lynn, Solomon Burke, Tony Joe White, Irma Thomas, The Sweet Inspirations, Charlie Rich, Dionne Warwick, Etta James, Ronnie Milsap, Patti Labelle... The list goes on.
More from Dan Penn
More from Dan Penn