Dan Penn first tasted success as a songwriter whilst working at Rick Hall's Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He was responsible for an extensive canon of southern soul masterpieces, mostly co-authored with keyboard player Spooner Oldham. The one which gave him the most success in these early years was "I'm Your Puppet", which was taken to #6 on the pop chart by James & Bobby Purify in 1966.
The next milestone in his career was his meeting with producer/guitarist Chips Moman, with whom he struck up an instant friendship. Moman had been an integral part of Stax Records in its early days, but had gone out on his own in 1964 after a fall-out with owner Jim Stewart. When Penn met him he was setting up his own Memphis-based American Sound Studio. Together, Penn and Moman wrote two songs which would quickly become classics, and today are generally viewed as among the greatest southern soul songs of all time. "The Dark End Of The Street" was recorded by James Carr, who had a #10 R&B hit with it in 1967, and "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" was recorded by Aretha Franklin the same year.
Penn moved from Muscle Shoals to Memphis, to work as a producer for Moman's studio (Spooner Oldham soon followed him there as well). As a producer he was responsible for The Box Tops' 1967 #1 hit "The Letter", and he and Oldham wrote their follow-up hits "Cry Like A Baby" and "I Met Her In Church". During this late 60s period his songs continued to be recorded by a myriad of artists, many of them destined to be hidden away as album tracks, but many of them still becoming hits, especially on the R&B chart.
In 1970 Penn split with Moman, and had a go at building his own studio (Beautiful Sounds). He got to work finally recording his own debut album, which finally saw release in 1973 on Bell Records. It was a great mix of blue-eyed soul and country, with a big production style full of strings, horns and backing singers, more than a little reminiscent of Moman's best productions at American Sound (ie Elvis Presley's late 60s work). It had some good new songs, one of which ("I Hate You") was covered by Ronnie Milsap the same year, giving him his breakthrough country hit. There was also one well-chosen cover song, a soulful reading of John Fogerty's "Lodi".
It was a long time coming, and though Nobody's Fool was a fine album it didn't give Penn any success as a recording artist himself. He seemed to be destined to stay behind the scenes.
|> Do Right Man (1994)
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