One of the greatest songsmiths of his generation, featured on a second helping of vintage soul and R&B goodies from the vaults of Fame Records.
There have been few song salesmen as remarkable as Dan Penn was during his apprenticeship at Fame in the mid-1960s. This was the era when music publishing houses actively solicited their wares, hopeful a hit artist would propel one of their copyrights into the charts. Most material was circulated via bare-boned recordings performed by faceless session players. Only occasionally might the hired vocalist stray from a perfunctory rundown of the lyric and melody, or the accompanying combo stretch beyond sight-reading from the chord sheet. Sometimes the songwriter might feature on the demo, which normally counted for a more lively interpretation. But rarely did they ever invest their heart and soul the way that Dan Penn did at Fame, regularly spilling his blood on recordings that were never intended for public consumption.
Penn paid his dues punishing his vocal cords in the early 60s as frontman for Alabama frat-rats the Mark V, Nomads and Pallbearers. Thanks to the magnanimity of Fame’s Rick Hall, along with a procession of equally talented and complementary musical collaborators such as Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts and Marlin Greene, the studio and the song soon became Penn’s primary focus. It was precisely because he eschewed a recording career, and the musical diplomacy that might require, that Dan Penn gave it his all on this material.
As with our well-received previous compendium “The Fame Recordings”, the selections on offer here have been carefully sifted from over a hundred items Penn cut at Fame up to the autumn of 1966. The Penn/Oldham oeuvre in particular is now irrevocably associated with the southern soul genre, but in his own influences and aspirations, Penn was reaching for all the formats of the R&B music he heard and cherished. Thus we also encounter uptown New York erudition, smooth Chicago harmony, warm New Orleans pop styling, melodic Motown rhythm, and fatback Memphis grooves. Southern soul classics ‘Without A Woman’ and ‘She Ain’t Gonna Do Right’ nestle with uptown gems and a handful of previously unknown copyrights such as ‘It Hurts’ and ‘Standing In The Way Of A Good Thing’. He duets with Don Covay on their collaboration ‘I Can’t Stop (The Feeling Won’t Let Me)’, and there’s a fly on wall peek at the creation of a Penn/Oldham classic in ‘Downright Uptight Good Woman’.
The magic of Penn’s Fame recordings – accompanied by exactly the right musicians for the job, and run to tape through the mics, amps and tubes of the incomparable Fame facility – is no longer a music industry secret. It’s something at which we can all marvel. And here’s 24 more vintage diamonds from Dan Penn to enjoy.