H3C Artist Wishlist

Dan Penn helped shape the development of southern soul music with his legendary songwriting, musicianship and production.

A native of Vernon, Alabama, Penn moved to the Florence/Muscle Shoals area while still a teenager and assumed the role of lead vocalist in a local group calling itself the Mark V Combo. When asked what kind of music they played, Penn replies, “R&B, man. There was no such thing as rock. That was somethin’ you picked up and throwed.” He laughs. “Or threw.” It was around this time that he penned his first chart record, Conway Twitty's “Is a Bluebird Blue”. During the early ’60s, Penn began working with Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, first as a songwriter, and then as an artist under the names Lonnie Ray, Danny Lee, and finally Dan Penn.

Penn’s early co-writing collaborations with Spooner Oldham while at Fame included “I’m Your Puppet,” which became a hit in 1965 for James & Bobby Purify, and “Out of Left Field,” and “It Tears Me Up” performed so memorably by Percy Sledge. He also co-wrote hits for Joe Simon, Jimmy Hughes and Wilson Pickett.

Dan became an exclusive writer for Fame Publishing Co. for about three years. “It was sort of an in-house thing, where artists were comin’ and goin’, askin’ for songs, and there was sort of a built-in opportunity to try to be a commercial songwriter.


According to Penn, the reason people hear touches of country in his brand of R&B is “because I’m an old hillbilly myself. Took me about 30 years to find out I was still a hillbilly. But compared to R&B, country is much easier. You ain’t got to struggle. Anybody can sing, ‘Because you’re mine, I walk the line.’ Go try to write ‘Out of Left Field’; go find all those chords and what all that means. So a hillbilly I am, but in the ’60s I really loved R&B music, and there was a lot of it to love. I loved Jimmy Reed, Bobby Bland, Ray Charles, Little Milton, James Brown… I always respected the black singers because they were always there — we were trying to get there. Knowing that the black singers wanted my songs inspired me.”

A number of their classics were written for particular singers. “’Sweet Inspiration’ was written for the group the Sweet Inspirations, ‘Cry Like a Baby was written for Alex Chilton, ‘Out of Left Field’ was written for Percy Sledge,” says Penn. “I either was involved in the production or I was real close to the production teams, so when you’re in the middle of a clique, you got the power to either do it right, do it wrong or get out of the way and let somebody else do it.” One gets the impression that Penn was not the kind to get out of the way. “But you have an opportunity to score, and sometimes we scored. By that I mean comin’ up with a song that was good enough to get on the session. And then, if it came out and was a hit, the score was really complete at that point. So first you had to get on the session, and then the big question was, did it come out? And then the next question was, is it the single? At least back then.

“Some of these songs weren’t written that way. ‘Do Right Woman’ wasn’t written for Aretha, nor ‘Dark End of the Street’ for James Carr. Me and Chips Moman just wrote those songs and we didn’t have anybody in mind. We worked great together while we were together—we’re so lucky to have those two songs.

In 1966, Penn relocated to Memphis and began producing at Chips Moman’s American Recording Studio. While at American, Penn and Moman co-wrote “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” which Franklin turned into a soul classic, along with “Dark End of the Street,” stunningly recorded by James Carr, while Dan and Spooner came up with “Cry Like a Baby” for the Box Tops and later “A Woman Left Lonely,” written at Dan’s Beautiful Sounds Studio in Memphis, and chosen by Janis Joplin for her classic album Pearl.

Penn and wife Linda relocated to Nashville in the ’70s—where he recently co-wrote and produced Bobby Purify’s comeback album, Better to Have It, in his basement studio. The session included one of Penn’s co-writers, Malaco keyboardist Carson Whitsett. The well-received album was released on Proper American in the summer of 2005.

 

H3C Artist Wishlist

In 2007, when Mike Farris debuted his critically acclaimed Salvation in Lights, people who'd never heard of the former Screamin' Cheetah Wheelie's frontman, music business people and retailers who thought they'd "heard it all and seen it all," stood with mouths agape, eyes like saucers, aghast at how that sound, that soul, could come from such an unlikely source.

In the two years since Salvation In Lights, Farris' live performances across the country, including Bonnaroo, SXSW, Austin City Limits Festival, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, have left music novices, fans and seasoned artists with the same awe-struck response. His live shows, in no small part, led to this music veteran taking home the Americana Music Award in 2008 "New/Emerging Artist of the Year." Peter Frampton, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Ricky Skaggs, Bruce Hornsby, Jackson Browne, Marty Stuart and many other artists have taken note of Farris' incomparable vocal performance.

Truth be told, that gift, that kind of soul bearing authenticity where the singer becomes one with the song, is the result of a hard-fought fight. Like many of Farris' own musical heroes, from Son House, Pop Staples, and Mahalia Jackson to Coltrane, Cash and Cooke, to Jimmie Rodgers, Louis Armstrong and the brothers Vaughn (for whom Farris did a stint in Double Trouble) this southern-bred rock-n-soul'er has fought his share of personal demons, emerging from the shadows with a new song.

Only this time around, the song itself is ancient. A marriage of traditional black gospel, 70s Stax soul and southern blues, Farris is even stronger than revealed on his 2003 solo debut, Goodnight Sun. His undeniable voice, his skillful arrangements and perhaps most of all, the joy and passion with which he delivers both, breathe new life into long-forgotten spirituals and vintage-y originals, excavating priceless treasures.

H3C Artist Wishlist

Danny O'Keefe
In the 1970's, Danny O'Keefe put out a string of albums that cemented his reputation as being among the best songwriters of his generation. These days, casual fans know him best for his Top Ten hit "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues" or Jackson Browne's version of "The Road" from the classic Running On Empty album. But the story didn't end in the 70's. He continued to release the occasional album and recently returned with In Time, his first solo release in nine years.

Danny's songs have been recorded by a Who's Who of artists over the last thirty plus years: Elvis Presley, Cab Calloway, Charlie Rich, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Earl Klugh, Chris Hillman, Conway Twitty, Leon Russell, Dwight Yoakam, Jerry Lee Lewis and Milt Hinton. But that's just who recorded "Good Time Charlie." Other credits include Alison Krauss (“Never Got Off The Ground”), Jimmy Buffett (“Souvenirs”), Nickel Creek (“When You Come Back Down”), Judy Collins (“Angel Spread Your Wings”), Donny Hathaway (“Magdalena”), John Denver (“Along for the Ride”), Gary Stewart (“Quits”), Sheena Easton (“Next to You”), Jesse Colin Young (“Night School“), Chris Smither (“Steel Guitar “), Ute Lemper (“You Look Just Like A Girl Again”) and Alan Jackson (“Anywhere on Earth You Are”). “Well, Well, Well,” which Danny wrote with Bob Dylan, has been recorded by Ben Harper, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Bonnie Raitt and David Lindley.

As someone who knows about writing, author Tom Robbins says, "As darkly seasoned with raw experience as it is brilliantly inlaid with poetic insight, O'Keefe's work this past decade constitutes the most moving musical meditations since Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind. Unblinking, hammer-hard, love-wise and haunting, these songs stay alive in the mind and the heart long after the laser has moved on."

The admiration doesn't stop in literary corners, though. Danny's reputation among his peers says volumes. Michael McDonald, who co-wrote a song on the new record, describes Danny's affinity for folk, country , jazz and more here: "Danny O’Keefe takes his rightful place in that ingenious and enigmatic tradition of unfettered poetic American song writing. Often traditional feeling music that is never completely identified with, or tied to, any one genre. (He writes) the kind of songs that ring with that sense of being classic and enduring, always having much to tell us lyrically. Working with Danny for me is a source of great pride because I truly think of him as one of the greats."

Here's a final word from country, Celtic and folk singer and multi-instrumentalist, Tim O'Brien, "Look in the dictionary under "singer songwriter" and you'll see a picture of Danny O'Keefe. His is the complete package: a strong performer with a batch of amazing songs. His guitar and voice lead you beyond ditty world, deep into the land of poetry."

H3C Artist Wishlist

Bill Morrissey - EXTRA!!! BILL WILL PLAY OUR STAGE 7/16/11!!!!
Bill Morrissey has created as impressive a body of work as any songwriter today, a collection of finely-honed songs that match his economy of lyric and melody with a writer’s gift for storytelling. His empathetic knack for capturing the harshness and small sadness of the characters in his songs is tempered by his wry sense of humor, such that many of his songs leave the listener with a smile. 

Over the course of his long career, two of Bill Morrissey's ten albums have received Grammy nominations and several have earned 4-star reviews in Rolling Stone as well as equal accolades in nearly every other major national publication. Stephen Holden, for the New York Times, wrote, "Mr. Morrissey's songs have the force of poetry...a terseness, precision of detail and a tone of laconic understatement that relate his lyrics to the fiction of writers like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford." It is not surprising that he is also the author of the novel "Edson" (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf 1996) and the recently completed "Imaginary Runner."

On stage, Bill mixes the seriousness and urgency of his songs with a wry, acerbic wit. His often improvised and deadpan monologues and introductions provide a perfect balance to his live shows.

Cutting his teeth on the American country blues of Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson, the pure country of Hank Williams, the Kansas City of Count Basie and Lester Young, and, of course, the New York folk songwriters of the 1960s, Bill digested all this great diversity and found his own unique voice.

Bill’s new album, “Come Running” is produced by Bill Morrissey and Billy Conway of Morphine, has just been released by Bill Morrissey on his new label, Turn and Spin Media. “Come Running” features guitar work by Dave Alvin and the remaining members of Morphine, Billy Conway and Dana Colley. Bill plans on releasing a full collection of albums, books and guitar tabs on this new label.nbsp;