They Say That It’s A Man’s World But You Can’t Prove That By Me (Dan Penn)

A recent article in the New York Times, “Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing”, was an attempt to explain our reaction to music in terms of neuroscience. There was a load of dopamine flooding the striatum blah blah. Yeah, “Mr Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long, leaning note & make it float”. I am a music obsessive, I know what I like & I like what I bloody well know. You can take an auditory cortex, any expectations based on our stored musical representations & shove ’em.

All I know is that this is aural perfection. Don’t know why, don’t care, it just is. Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom !

This is the newest & the best Y-tube version of “I’m Your Puppet” by Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, the guys what wrote it. In 1966 James & Bobby Purify hit with the song. Dan & Spooner, confident that this music thing just might work, left Alabama for American Studios in Memphis where they became involved in a period of extraordinary creativity & success.  I was seeing the names Holland, Dozier, Holland on all of those Motown records, finding out that Steve Cropper & the M.G.s were playing on all the Stax hits & I was checking the name Penn on the credits of a lot of good tunes. “Out of Left Field”, the B-side of “Judy In Disguise”, that was one.

Dan always thought that the hit version of “Puppet” was a little fast & this take on the song harks back to the 1965 original. Allmusic identifies a weary resignation in this later version which just ain’t there. It’s a middle-aged interpretation, taking it’s time to appreciate  the good stuff, not coming & going in a heaving rush…you get me ?

Another slice of Paradise. I believe that this clip is possibly a high point of Western civilization…seriously. Dan Penn wrote “Do Right Woman” & “Dark End of the Street”, 2 dead-stone, all-time, Hall of Fame classics with Chips Moman, the owner of American Sound Studios. Atlantic Records wanted to break Aretha out of the R&B charts & added some Memphis/Muscle Shoals magic to an already formidable talent. “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” is a modern manifesto for women along with the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. When Gram Parsons, another outstanding voice, recorded the song as a country waltz it was no less distinctive both as a tune & for being sung by a man.

“Do Right Man” was the title of Penn’s 1994 solo LP, his first for 20 years. I love the 1973  “Nobody’s Fool” but the hits are on “Do Right”. There’s a simplicity about these songs which seems effortless but you know it isn’t. There’s a lyrical maturity & there is Soul.  He started to perform his great songs in concert & I was lucky to see him in London in 1994. An unassuming man, dressed a little incongruously in farm dungarees, he had no choice but to accept the gratitude of a large audience who considered him to be a legend.

The ideal accompaniment to a long Summer evening when business has been taken care of & a man can sit a while, smoke, whittle, scratch or just watch the light fade. All of these or any combination thereof is acceptable. Casual Records, a British label founded by the estimable D.J. Ross Allen, released a couple of compilations called “Country Got Soul” in 2003. Whether the tracks were country, soul or a hybrid is of no consequence, they are great collections. In 2005 some of those surviving artists gathered at Dan Penn’s basement studio in Nashville & recorded “Testifying” as the Country Soul Revue.

Spooner showed out, Donnie Fritts too. Bonnie Bramlett was still singing & Tony Joe White reminded us how good he was.It’s a good old boys (& girl) Buena Vista thing & “Sapelo” by Larry Jon Wilson is a stand out piece of glorious Southern Gothic. This was my introduction to Larry Jon, the singer who ‘could break your heart with a voice like a cannonball’. I have no idea what & when “Oglethorpe Time” is but it sounds great. So does “Testifying”,  warm., intimate music produced by artists happy to have been doing what they’re doing for quite some time.

The Joy I’ve Named Shall Not Be Tamed (BMX Bandits/Dan Penn)

A most pleasing episode of Interweb synchronicity today when a Facebook friend posted this early gem by an artist who’s music I just love. I am a little obsessed by those boys from the Southern states of the USA who grew up listening to rock & roll, country, R & B then found, in Memphis & Muscle Shoals, places where they could influence the future of  soul music. Steve Cropper had more hits at Stax than a basket full of kittens on Y-tube. The great maverick Jim Dickinson & his band, the Dixie Flyers, were involved in so much great music. There are many others who were there & made their mark but it is the life & music of Dan Penn which continues to intrigue as I hear things like this.

“I’m Your Puppet” was the breakthrough hit for Dan Penn when, in 1966, James & Bobby Purify took the song into the US Top 10. It convinced Dan that this music thing just might work out & when, a year later, he produced a world wide hit for the Box Tops his reputation as a guy who could get the job done was made. This version was released as a single & did nothing, the song went back into the drawer marked “for future reference”.

The clip was posted by Davie Ritchie, a man I have never met but someone I know to have impeccable taste. His band, the Debris Rose, prove themselves to be the perfect bar band with this terrific version of Prince Buster’s “Girl Answer Your Name”. I am perfectly content to have my evening’s musical direction chosen by someone else so I chipped in with James Barnett’s “Keep On Talking”, a Northern Soul classic & went off to listen to more songs written by Penn both for himself & for others. In any such rummage a mandatory stopover must be made at a delightful oasis.

After a slate grey February day “That Summer Feeling”, a fine collision/collusion between Scottish jangle pop, Dan Penn and a Jonathan Richman song is the very thing to remind you that, when we get through the Winter, things are gonna get better. I don’t know too much about how this BMX Bandits b-side came about, it probably does not eclipse the JR original. I do know that it is absolutely charming & that if you are making a record with Dan Penn that you will have to raise your game.

So, I am enjoying this favourite when Mr Ritchie’s thread coughs up the name of Duglas T Stewart. Now this may be just a regular passer-by for Davie but it’s a rare thing when the people I am listening to are on my F-book at the same time. Duglas is the BMX Bandits,there have been many members of the group in the past 25 years but he has been the one constant. He & school pal Norman Blake started the band. Norman went off to start Teenage Fanclub while other Bandits have left for greater success. Duglas has been at the centre of a Glasgow rock scene which has worn its influences on its sleeve & pretty good solid influences they have been too. In his case the songs of Jonathan Richman were as influential as those of Brian Wilson & Alex Chilton. There can be a jokey naivete but the moments of direct emotional honesty, of  love & pathos that get you right there. The BMX Bandits may have boasted that “Kylie’s Got A Crush On Us” on a 1993 single but they could make some lovely honest pop nuggets too.

“Serious Drugs”, now there’s a title that’ll get you played on the radio. If only it had been because there is a tune that gets stuck in your head and in a good way. There are 3 versions of the song. Norman Blake sings this one & a later one with Duglas on vocals is good stuff too. Kurt Cobain said “If I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits”  & the band were at Creation Records when the Oasis thing happened but have determinedly remained a cult while influencing other bands. There is a movie about him called “Serious Drugs” which deals with his career & his problems with depression. i must check it out.

The BMX Bandits have affected enough people for Duglas to keep working & to collaborate with many interesting people. This evening I was tempted to make a couple of clicks & ask him to tell me about Dan Penn, about Brian Wilson. Hey, this “the Internet makes the world a smaller place” thing just won’t wash. I don’t know him, he don’t know me & I’m sussed enough to know when I may be too intrusive. No matter, there was a little connection today & I got to post some good music right here. This is “Little Hands” more proof that Duglas & Norman wore out those Big Star LPs when they were kids.