Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Dan Penn: Soul Expressions

Dan Penn
Dan Penn Dan Penn Dan Penn Dan Penn

Having co-written an impressive catalogue of classic songs that includes the likes of James & Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet" (1966), Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" (1967) and James Carr's "The Dark End Of The Street" (1967), Alabama-born-and-raised Dan Penn is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest Southern soul tunesmiths of all time. Which is why the release this month of his first studio album in 26 years - "Living On Mercy" - represents an important event for deep soul lovers all across the globe.

Indeed, recorded in both Nashville, Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the self-produced "Living On Mercy" finds Dan's lived-in, emotive soul tenor fronting a live band plus horn section on a selection of primarily-self-penned songs that range from the undulating, lazy sway of the opening title-track and heartfelt longing of the shuffling "I'll See You In My Dreams" to the irrepressibly strutting, brassy "The Edge Of Love" and upbeat, singalong bounce of "Soul Connection". Most of which in turn find Dan writing with such long-term, acclaimed close collaborators as Wayne Carson; Spooner Oldham; Buzz Cason (of late-Sixties "Everlasting Love" fame); and The Cate Brothers. All of whom have been working on their songwriting craft for most of their lives.

Born Wallace Daniel Pennington on November 16, 1941, in Vernon, Alabama, by his late teens the young Penn had become a regular at Rick Hall's legendary FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals, where artists to record his songs included Percy Sledge and Clarence Carter. Meanwhile, early 1966 would find him moving to Memphis, Tennessee where he would form an intense and short-lived songwriting relationship with guitarist Chips Moman which produced some of the best-known and most enduring Southern soul compositions of all time. Meanwhile, his 1967 production of local blue-eyed soul band The Box Tops would result in a US Number One (and international Top Ten smash) with "The Letter", success the group would follow up in 1968 with Penn's since-frequently-covered co-composition "Cry Like A Baby". Since which time other prominent artists to record his songs have included Janis Joplin, Solomon Burke, Diana Ross, Bobby Womack, and Faron Young.

...All of which neatly brings us back to today, as easy-going Alabama Music Hall of Fame inductee Mr Penn enjoys a revealing in-depth interview with Assistant Editor Pete Lewis around his aforementioned new album, which amazingly marks only his third studio LP to date, following 1973's "Nobody's Fool" and 1994's "Do Right Man".

PETE: For your new album you gathered together a studio band that included such veteran Southern musicians as Milton Sledge (drums); Michael Rhodes (bass); Will McFarlane (guitar); and Clayton Ivey (keyboards)...

DAN: "Yeah, and that's because they're the best around these parts! You know, as far as I'm concerned they're the best band in the South in terms of studio recording... So yeah, I just basically picked them because they have the ability to cut an excellent record - and there wasn't much more to it than that!”

PETE: So how did the recording sessions end up taking place in both Nashville and Muscle Shoals?

DAN: "Well what happened was I started out cutting like six of the songs at Buzz Cason's Creative Workshop in Nashville and I was very pleased with the results. But then after I took a break for maybe a month or two to pen some new songs, when I tried to get all the players to come back together again it proved to be a problem because I couldn't get everybody's dates to match. So because of that, I contacted The NuttHouse (Recording Studio) in Sheffield, Alabama which is centred in the world-famous musical mecca of Muscle Shoals. And when I spoke to Jimmy Knutt there it transpired that yes, he could do it on the days that all the players could do it - which meant that all of a sudden we'd finally found a place where we could go finish the record... So yeah, that's how we ended up recording in the two different studios."

The album "Living On Mercy" is out now on The Last Music Company.

You can read more from Pete Lewis' exclusive interview with B&S cover star, writing legend and now vocalist, Dan Penn, including more info on his new album "Living On Mercy", how Penn got into songwriting, his thoughts on his first US Top 40 hit "Is A Bluebird Blue" recorded by then-rock'n'roll star Conway Twitty and the story behind his worldwide Grammy-nominated soul hit "I'm Your Puppet" which he wrote for Spooner Oldham. And that's not all! Penn also gives us the lowdown on his collaborations with Chips Moman and the famed recording sessions that went on at the Muscle Shoals recording studios, including Aretha Franklin's no-show! All in the latest issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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TWITTER: Penn_Official

INSTAGRAM #livingonmercy

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